Excitement filled my mind when I called Jill Kinmont Boothe. This was two years ago, and Jill kindly agreed to an interview for the book she was writing. She eagerly awaited hearing the inspiring story of how she overcame the tragic skiing accident that left her paralyzed and became a teacher and painter. I distinctly remember watching the 1975 film about her life, the other side of the mountainand soon he would be talking directly to her!
I placed a stack of cassettes near the recorder, imagining a long interview. After all, learning to mentally and physically deal with paralysis must have taken years of hard work.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that Jill was not interested in reliving all the gory details of her tragic accident. Our conversation went something like this…
Karen: Learning that he was paralyzed for life must have been pretty devastating for you.
Jill: Well it was, except I had a lot of support from my family and friends. There were times where she was crying and she was like “why did it happen to me?” but for the most part I stood my ground because everyone else had to be held up. Everyone had to be strong for everyone else… I was pretty positive from the start. I don’t remember that it was a horrible, horrible ordeal…
And with that, Jill went on with her story and with the rest of her life. No whining or complaining, no remorse, no interest in sympathy; he wasn’t sure what to think at the time.
When Jill described her years as an elementary school teacher, I made a comment that I thought would lead to a candid description of the challenges involved. Once again, Jill’s response surprised me.
Karen: It must have been a challenge being a teacher and dealing with young children without having the use of hands and legs.
Jill: It was a challenge, but like any other teacher he faces! The children were a great resource for me because they could do all the things that I couldn’t. They could write on the board, they could organize the files, they were always there when I needed help. That was never really a problem.
Jill’s matter-of-fact attitude about her paralysis surprised me. Our conversation lasted only about 20 minutes. When it was over, I sat scratching my head and wondering if I had enough material to write a story.
I thought of Jill and her casual attitude about her life-changing injury many times over the next few days. I’ll admit, at first she disappointed me because she didn’t go into detail about her feelings and all the hardships that come with being paralyzed. I thought those details were necessary to make a compelling story that would engage the reader.
But before long the true meaning of her story hit me like a ton of bricks. Jill’s brevity and laid-back attitude were the real story This was a woman who had been paralyzed for over 50 years (her Olympic dreams cut short, unable to perform many basic life functions on her own) and yet had no interest no to insist on those things.
If Jill had done as expected and gone into detail about how horrible it was to be paralyzed, I’m pretty sure I would have missed the incredible message her life brings. Jill’s legacy to us is simple, yet powerful:
- Don’t dwell on the unfair and painful things that happen to you in life.
- Always focus on what they can do instead of “what could have been”.
Keep these principles in mind and you will discover that there is no limit to what you can achieve in life, despite the challenges you may encounter at the school of hard knocks.
© Karen Wheeler Hall – All Rights Reserved