It seemed a fun summer trip for a 17-year-old gymnast. In 1994, Mike Ritter, now of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, joined a performance gymnastics team and headed to the sunny Bahamas as part of a missions trip.
In a telephone interview, 40-year-old Ritter said, “I remember everything about that day (I became injured). During one gymnastics performance I went to spring forward and over-rotated and heard a pop when I hit. Our spotters came over and knew immediately what had happened.” After being airlifted to Miami, and feeling upbeat, he was eager to “get back to normal,” he said. But his life never did. He eventually realized he was a C5-6 level quadriplegic, able to move biceps and wrists, but not fingers or anything below-chest.
Now fast forward to 2009, the year Ritter married Dana, a woman he had first met eight years earlier. He said, “My biggest (emotional) struggles as a quadriplegic came after marriage when I realized how much my wife would have to do and what a burden that could be for one person. The first year of our marriage she tried caring for me and doing her job. During that time, she started sharing our story on her blog. It really helped some wives of quadriplegics feel they weren’t alone.”
Once they figured out to ask for help, their quality of life improved. Now Ritter says he leads a “surprisingly” normal life in which he has learned to cook dinner, walk the dog, fold laundry, and clean house. He has a home health aide. His wife works in television news.
He said, “I’ve also made some great friends over the years who help me with many things. They help me change my catheter, do my bathroom routine, and help me get up early morning. I don’t want these people to be intimidated by what I go through and or put me on a pedestal. I just want them to realize (quadriplegia) is part of my life. Some really deep friendships have come from these people doing these things for me.”
He advised new quadriplegics, “Don’t be hard on yourself or others. Be open to what you’re going through by accepting and asking for help. Be open to learning how to adapt. Also, your limitations today aren’t necessarily going to be limiting tomorrow. For example, I’m 22 years post-injury and still learning to do new things.”
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