Airdronian Suzanne Isleifson considers her good friend JoAnn Reynolds family. The two women met each other as part of a dragon boat racing crew when Reynolds was the 'drummer'; a position at the helm of a boat, whose purpose is to not so much yell at but for the team to encourage them.
"When you do dragon boating, you spend up to three days a week together; you're on the water practicing and we have a very serious team," Isleifson said. "We travelled together for all different kinds of festivals - carpooling together all the way to Nashville and we just had the best time in the car; driving together, playing old school 90's Music and singing."
But it wasn't just both women's love of dragon boat racing that brought them together. Isleifson runs a social media group called Women Who Hike Alberta, which has over 25,000 members, in which women from across the province are able to interact and empower each other, as well as plan excursions together; and since Reynolds was very much a fan of the backcountry and all things outdoors, the two were kindred spirits.
Today, things have changed slightly, as it is Isleifson who is drumming up support for her dear friend after Reynolds suffered what she called a freak accident during a hike in British Columbia last summer, which left her without the use of her arm.
"I'd been coming down from the hike and I was in a meadow," Reynolds said. "But it was a very, very calm meadow and I just had been jogging for maybe about 10 or so minutes and I made a very rookie mistake of not stopping and putting my poles in my backpack because I didn't need them anymore."
She explained that her right pole was caught on either a bush or rock and with the momentum of her running at an angle on the hill, her entire body weight fell on top of the pole and onto her right shoulder. She had dislocated her shoulder, broken a part of her scapula and would also nick an artery in her brachial plexus - a network of nerves that sends signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand. Miraculously she managed to pop her shoulder back into place and made it down the mountainside on her own, unassisted.
After the incident, she had countless hospital visits and two separate surgeries. But after one of the surgeries to repair her glenoid bone (the scapula break), she realized something was very wrong. After an MRI it was found out that when she damaged the artery, an aneurysm occurred.
"I almost died on the operating table with a lot of blood transfusions; so, yes, I went through a couple of my cat lives."
Reynolds said that while her accident may have been a freak occurrence, she believes her story is not unique, in that life really did change in the blink of an eye. As a veteran in the dragon boat racing scene - nearly two decades, and as someone who also participated in weightlifting as well as her beloved backcountry hiking, she said the entire experience has left her humbled.
"I've never had other people take care of my body physically like that; the nurses and the health care aides were just some of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met... But what Suzanne has done - humbled is not even the right word because it doesn't sound visceral enough to me."
Despite the loss of the use of her arm, Reynolds, a mother and a caregiver to her elderly mother who has dementia, continues to press on. But she is not alone in forging ahead. Her dragon boat racing teammate, Isleifson recently started a gofundme campaign for Reynolds so that she may be able to purchase a steering wheel aid to help her regain some of that independence Reynolds embodies.
"Something just kind of prompted me to call her. I did get to hear about some of the pitfalls and the downs and she mentioned the steering wheel aide," Isleifson said. "I thought to myself, that's easy to fundraise. I put it up [the godfundme] about a week ago, and we're at $995 because people love her."
For her part, Reynolds said it has been a lesson in learning to accept love and help.
"That's maybe why I was drawn to dragon boating in the beginning; it's because it's such a true sense of community, and I really thrive and I'm happiest in a community," Reynolds said. "I think what has really changed is trying to be able to surrender and rather than be someone who does everything, trying to accept that kind of love; it's not something I would have ever expected."
As she looks towards the future, Reynolds said that while she does want to get back to rowing and deadlifting, she is also learning to stay in the present.
"Now I really know what it's like to just be in my body and to just be where I am now and take it one step at a time. I think I understand that cliche. The future just feels too far ahead and there are too many unknowns."
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