Excitement filled my mind as I called Jill Kinmont Boothe. This was two years ago, and Jill had graciously agreed to an interview for the book I was writing. I eagerly looked forward to hearing the inspiring story of how she rose above the tragic skiing accident which left her paralyzed and went on to become a teacher and painter. I clearly remember watching the 1975 movie about her life, The Other Side of the Mountain, and soon I would be talking directly to her!
I placed a stack of cassette tapes near the tape recorder, envisioning a long interview. After all, learning to cope mentally and physically with being paralyzed must have taken years of hard work.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jill was not interested in reliving all the gory details of her tragic accident. Our conversation went something like this…
Karen: Learning you were paralyzed for life must have been pretty devastating for you.
Jill: Well it was, except that I had so much support from family and friends. There were moments when I was teary and said “why did it happen to me?” but generally I held myself up because everybody else had to be held up. Everybody had to be strong for everybody else…I was pretty positive from early on. I don’t remember it being a horrible, horrible ordeal…
And with that, Jill went on with her story and with the rest of her life. No whining or complaining, no regrets, uninterested in sympathy – I wasn’t sure what to think at that point.
When Jill described her years as an elementary school teacher, I made a comment that I thought would lead to a candid description of the challenges involved. Once again, Jill’s response surprised me.
Karen: That must have been a challenge being a teacher and dealing with little kids without having use of your hands and legs.
Jill: It was a challenge, but just like any other teacher faces! The kids were a great resource for me because they could do all the things I couldn’t do. They could write on the board, they could organize the files, they always responded when I needed help. That was never really a problem.
Jill’s matter-of-fact attitude about her paralysis stunned me. Our conversation lasted only about 20 minutes. When it was over, I sat there scratching my head and wondering if I had enough material to write a story.
I thought of Jill and her casual attitude about her life-altering injury many times over the next few days. I admit it – at first I was disappointed because she didn’t go into detail about her feelings and all the difficulties involved with being paralyzed. I thought those details were necessary to make a compelling story that would engage the reader.
But before long the real meaning of her story hit me like a ton of bricks. Jill’s brevity and laid-back attitude were the real story. Here was a woman who had been paralyzed for over 50 years – her Olympic dreams cut short, unable to do many basic life functions for herself – and yet she had no interest whatsoever in dwelling on those things.
If Jill had done what I expected and gone into great detail about how horrible it was to be paralyzed, I’m quite sure I would have missed the incredible message her life brings us. Jill’s legacy to us is simple, but powerful:
- Don’t dwell on unfair and painful things that happen to you in life
- Always focus on what you can do rather than on “what might have been.”
Keep these principles in mind and you’ll find there is no limit to what you can accomplish in life, despite any challenges you may encounter in the school of hard knocks.
© Karen Wheeler Hall – All Rights Reserved