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At some point in our lives we all take pause at a crossroads, as if a subconscious sign on the way toward our goal alerts us, "Pain, Fear, and Inadequacy ahead." Turn left for a freshly groomed trail through the valley. Continue straight to the summit at your own risk, trail condition potentially treacherous. Pain, fear, and feelings of inadequacy have the ability to put any one of us at a true standstill. They are forces that attempt a shift in who we once believed ourselves to be and what we once believed we could accomplish. 

I was well on my way to building my life's goal of becoming a well rounded and globally reaching female kayak instructor. I had my paddle dipped in every form of teaching near and far; from able bodied to disabled, veteran to cancer patient and survivor. Always with a heart and passion keen towards empowering fellow young adult women, and a brimming ambition to work alongside women in developing countries.

A year and a half ago I fell and everything I knew changed instantly. Running to help a kayaker I believed was caught in a low-head dam, I stepped in a hole on the trail. Crushing, killing, and ultimately needing to remove part of the medial talar dome and cartilage in my ankle. My grand ideas for life transformed into a year of pain management and undreamed tutorials of the "System," fighting tooth and nail for worker's compensation, food stamps, and disability. I was 80% crippled, 100% dependent, and at a complete loss of how to move in any direction let alone forward. I turned away from kayaking due to pain and shear fear of losing the mobility I had. I felt I had lost all sense of self and my ability to give back to the world. 

Nearing a year of chronic pain, I saw a shift in my medical team, their welcoming smiles stayed the same but their eyes spoke far more truth, I had stopped healing. I dedicated my time to research and discovered a doctor performing trial stem cell surgery on ankle injuries. With a spark of hope I contacted my doctors and each sent in a separate request for consideration. Within two months I was denied each time. I believe "rock bottom" can be better substituted with "broken in spirit," and that I was. 

This June I was able to make my way to Jackson, WY. A place whose grandness has always made me and my troubles feel refreshingly small. I spent a full day of sunlight under the Tetons, still, and fantastically content. In the midst of day dreaming I had a great moment of clarity, and I became wholly aware of something I had never been mindful of before. I saw the Tetons for their story and thought of how many storms they must have faced in their lifetime. With every season the Mountain's weather and each ferocious wind that calls to them to crumble, they stand elegantly and refuse to be defined by a storm. Recognizing that they have been changed, they acquire their new edges to reflect light in even more stunning and complex ways than before.

I realized that pain and fear of pain was threatening to define who I am. Staring at the Tetons I made one of the most prominent declarations for my life, "Pain does not define me." Though this season has changed me, I will stand, and I will find a way to make these new dimensions beautiful. I choose the path potentially treacherous as I know the view will be worth it. I got back in a kayak on my last day in town and with a trusted crew, we made our way down the full, brown waves of the Gros Ventre River. My skills had become rustier than a nail in King Tut's tomb (had they used nails) but with each face full of spring run-off and every squirrely "turn and burn" my boat made, I felt my cup-of-soul filling and undeniably beginning to overflow again. A couple weeks after returning home I underwent stem cell surgery on my ankle, becoming patient (n=200) the last person accepted into the trial as it closed for publishing.

Following my initial denials for consideration, I kept researching and by wild Grace came across that particular doctor's personal email address. I signed my email, "I want to go bold, I'm your girl." Now I'd say, "the rest is history" but thankfully this story is still being written. I don't know what the future holds but what I do know is that when strength, adventure, and faith lie in the deepest nooks of your soul, you will never be without. 

Love & Wave Trains 

Taylor Dwyer 

----I want to say Thank You to Chaco for saying, "Yes." I reached out for help at a critical time, in significant need of creativity, and was met with great support and enthusiasm. I was introduced to Chaco's very own Dr. Gerhard Rill, who spent a week with me innovating an incredible pair of shoes and orthotics, shifting, shaping, and adding tread to my brace, and speaking into me indispensable words of encouragement. It was from this trip to see Dr. Rill in Grand Junction, CO that I was able to go on to Jackson, WY. I'm grateful for the amazing souls I've come in contact with through each unexpected turn in my 25 years, cheers to each of you. 

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