Friday, September 28, 2012

A Trip of a Lifetime to Sweden

My family and I just returned from a trip of a lifetime. We spent three weeks traveling around Sweden and couldn't have asked for a better trip. From a Swedish crayfish festival, to private tours of the Parliament and two City Halls, to making new friends and growing much closer to old ones, to a natural-habitat zoo and seeing some of Sweden's most beautiful landscapes, it was an experience we'll never forget.

I was honored to had been invited to Sweden to speak to two groups by a family who has just started a positive-thinking blog for people with disabilities. Here's the post on the site following one of our events. I spoke to both groups about my story, as well as disability in America and the importance of a positive attitude. As I often do in my motivational speeches, I also talked about overcoming challenges and believing in your own abilities. I was proud to have the opportunity to speak with my friend and mentor David Lega, who in the recent past was recognized as Sweden's speaker of the year. We have the same attitude, drive and passion for life. We're kindred souls and made a great team.

And speaking of our similarities, I have to take a moment to say how thankful we are to have David as our lifelong friend. He opened his home to us for three weeks, showed us his country, introduced us to his friends, family and colleagues, and each day we grew closer than we were before. One of my favorite things about David is that simply knowing him challenges me - and everyone else around him - to be a better person. And I love that when we're together we laugh a lot. I don't know how many nights Jacob and I went to bed with sore bellies and cheeks from laughing so hard.

We tried to soak up the history that pulsed throughout Sweden. I guess if you live there, it may be normal, but to us it was often breathtaking. We saw churches and castles and landmarks that were up to 800 years old! It seemed everywhere we looked there was special detail and some kind of story. It really made us realize just how young our country is. Some of the landscapes reminded me of places I've seen in the U.S., and others were unlike anything I've seen before. It was interesting experiencing the culture, too. Lots of conversions of measurements and temperatures and money! We would have been lost without a few iPhone apps! We picked up a few words in Swedish, but didn't have to learn much since most everyone spoke great English.

I wish I could better describe what a surreal experience it was. We can't wait to return and in the mean time, we'll stay in touch with the great new friends we made across the world. For now, we're home and back to traveling the country with VPG. Next week we're off to Fort Lauderdale for a few days and have an exciting schedule coming up the next few months. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Sweet Moment

My life is amazing. I'm sitting here in First Class on a flight back from a modeling shoot in Pittsburgh. It was a quick trip and so much fun and now, I'm heading back home to my family.

As I lounge in my comfortable seat, listening to my favorite songs on my iPhone, and staring out the window at the most beautiful view of the tops of clouds, I find myself in a moment that is worth recognizing. It's nearing sunset, so the light is that golden color that just takes my breath away.

I had to jot down a couple words because as I sat here, I found myself thinking, how did I get so lucky?! At 28, my life has already become more than I could have dreamed. And this is just the beginning of the really good stuff. From my job and experiences, to my sweet husband and precious baby girl, I'm taken aback by the wonderful gifts in my life. I'm thankful for every single moment, and all those that led up to this point. The journey that lies ahead is so exciting, I can barely believe it.

And that's all for now. I just had to get these thoughts out and I figured the nice gentleman sitting next to me probably didn't want to listen to all this.

I'll give an update on being a Mommy on wheels soon, plus, some exciting news about a big change coming up for us! Bye, for now!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Experiencing the MV-1 in NYC

Not even a week after my last day at Brenau, my family and I were off to New York City. I was asked to be a spokesperson and model for the new MV-1 at the New York International Auto Show. It was a busy and exciting 11 days. Kamryn did so awesome and we made a new family in the great people that work for the Vehicle Production Group (VPG).

Let me tell you a little bit about VPG and why they're such an awesome company. First, they are a new American manufacturer. The MV-1 is built in the USA, on the old Hummer 2 line. That is exciting, in and of itself! Second, it's the first American car to have the option to run on natural fuel, or CNG. The Compressed Natural Gas is not only safer and better for the environment, but it typically runs about half the cost of gasoline! Can't beat that! Third, and probably the best part from a personal standpoint, is the fact that the MV-1 is the only vehicle in the world to be built from the ground-up to be accessible for everyone! Not just wheelchair users, but scooters, power chairs, strollers and anything else that may need some extra room!

