It’s been nearly twenty years since her whole life changed.
When Kristen McBride thinks back to the fateful Pemberton car crash that paralyzed her in July of 2003, she doesn’t remember feeling the emotional turmoil and grief you might expect from someone who has just endured a traumatic injury. Instead, the fiercely determined daycare worker became ultra-focused on each new step in her recovery and refused to allow herself thoughts of self-pity or despair.
This stubborn resilience allowed the Squamish entrepreneur to eventually regain mobility with the use of a wheelchair, marry the love of her life, and give birth to a daughter. So though she acknowledges that the accident was a pivot point in her life, she mostly feels gratitude for where her journey has brought her.
“My parents explained it in the hospital as being like baby steps taken to the next level. So it was a baby step to get off the ventilator, and then a baby step to be able to sit up to 90 degrees, and so on. As traumatic as it may seem, I can’t look back and feel negative about my experiences because it’s also been, for the last 19 years, what are we doing next? Where am I going next and what am I doing next? And I’m always progressing forward,” McBride told The Squamish Chief.
“It’s almost like you’re on autopilot. Next year, I’ll have been in a chair for as long as I walked. That’s a long time, and this is just what I do now. I don’t know any different anymore. And I feel like my life is so much richer since my injury, just because of all the amazing experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met through organizations like Spinal Cord Injury BC and Wheelchair Rugby.”
On top of all those experiences, McBride has now been selected as one of the 2022 recipients of the Courage to Come Back Award administered by Coast Mental Health. Intended to honour those who have rebounded from serious adversity, she was first reluctant to take the award because she believed there were so many other deserving candidates. Ultimately, she decided to accept it in memory of a recently departed friend who worked in the same field, and because she wanted to share it with her daughter when she’s older.
“People have been reaching out more and more to congratulate me, and it’s been really humbling.”
`If you’re willing to do the work — and be brave’
After she recovered from her accident, McBride didn’t waste any time getting back to work.
As soon as she could, she returned to teaching briefly before starting her own Mary Kay business. She quickly became a top salesperson for her region, building a loyal client list. She began playing wheelchair rugby — she was the only female playing for a B.C. team — and eventually brought a rugby league back to Squamish. She was then invited to light the cauldron for the 2010 Olympics and to be part of the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies.
She also became passionate about giving back to the community and advocating for better accessibility. She’s responsible for starting Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion locally, and she regularly volunteers for local charities focused on accessibility. She’s a peer mentor and program supervisor of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and every year she fundraises for Spinal Cord Injury BC. In other words: she’s kept busy, riding the baby steps trajectory she’s been following since she left the hospital.
She wants her daughter to know that people have a variety of mobility levels, and that’s normal. She hopes that it will give her compassion for people with any sort of disabilities, and an understanding that there are often ways to adapt environments or activities in ways so they can be included. Recently, she experimented with the full capabilities of her wheelchair, along with her two-year-old daughter.
“I have a bike attachment that goes on my chair, that basically turns it into a motorcycle. My husband Brandon strapped my daughter on my lap, for our first time going out just the two of us, and we ripped around the estuary and she would point and say ‘go this way, Mommy’ or ‘go that way, Mommy’. It was so much fun,” she said.
“I don’t want her to think I’m not OK with my injury. I want her to think of it as normal. It’s not weird Mommy’s in a wheelchair, it just is what it is. Some people walk, some people roll, and some people use a cane or can’t see or can’t talk. I want her to have empathy for everybody.”
Really, she’s doing this work for her: “My purpose is to show my daughter that anything is possible if you’re willing to do the work and be brave.”
Each year hundreds of people are nominated for the Courage to Come Back Awards. Volunteer teams of health professionals and community leaders review the nominations, create a selection panel, and choose one recipient for each of its five categories.