Struggling with Serendipity

My daughter, 14, is in the passenger seat when I fall asleep at the wheel. As the car flips across a dark Ohio field, Beth’s spinal cord rips, along with my identity as a mom. Unable to move on shards of glass, she reassures me that everything will be OK.

A lifelong disability advocate—even before Beth’s injury—I lose myself in guilt and depression. My shy but determined teenager battles the limits of quadriplegia. Beth carries us forward, since she is the emotionally stable one. Where she leads, I follow.

In the pool for physical therapy, Beth gradually learns how to float. She finds freedom in the water when movement on land is grueling. Barely able to swim the backstroke, she decides to master the forward freestyle with hands that don’t work, weak arms, and useless legs. She also sets her sights on independence. Against all odds.

Extraordinary events domino when Beth moves into a freshman dorm at Harvard, far away from our small Ohio town. My daughter attains what she calls her greatest achievement: becoming independent. A rare feat for quads.

Beth joins the varsity Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving team as the first with a visible disability. We travel around the world as she competes on the U.S. Paralympic National Team for five years and sets 14 American Records.

Beth’s confidence blooms as all roads lead to China and the end of an era that transforms us. Guilt no longer defines me. An active volunteer, she travels with her fiancé and loves her life as a health policy lawyer in Washington, DC. As Beth told me years ago, everything will be OK. She was right.

Previously posted:  

Cindy Kolbe

About the Author | Cindy Kolbe

Cindy Kolbe has been a lifelong disability advocate—even before her teenage daughter Beth's spinal cord injury. Forty of Cindy's articles have been published in a variety of media in the last 24 months. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her husband John and writes a popular weekly blog at

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