The MV-1 is not only accessible, but it actually meets, or even exceeds, all the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, consider what it means to be the first vehicle to actually be built that way. Other accessible vehicles that are available on the market are aftermarket conversions. The MV-1 is not a conversion; not an afterthought. People like me have been considered in the design and creation of this vehicle, which means it is well thought-out, as well as safety-tested. No one is cutting into the side, floor or frame to make a modification. It's about time.

And I must say, not only is it refreshing to have a car manufacturer considering the needs of a broader audience, but it's also just wonderful to have an option besides a mini van! I'm thrilled to know there's a vehicle, that looks cool AND can work for me and my family! In fact, one of the best parts of the auto show was witnessing and experiencing the excitement about the MV-1 and seeing, with my own eyes, just how many people's lives could benefit from this vehicle. Plus, did I mention how awesome it is to have a new American car manufacturer putting Americans to work? Pretty awesome.

Only weeks into my new career change and things are as exciting as ever. Our sweet baby girl is growing everyday and really becoming a little character. She is generous with her pretty little smile and getting good at giggling. Jacob and I are thankful every single day for how perfect our family is. We're on an exciting ride together and I can't wait to see what's around the corner! I'll keep you posted!

Like the MV-1 on Facebook and check out their website here!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Kamryn's First Big Outing

People say how fast kids grow, but I guess I never realized just how quickly until I began watching it happen right before my very eyes. I can't believe that our baby girl is already almost 4 months old! I still remember the overwhelming joy and disbelief I felt when I found out I was pregnant. While, in a way, that feels like just yesterday, it also seems completely foreign to imagine a time without Kamryn Marlee. She's the center of our world.

Everyday, Kamryn is becoming more and more engaged and curious. She's expressing her personality and getting so strong. She's gripping everything and standing up so well! And her balance is getting way better, which is helping her get really comfortable riding in my lap. She's also getting heavier by the day! I can tell I'm going to have to work on my core strength to keep up with her. I love that she's going to challenge me to keep building my strength and balance in order to take care of her, which is just going to make me more capable in all areas of my life. We're better people because of her.

On February 17-19, Abilities Expo came to Atlanta! If you are unfamiliar with Abilities Expo, allow me to fill you in. It is an exposition showcasing the leading products, services and technologies available to the disability community. All free, the event includes wonderful workshops and interactive events, such as adaptive sports, wheelchair hip-hop dancing, companion dog demos and so much more. I first attended Abilities Expo in LA in 2005, when I held the title of Ms. Wheelchair California. Since then, Jacob and I have been fortunate to work with several companies, such as Colours Wheelchair and LegaWear, and attend many of the shows throughout the country. Today, I'm proud to be an ambassador for Abilities Expo, doing what I can do spread the word about this fantastic, inspirational event.

There are so many reasons I love Abilities Expo, but near the top of my list is the opportunity to network and socialize with the disability community. It's a close-knit, dynamic group of people and I always leave the shows feeling motivated and energized. After going to many shows, Jacob and I feel like there's a mini reunion in every show we attend. So, needless to say, we were so proud to introduce Kamryn to this important part of our community.

I couldn't have been more proud of our sweet baby girl. She stayed with us at the show all three days and was such a trooper! If you've ever attended an Abilities Expo, you know that it can sometimes be loud, with big lights, interesting sights and many, many people (nearly 2,500 people - not counting kids - were in attendance this year in Atlanta). As you may imagine, we weren't sure how Kamryn would handle it. We're not sticklers for sticking to a schedule, but nonetheless, we weren't sure if she would even be able to nap or if she would simply get over-stimulated. As it turned out, she loved every second of it. Most of the show, she was either riding around in my lap - securely fastened with a swaddle blanket, tied in a knot, or she was riding on Jacob's chest in her little backpack. She took in everything and slept better than ever before.

We were so happy that our first major, extended outing was a real success! We're looking forward to several great trips we have coming up before Kamryn's first birthday. I can only imagine the three of us trying to manage all of our stuff and get where we need to be as we travel, but like always - we'll find a way. And we'll make the best memories.

