Determination and Fierceness

Christy Gardner had never tried hockey, because her parents thought she'd get injured. She says, "So now that I'm really, really hurt, we figured, 'Why not?'"

A few years ago, Christy Gardner's future looked bleak.

She'd suffered multiple, traumatic injuries while serving overseas in the Army in July of 2006. Though she'd rather not talk about the specifics of what happened, because of "the nature of the mission we were on," her injuries were grave.

One leg was damaged so severely that amputation was necessary, and she no longer had feeling in the other leg below the knee because of spinal damage. Her skull had been fractured in two places, and the resulting brain trauma wiped out most of her memories. She lost her ability to speak and the hearing in her left ear. She had to re-learn words, spelling, grammar and math from the third-grade level up. She had frequent, intense seizures. Two fingers on her left hand were gone.

At one point during a meeting with her medical polytrauma team after nearly four years of rehabilitation, she was told she'd never be able to live an independent life. "I got pretty down for a while," she says.

But about that time, another patient, a Vietnam veteran, kept pestering her every day in physical therapy to join him at optional recreation events.

"I finally gave in to shut him up," she says.

He took her to something called a Fun in the Sun Day at the beach. Gardner and other disabled vets were introduced to activities such as kayaking and water skiing. It was as if someone had flicked a switch from off to on inside her. "Once I got there, I saw all these things that all these disabled people could still do, so I thought, 'Maybe I could do that.' That's when I started trying again," she says.

It was a turning point, thanks to her friend. Later, she tried snowboarding, surfing and sled hockey. "He knew what I could do and saw it in me before I did," she says.

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