It was Christmas 2008 in New York City and Amanda Sullivan had been an aid worker for nearly a decade working with orphans, refugees and abused women and children. She’d been to Costa Rica, Chile, Panama and ran an orphanage in Mexico she planned to return to before two separate accidents changed her life.
The first was a car accident that happened as Amanda was stopped at an intersection when she was rear-ended by an SUV. She saw the driver’s face in her mirror just before impact, lit by the screen of his cell phone as he responded to a text message. Sullivan’s skull was fractured from the collision, her nose broken and she had severe trauma to her brain. Her neck and back were badly strained and the biceps in both of her arms were torn.
After the accident Amanda was confined to her bed for five weeks. She was rushed to the emergency room on several occasions when blood and cerebrospinal fluid leaked from her ears and nose. She still suffers from daily migraines, but she was grateful and excited when she was cleared to begin physical therapy in hopes of returning to her beloved Mexico.
In route to her first physical therapy appointment an elderly man put his car in reverse instead of drive and stepped on the gas, eyes focused up front and Amanda directly behind the car. She was hit on her right side and tossed onto the trunk, her head hit hard against the back window. People screamed, the driver slammed on the breaks and Amanda was thrown off the car, hitting her head several times on the concrete street where she slid to a violent stop.
After the second accident, Amanda spent the next two years almost entirely confined to her bed. She was able to move around on occasion and went to physical therapy when her doctor informed her that the atrophy of her right leg was at a dangerous point. If her leg remained in its current state it would need to be amputated. The next day she doubled her efforts and physical therapy sessions.
The odds seemed stacked against her and doctors brought news she refused to accept. They told her she’d be permanently disabled and were convinced her body would be permanently atrophied. The weight of her medical issues were heavy enough, but everything became too much when plans to open the shelter in Mexico were canceled.
Amanda fell into a deep depression, her body deformed and her spirit crushed. She felt as if everything had been lost, her dreams and identity as broken as her body. When she began contemplating suicide, Sullivan knew she it was time to take action.
I thought that if I committed suicide then the accidents and my death would be what defined me. I couldn’t let that be how I’m remembered,”
Amanda has been an athlete her entire life and she found the determination of a champion when faced with the possibility of losing a limb and possibly her life. Five years and several surgeries later, Sullivan still goes to physical therapy twice a day at least four times a week. Her efforts have been rewarded when she was told she wouldn’t lose her leg. She works through extraordinary pain to rebuild her strength and heal and walks assisted with forearm crutches. Sometimes she uses a wheelchair to get around, but in spite of her pain, in defiance of her tragic experience she continues to live her life as a champion lives.
Letting go of the idea that she had to get back to where she was before the accident, Amanda was able to set realistic goals for herself and focused on eating right and exercising. She began playing adaptive sports and joined a gym in 2012.
With every accomplishment Amanda felt stronger and more confident. She continued to attend physical therapy up to six hours on some days and eventually started training for and completed several 5k races. She’s since begun participating in “extreme obstacle challenges” like the Spartan Race along-side her “wounded warrior friends,” and a triple amputee who she says inspires her more than anyone she knows.
I wasn’t sure if I could finish those races. But, with each step I took I learned that it’s not about being in first place, or last place, or looking a certain way or having an able body. These races are about encouragement, friendship, celebrating life and shining in the face of adversity.”
Her most recent accomplishment is a 90 day challenge that involves walking/handcycling 90 miles in 90 days. Her latest recorded distance was 103.7 miles in 74 days and counting.
Amanda Sullivan, 2013 Abilities Expo Ambassador has spent her life being of service to those in need. It wasn’t until she herself became someone who needed help that she realized how worthy she was of the love and inspiration she received. She’s learned to embrace the person she’s become and continues to celebrate the realization that even tragedy can bring gifts.