MADELINE DELP: The View From Down Here - A Paraplegic Finds Opportunity in Adversity
Sep 06, 2019 05:24PM
By Kristy McLean
What’s on your bucket list?
When asked this question, there are several ways one might respond:
Swim with Sharks
See Niagara Falls
Climb Mount Rushmore
Go Boating in the Ozarks
Try BASE Jumping and Paragliding
Skydive over the Golden Gate Bridge
Learn to Surf, Sail, and Snow Ski
Star in a Music Video
Graduate from College
Ride a Wild Horse in a Cattle Drive
Win a Miss USA Beauty Pageant
Travel in Europe, Live in Germany
Road Trip Across the United States
Become Fluent in 3 Languages
Be a Motivational Speaker
Start a Non-Profit Organization
Sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” Inside the World’s Longest Cave
Well, that last one might not be on your bucket list, but like everything else on the list above, Madeline Delp has done it. Yes, ALL of it. And, she’s only 25 years old and has been wheelchair bound since age 10.
In hopes of inspiring others to live boundless; face fears, chase dreams, and refuse to be defined by undesirable circumstances, Madeline shares her story and all of her bold, boundless adventures through social media as @LiveBoundlessGirl – Look her up and prepare to be inspired.
No social media? No problem. Visit http://www.instagram.com/liveboundlessgirl
February 27, 2004 – The Day When Everything Changed
A firefighter who was on the scene and witnessed the aftermath of Madeline’s near fatal accident recalls:
“The girl looked lifeless when the firefighters pulled her out of the car. She was fading in and out of consciousness, barely breathing when they loaded her into the ambulance. The driver of the truck that hit them was unharmed, Madeline’s mother sustained only a cut on the back of her head.”
Madeline’s voice is somehow sweetly soft-spoken and simultaneously thick with bold conviction as she tells the story of the last day of her carefree, pre-paralysis childhood:
When I was 10 years old, I was in a car accident with my mom and I sustained a spinal cord injury. Thankfully, my mom only had a few bumps and bruises, but I was told by the doctors that I would never walk again. I would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Lying in my hospital bed, unable to feel a thing from the waist down, unable to control my legs, unable to control my bladder…I tried to piece it all together – life was moving along normally, hardly a care in the world, mom and I had a great day together and then went to church where we practiced a duet that we were to sing together in an upcoming performance for the church choir. My mom has a beautiful voice and did some professional work as a singer. I really loved to sing as well and wanted to follow in her footsteps…and then it was as if someone snapped and, in an instant, everything changed. I have no memory of the accident. Isn’t it amazing how our brains protect us from holding on to those terrible memories by just deleting them?! The only thing that I remember about the accident is getting into the car that night. I would normally sit in the back seat, far left but for whatever reason, that night, something compelled me to sit in the middle seat this time…to mix it up a bit. And, that was a decision that probably saved my life because when we were hit, we were hit on the left side and I would’ve been completely crushed…but I wasn’t. Ironically, the lap belt in the middle is what caused the spinal cord injury because the force of the crash threw me forward so much that the pressure went straight to my spine and resulted in a contusion on my spine. There were many days early in my recovery when I wished I had been crushed, when I cursed God for making me live, for making me deal with, what seemed to me at the time, the worst thing that could possibly happen to someone. We were driving home from church, for God’s sake! Why had God forsaken me?
“Mommy, I’m not Madeline anymore.”
Madeline’s mom, Diana, recounts the days after the tragic accident that changed their lives forever:
Madeline was in the intensive care unit for 3 days and when she came out of the coma the first words that she said were, “Mommy, I’m not Madeline anymore.” She knew something was different she just didn’t know what it was. I said, “Yes, yes you are, you’re Madeline!”
She said, “No, Mommy, something’s wrong.”
I said, “Well, Sweetheart…right now you’re not going to be able to use your legs, but it’s temporary. You’ll get through this.”
And that was my first conversation with my 10-year old daughter after she was injured.
A New “Normal”
Madeline put up a façade that she was happy and everything was going to be ok, but she was really struggling to adapt to her new injury. After spending months in a rehabilitation hospital, Madeline was finally released to go home…
Home…to a house that she couldn’t get into because there were too many stairs.
Home…to a school that said they would make no adaptations to make the school accessible to a student in a wheelchair.
Home…to a church that said the car accident had been a punishment from a fault of her own.
Home…to the people who she thought were her friends and loved ones but they suddenly turned their backs.
While the injury itself was really difficult to go through, Madeline had a lot of personal and emotional battles going on inside of her as well; many that do not take a wheelchair to be able to relate to.
She harbored resentment for her dad who had left her mom and started a new family with another woman when Madeline was just a toddler. After her accident, when Madeline would go for custody visits with her dad and stepmom, they would take her to watch all of her young siblings run around in soccer and basketball tournaments, receiving awards and accolades. Athletics had been a very important part of her dad’s life and she felt like an outcast always sitting on the sidelines.
