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Finding Her Way Back to the Wake. Sam McCallum's Story

by Gina Duffy on July 29, 2014

In 2012, I was introduced to wakeboarding. I knew instantly that shredding was my calling. Every chance I got, I was on my board. My parents saw my enthusiasm and encouraged me by getting a new board, private lesson (Joe Montalto is the greatest coach ever!!), and eventually even a new boat (the boat was for our family, not just for me). We were boat-less in 2013 until the new boat was delivered on June 29, 2013. Along with the new boat came a wake-surf board. I am told that I spent my time between the two boards. I have no memory of actually boarding at that time. The closest thing that I have to a memory is a feeling of bliss, of completeness, of love about boarding.

On July 26, 2013, I was in a car accident. I do not remember any of it and only pieces of the years prior to the accident. All I know is what I was told. I was a passenger in a car that hit a tree. I was air-lifted from the accident scene the nearest hospital with a Trauma 1 unit, Advocate Christ Medical Center (I had to put a plug in for these people, they are the best!!), some 50 miles away. When I arrived at the hospital, I was in critical condition with a 3 rating on the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS, for those of you, who, like me, did not know what a 3 is on a coma scale or even that there was a coma scale…3 is the lowest rating that one can have. A chair, if it were giving a GCS would have a rating of 3). After some time in the hospital and countless tests, my parents were told that the MRI confirmed that not only did I have a jaw fractured in 3 different places that would need surgery, but that the type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that I suffered from was a severe DAI (Diffused Axonal Injury - 90% of comatose patients with this type of injury never regain consciousness and those that do wake up often remain significantly impaired…according to published statistics – I have never really felt like a statistic nor given them much weight…still don’t). My parents did not know what specifically that meant. My dad asked, “What are you telling us? Is Samantha’s life over, as we knew it?” The Doctor replied, “Yes, why don’t you two go home for the night. We have got her. We are going to take care of her. Instead of coming in tomorrow, you should go check out some nursing homes. We will keep her comfortable for you.” I think that pretty much paints the picture of what kind of shape I was in. Fortunately, my parents opted to not believe her. My parents had faith that I would not only come of the coma, but recover 120%. They are sort of “Zenish” type of people. They brought in pictures of me on my wake-surf board and showed that picture to everyone that entered my room along with the statement… “This is Sam. You may not see it now, but she has wicked awesome skills. She is getting better. ” They whispered in my ear “I am Sam.  I am healing. I am well.” For me, coming out of the coma was nothing like the movies. I guess there were contortions, I guess I pulled out my IV tubes, pulled out my tracheotomy tube, tried to pull out my GI feeding tube and sweated profusely. I have little to no memory of these events (that is my story and I am sticking to it).

Gradually, the fog lifted. I remember little bits and pieces. I had to re-learn how to breathe, swallow, drink, eat, talk, sit-up, balance and walk. I cannot tell how many times I watched Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer. My parents told me “You have a choice. You can be a victim and have this accident define you, or…you can define the accident”. There were times that I would start to get down and wonder if I would ever get to board again. My parents would remind me that I am not a victim. That the accident could be the best possible thing that ever happened to me, or I could be a victim. I believe them. I am not a victim.  I walked out of the hospital on September 10, 2013.

I came home and started out-patient therapy, but did not stay there for long. They kept trying to help me learn how to live with “my disabilities”. I kept trying to show them that I would have none. My parents got a Yoga instructor and acupuncturist for me. They did not see me as a victim, nor did they see me as disabled -they saw me as healing. I supplemented Yoga and acupuncture with hours on the Indo board, elliptical and total gym. I was released to start my sophomore year in high school in November, over two months after school started. I, in addition to my workouts did two-a-days and completed my sophomore year earlier than the schools, via home-schooling and hard work (truth be said here…I was really motivated because I was hoping that the weather would be nice enough to get on the water early – stupid mid-west winter…lasted way too long). For Christmas, I got a new Cove Wakesurfers wake-surf board. I kept it next to my bed and it was the first thing that I saw every morning. It is sort of like having that car that you cannot wait to drive. It was like Christmas every morning (for way to long…stupid mid-west winter). I complained about the weather a few times to my parents and got told “fortunately, you can practice on your Indo board…be grateful for that”. It is amazing how many things I have to be grateful for…we all do.

Finally, the day comes. The boat is on the trailer and my dad tells me to back it off. I go to start it when I realize, I don’t remember how.  I tell my dad and he takes over. During this brief time, fear struck me. I doubted if I would be able to remember how to board. I doubted my progress. I doubted the depth of my work and commitment. Then I remembered, I am not a victim. I asked my dad if we could take some time so I could relearn to drive and board. My dad told me that he was proud of me. He knew in that moment, that I knew…I am not a victim.

Now, I can drive. Now, I can board. I still have trouble when I face plant, because my vocal chords are presently still healing and I get water in my lungs. But, I can board. I am in the process of getting my 200 hour certification as a Yoga instructor. I want to help others realize that they are not bound by their hair color, their sex, how old they think they are, how disabled they think they are, by what happened to them…that what happened can be the best possible thing that could happen – if they let it. I want to help others know that they are not victims.

I am overjoyed that I have been given not only another chance at life. I am also so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to share and possibly inspire others with hope, with passion and love of life.


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