Find out more about Abilities Expo and when they're coming to a city near you. Click here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Discovering My Inner Mommy

Each moment with Kamryn Marlee is better than the last. Jacob and I can't believe she's already over 10 weeks old! We're loving every second of being parents and enjoying watching our rapidly changing baby girl. It's hard to imagine our lives before her.

If you're a parent, you know that having a child makes every experience more special. The holiday memories we made this year will be some of my most treasured. Kamryn joined us in a little bassinet at the Thanksgiving dinner table and held hands with us for the prayer. We loved opening presents with her at Grandma and Grandpa's on Christmas morning and checking out all the wonderful gifts from our generous family. At midnight, New Years Eve, the three of us sat up together in bed and I cried as Kamryn's bright eyes watched the ball drop. People were right... Our lives will never be the same. And I'm so thankful.

Learning to be a Mommy has been wonderful, and Kamryn's a great teacher. She's being patient with me as I figure out how to do everything - and there's still a lot to learn. Luckily, Jacob was home with us for the first few weeks, but since then, I've had quite a few opportunities to be alone with our baby girl. At first, it was a little scary. I noticed that when she would cry, it was natural for Jacob or my Mom to get up and walk her around. I was fearful that alone, I wouldn't be able to calm her if she got to crying hard. I even wondered briefly if I had the ability to take care of her on my own. I mean, a good mother should be able to take care of her own daughter, right? But, before I knew it, any doubts I had were gone.

In the early weeks, it did feel awkward trying to wheel around with Kamryn in my lap. She was so little and I was still getting the hang of how to handle her. Now that I know she's not going to break and now that she's starting to hold her head up on her own and sit up a little better, things are much easier. Being able to get up in my wheelchair with her gives me much more freedom when I'm alone, so I don't feel so trapped. Plus, Jacob modified a changing table so it's nice and low for us. I have even found ways to soothe her that don't involve walking. For example, she loves to bounce, and fortunately, I have pretty strong arms. I'd say we're becoming a pretty good team already. I can tell, even now, that she will adapt as needed to work with a Mommy on wheels... and it's a beautiful thing.
We live for her little smiles. It's so cool that we're already starting to see her personality. I can tell she has a strong but mellow spirit like her Mom and Dad. Her muscles are growing stronger by the day and the noises she's able to make are increasing all the time. And, boy, does she love her Daddy. I look forward to every day and helping nurture and support our little angel in each phase of her life.

As far as my personal health, I'm feeling great. I've even been back to the gym a couple times and it felt amazing. I'm getting stronger so I can hit the ground running when I get back with my personal trainer. Jacob's getting back to the gym again, as well. We're excited to do some 5K's this year as a family. Also, now that we have a bit more of a schedule, we're able to cook more and eat better, too. Life is good!

Thanks for reading! I will continue to share my experience of being a mother on wheels, including any tips I discover and more. Talk to you soon!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Birth of Kamryn Marlee Rhoades - 11-11-11

First, please accept my apologies for taking so very long to update my blog. Many of you know by now that we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Kamryn Marlee Rhoades, on November 11, 2011. It confirmed how special we already knew she was when she came on such a unique day. She's an absolute miracle.

Kamryn was a month early and joined us on a full moon. According to my Mom, it was the same exact story with me when I was born. On Thursday, the 10th, I went in for my routine check up to monitor my contractions and baby's activity. For the preceding three days, I had been having pretty regular contractions. After the exam, my doctor determined that, although I hadn't really progressed, that my contractions were too regular to send me home. She decided to keep me in the hospital overnight just to monitor things. It was purely a precautionary measure due to my lack of feeling. Jacob was working on a job about an hour and a half away and wasn't able to get there until late, so my Mom accompanied me to the hospital.

As the night went on, the contractions got more intense and really consistent - often, only a couple minutes apart. As things intensified, so did my muscles spasms and dysreflexia. In other words, my body was creating a lot of physical stress in an attempt to warn me that something major was going on beneath my feeling line. As it turns out, these warning signs make me feel really, really crappy. My legs were in spasms like I've never seen before, I was sweating like crazy below my feeling line (which is a response from my nervous system), and I was extremely nauseous. And in all of it, I began to worry that in the midst of my body trying to warn of pain, that it would create too much stress on the baby.