She felt guilty that her mom had to quit her job to take care of her and they were financially on the verge of losing everything.
She dealt with embarrassment and fear of judgment by her peers because she was still learning new ways to control her bladder, had frequent accidents, and a much greater struggle than most young women as she navigated the challenges of puberty.
“While the numerous physical challenges I was facing were certainly difficult, it was the emotional pain that was breaking me down. I would smile to the world all day long but would never let anyone see the demons I was fighting on the inside. I was ashamed of myself and ashamed of the chair. I felt like I had become a burden on others and I was constantly afraid of how they would react to me, to the point that fear began to control my life. I withdrew from trying new things, from pursuing new interactions even from simply speaking too loud. I was afraid of making others uncomfortable from the mere mention of my situation. My disability wasn’t that I used a wheelchair, my disability came from my paralyzing fear.”
Picking Up the Pieces
“When I embarked on my solo cross-country road trip from Asheville to Reno to support my friend, Cheslea Kryst, in the Miss USA pageant at the Grand Sierra Resort, I never imagined I’d be back in Reno shortly thereafter tackling my next bold adventure! Thanks to Bliss Life and their most gracious partners, before I knew it, I was in Reno riding a wild horse in a cattle drive for the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West and sitting on top of the Sierras at Squaw Valley High Camp, home of the 1966 Olympics, overlooking the largest, and, arguably, the most beautiful lake in North America! Being in the same space where past Olympians had come to realize their dreams, seeing the same view that the some of the best, most dedicated, hard-working Olympians saw just before what could be the make or break moments of their careers, was surreal, symbolic, and incredibly empowering. Thank you Reno-Tahoe for your warm welcome! Lake Tahoe truly is limitless and Reno has a heart of gold.”
After years of being held back, Madeline knew that there had to be something more. When she was 15, she went to a spinal cord injury recovery center in Detroit. For the first time, she interacted with other people in wheelchairs who she could relate to, and share her story with, and she didn’t feel so alone. After returning home, she began the journey of finding her voice, of building confidence in herself, and seeing the amazing potential of a life that she could live beyond the fear and shame, a life that wasn’t bound to the scars of her past.
With this new sense of strength and confidence, Madeline began to thrive. She now lives independently and drives her own car with hand controls. She graduated from college and actually walked to get her diploma with the help of leg braces. She started doing beauty pageants as a way to get out of her comfort zone, build confidence, and find her voice and define her purpose. She competed for Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina and went on to win not only that title, but also the national title of Ms. Wheelchair USA. She was inspired by the experience and began to realize that her story and the lessons she was forced to learn through her disability were not only applicable to wheelchair users, but to everyone!
Then, it occurred to her, if she could be Ms. Wheelchair USA then there’s no reason why she can’t be Miss USA! She entered the Miss Asheville, North Carolina pageant and won! Now, as she competes for Miss North Carolina in November 2019, Madeline will be the first person in a wheelchair to compete in a Miss USA competition.
Now, it seems the sky is the limit for Madeline. Her sense of adventure and affinity for a good adrenaline rush are back in full force. Swimming with sharks, skydiving, base jumping…these aren’t exactly things you expect to see on the recreational resume of a person who uses a wheelchair. But, nothing can stop her now. She’s worked at an orphanage for kids with disabilities in Mexico and has started her own non-profit organization, LiveBoundless.org, that will deliver wheelchairs to under-resourced communities.
Having experienced such intense growth through her own challenges, Madeline is on a mission to encourage people to live a boundless life. Through social media, motivational speaking engagements, and world travel, Madeline shows wheelchair users how they can adapt back to living a normal life but, more importantly, she shows ALL people from all kinds of different backgrounds that you are not bound by circumstance. Your response to your circumstances and your ability to embrace an unstoppable mentality in all situations you encounter throughout life will be the deciding factor in whether you let your circumstances define you or you make the most of whatever you have been given in this life.
So, Madeline asks, “Are you ready to Live Boundless?” It is entirely up to you.
Madeline will continue to live boundless and seek bold adventures. She is touring Europe for the month of September to see what adrenaline pumping experiences she can find on an international scale.
When she returns from spreading her Live Boundless spirit abroad, she’ll be hyper focused on the Miss North Carolina crown and prepping for her pageant. If she wins, it’ll be onto Miss USA!
Madeline has a short term goal of doing a TED Talk and her long term goals include writing a book, recording an album, and being the first Disney princess with a disability…and, all the while, spreading hope and empowering people to live boundless and chase their big dreams.
Follow Madeline’s journey on Instagram and Facebook @LiveBoundlessGirl. She is always looking for sponsors to support her cause! Email [email protected] to let Madeline know how you’d like to support the Live Boundless cause.
Read more about Madeline’s Reno-Tahoe Tour on BlissLifeMag.com, Search #MadelineRenoTahoe – Build your own itinerary based on Madeline’s adventures in Reno and Limitless Lake Tahoe.
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