On the evening of August 28, 1999 my life changed forever.It was the Saturday before my final year of high school would commence.I was a sixteen- year-old girl with my entire life ahead of me.I was a gifted athlete, talented pianist, and avid student.I was excited for a year filled with memories of friends, playing my favorite team sports and graduation. I had plans to attend university and play on the basketball team.
That Saturday evening, I was in a horrific car crash.I was driving my car home on an unfamiliar road, when the paved road suddenly changed to gravel and the car swerved out of control.The car flipped,rolling heavily on the driver’s side roof, before landing upright. The roof was forced into my skull, compressing, and finally, crushing the vertebrae in my neck.I would soon learn from doctors that my spinal column had been damaged beyond repair.I would never walk again; I would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
As classes commenced at my high school, I was undergoing multiple surgeries to attempt to repair my destroyed vertebrae and spinal column. My C1 and C2 vertebrae were broken and my C6 and C7 had been crushed and shattered.The C6 and C7 had ripped through my spinal column sheath and rendered me a complete quadriplegic.According to specialists, with the most intense physio therapy, I might be able to relearn how to feed myself.
Life can change in a moment.I had gone from an independent young woman with a future full of potential to a sixteen-year-old newborn baby. I was in diapers, I had to be changed, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn't even scratch my nose or move a hair off of my face!
When I look back, I remember the feelings of hopelessness.My mother would hold me as I wept. I couldn’t even hug her back.I wondered who would want me like this? Who could love me like this? Would I ever get married? I imagined a wedding where my dress got stuck in the wheels of my wheelchair.
I was still alive; but, I wondered what kind of life I could have.It was a very dark time for my family and I.
While I was attempting to come to terms with my diagnosis, something miraculous took place.I started to feel, AND MOVE, my fingers and toes.Somehow the nerves in my spine had found pathways around my shredded spinal cord.Let me be clear: there was a less than 1% chance of this ever happening.While it was amazing and brought so much hope and light; it also meant that there was so much hard work to do.I had to do intensive physical therapy.I am talking tears streaming down my face as I dug deep and pushed myself as far as I could.It was so hard; but, it taught me that I could harness my determination and stubbornness; that I had a stellar work ethic and could get through the toughest circumstances and come out the other side.
I learned that I may have to try harder, work harder and work longer; but, I could accomplish something I was told was impossible.At the time, I had no idea how beneficial these lessons would prove to be in the future.
With constant, intense physio therapy, I was able to relearn how to walk and rejoined my high school class at the semester break and went on to graduate with my class in June of 2000.
After graduation, I bought my own house and built up my own business.I lived independently, in a non modified home.I speak publicly to high school students via the PARTY (Preventing Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) program in Edmonton. While my injuries were not sustained due to impaired driving, I speak to students about the risks and injuries that can be sustained in a serious car accident.I go into very specific details about what it was like to have spinal cord injuries at their age, with the hope that these students will make good decisions and drive carefully, and never impaired.
Around age 30, I noticed that some extra weight had started to creep onto my body.I knew a trainer and asked for a program to help me shed the weight and feel better. Once I had gotten to a place where I was more comfortable with my body; my trainer told me that I had the natural shape to compete in the figure class in bodybuilding.
In June 2013, I decided to go for it! I didn’t know what to expect; but, I knew it would be an accomplishment to get up on stage with able bodied girls. Again, the lessons I had learned during my rehabilitation after my accident helped me.I dug really deep and worked as hard as I could and I met my goals. I went on to compete in October 2013.I remember slowly making my way across the stage at the Winspear Centre. The entire auditorium fell silent and then broke out into cheering and applause! It was so exciting.People were crying as my story was told. I realized my story, which now had a public platform, had the potential to inspire others.
I placed at that first show.Within a year, I made it to the National stage and placed ninth out of 26 women.
Because of the lack of mobility in my legs, I have to work way harder – way longer – using a super intense lower body program, to be able to attain even a quarter of the leg muscle definition and growth that my able bodies female co-competitors have.Additionally, I don’t have the ability to flex my muscles for posing at shows.
In November 2015, Lou Ferrigno shared a story about me on Facebook.In May 2016, he came to Edmonton to participate in a motivational speaking seminar.I was pulled backstage to meet him and he became very adamant that I compete at his October 2016 Lou Ferrigno Legacy show.When Big Lou invites you to do something, you do it!
On October 30, 2016 I went to Palm Springs to compete in the Ferrigno Legacy show.I not only competed; but, I won Gold for my class (Figure C) and competed in the Overall portion of the show!!! Lou rushed backstage to congratulate me! It was amazing!
I posted the following to Facebook about the experience:
“The moment… time stood still…
I don’t think I took a breath
I kept waiting for my number to be called
I kept waiting until there was only one number left to call
I was mentally preparing for my heart to sink yet again
And then… 188…
… Still gives me shivers
We did it @freakmaker1 We did it”
My coach’s response:
“Ok now I’m tearing up @vanessa.rogers.figure! What an incredible moment! I remember jumping and yelling at the top of my lungs right in the middle of Disneyland when I got your text Vanessa! One of my proudest coaching moments ever! Thank you for your courage and determination Vanessa! You are one of a kind!”
In order to compete in the October 2016 show, my coach and I intensified my lower body workout.I took out a rest day to do an additional leg day.I do three leg days a week in order to maintain the muscle I have and hopefully increase it.All of my cardio includes strenuous leg exercises; I use the stair or tread climber everyday.I always modify my cardio to work my legs as intensely as I can.For example, if I use a treadmill, I set it to the highest possible incline and do walking lunges.
Throughout this process, my goal was to simply make it onto the stage.Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to compete against able bodied girls in the IFBB.I always assumed I would have to wait for an adapted or disabled division to ever come close to winning.
I meet a lot of people who ask why I do this? Why do I push my body so hard? Well, why not? I want to live life to its fullest.I have an obligation to do so! Statistically, I should be in a wheelchair.I would never squander the gift of mobility that I have.And what good would it do to feel sorry for myself?I plan on continuing to live independently and to travel! I have climbed mountains in Hawaii.I have completed the Spartan race (immediately after competing at Nationals!)!I can’t change what happened to me, so I do what I can do and I push myself everyday. I work around my disabilities – just like the nerves in my spinal column worked around the damage.
My “transformation” was not quick or easy. It was the result of setting a goal and then working towards it, every day.Making choices everyday regarding my activity and food.All of those little choices add up to big changes!
I am a super positive person with a “what can I do” mindset.I don’t focus on what I can’t do; but what I can do.I view myself as a victor and not a victim.
I want to inspire people and encourage them: Everybody has challenges and obstacles in their way. I know that better than most! Neither of my “transformations” happened quickly or easily.My body regaining the possibility of mobility was a medical miracle.But, regaining the ability to walk with assistance took daily work.It was literally baby step after baby step.We started small and worked each and every day – seeing tiny improvements. Sometimes my progress wasn’t noticeable.Even I doubted it was happening. But, I kept going and working toward the goal of being able to walk again.
With my fitness transformation: the same lessons and principles were utilized. I made small choices everyday that added up to big changes and helped me to meet my goals.I stuck to the foods that would help me to meet my physical goals. Everyday, I made the choice to go to the gym, or work out at home.
That’s my message: make the choices that get you to your goals.It’s not “go big or go home”. Take those baby steps.Break your goal down into small, doable portions.Your daily choices, your daily habits will add up to meeting your goals! It takes time; but you can and will get there! Never listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do something.You can! I really hope you find inspiration and encouragement in my story.Always remember that you have the power to make choices on a daily basis to meet your personal goals.Not just in fitness; but, in every aspect of life!