When things were only slightly better in the morning, but I hadn't progressed in labor, my doctor decided it would be best for me to remain in the hospital until the baby came - even if that meant two or three more weeks. That was news I wasn't thrilled to hear, especially if I continued to feel that way. However, before I knew it, things took a sharp turn. The nurse walked in and while I was expecting her to suggest some sort of medicine I didn't really want to take to help with the pain and spasms, she said something completely unexpected. She explained that she had just spoken with my doctor, who had just consulted my high-risk physician, who had recommended that we go ahead with a c-section that day! The procedure was scheduled for only two hours away! I burst into tears. We were utterly stunned.

Our wish was to have Jacob in the room and me to be awake when they performed the c-section, but after they had trouble with the epidural, my doctor decided to just proceed with putting me under. The procedure was so quick! Baby and I were both healthy and back in the room with our family in less than an hour. I remember being wheeled back in and seeing Jacob holding Kamryn. It was a sight I always dreamed of and that I'll never forget. When he laid her in my arms, it was surreal. Time stood still. I don't have words to describe the emotions I felt.

We spent the next three days learning some baby basics, learning how to breast-feed and enjoying the most beautiful mountain view from our hospital room. The experience was wonderful. We soaked up every second of it. There was one particular moment on the second night that will be with me forever. Jacob, Kamryn and I were all laying together in the hospital bed, listening to a playlist I had made before hand and the perfect song was on. I remember just becoming completely overwhelmed with love on a level that I had never felt before. I'd been told that would happen, but experiencing it is something completely different.

With both of us recovering well, with no unexpected health issues, we came home on Monday. I think that was the shortest hospital stay I've ever had. Being home has been great. I was on bed rest for the first two weeks; just to be extra careful (again, due to the lack of feeling where the incision is). While it was a little slow getting back up in my chair after being down so long before and after the delivery, I'm pretty much back to my old self now. I have quite a bit of strength to get back, though, so I look forward to getting back to the gym.

I couldn't have done any of this without my sweet husband. Since we have been home, Jacob has been taking the best care of both of us. He is the most natural father and even better at all this than I imagined he'd be. Kamryn and I are so lucky to have him, it brings tears to my eyes on a regular basis. I am so thankful for our perfect little family. Also, my Mom and Dad have provided much-needed support when Daddy has had to work.

Kamryn's calling, so that's all the time I have for now! Look for my next posting as I take you along with me in this journey of motherhood on wheels. I have a lot to learn and am excited to share. Merry Christmas and a Happy, Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Home for the Final Stretch

This week, it really started to sink in that we will meet our baby girl very soon. Somehow, it's already almost time. After my contractions continued throughout the week, I went in for an early visit to the doc. Everything checked out great, but to try and prevent an early labor, my doctor asked that I stay home on bed-rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. While I hate leaving work early, I am proud I made it this far (only 3 1/2 weeks to go) - feeling great, with no complications. Plus, I'll be able to work a little bit from home. I've only been out a few days, and I have to admit that the lack of activity has helped. I'll be sure to appreciate this time I have to relax before it's time to be a mommy.

To ensure everything is on track, in the case that this baby does decide to come early, we went for our last ultrasound. All was perfect with her growth and she's even in the right position (for the time being)! And, we were surprised to learn that they estimate she is already 6 pounds, 1 ounce! Wow - what a healthy little girl! They did the 3D ultrasound, which was just so awesome. It was an amazing feeling staring at little Kamryn Marlee in my belly, squirming around, waiting to come into the world.

So, it's evident that there's not long now. Her clothes are washed, the car-seat is installed in my new car and our bags are just about packed for the hospital. We couldn't be happier. Any occasional discomfort I feel or trouble I have getting around seem so insignificant compared to the excitement I feel for the upcoming birth of our daughter. Plus, I'm so thankful for such a helpful, happy husband that is making this experience what it is.

Until next time, friends... Have a great day!