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Aika’s Story: From Paralysis to Walking The Monumental Marathon

In 2013, Aika Yoshida (an orthopedic physical therapist) suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury that initially left her paralyzed with an uncertain future.  Aika’s remarkable recovery led her to walk – yes, walk – a portion of last year’s Indianapolis Monumental Marathon with Team NeuroHope.

An athlete. A fighter. A motivator.

Aika shares her story below, and inspires EVERY ONE OF US!

Celebrating Today

You love to run. What would you do if you suddenly lost that ability? It’s human nature to wish for something more instead of celebrating what we already have.

On July 28, 2013, my life changed forever. I had an accident practicing acrobatic yoga, which resulted in a C6 incomplete spinal cord injury. Initially, I was paralyzed from the neck down and I was hospitalized for 1 month. I had to learn my new body and hope to regain some mobility. I always considered myself an athlete: a marathon runner, rock climber, mountain biker, and snowboarder. Not only did I loose my identity as an athlete, but I also thought I lost my career as an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist. In the past, running was one way to manage my stress. I felt completely lost and didn’t know how to cope with the new life that I was suddenly forced to face. My role has completely flipped, as I became a patient to receive therapy instead of providing therapy.

With help from numerous outstanding health care providers, generous support from friends and co-workers, my stubbornness/determination and some luck, I regained the ability to walk. I also returned to climbing as an adaptive climber with help from the non-profit organization called Paradox Sports based in Boulder, CO. Through this experience, I realized that I am still the same person who loves physical activities and has the heart of an athlete despite my disability. I felt a tremendous accomplishment when I first walked 1 mile on my own which took me nearly 30 minutes. Over the next 2 years, I kept increasing my speed and duration of walking just like how I used to train for marathons.

Twenty-eight months after my injury, I stood on a starting line to walk 13.1 miles using my carbon fiber leg brace and 2 walking sticks at the Monumental Half Marathon with my former inpatient rehab physical therapist, Nora Foster and co-worker, Ray Varner. This was a big challenge for me physically but also mentally to face many runners while reminding myself that I no longer have the ability to run in the process. I chose this race because I wanted to celebrate my recovery but also wanted to raise money and be part of Team NeuroHope where Nora now works providing therapy to those with injuries similar to my own. NeuroHope is an innovative physical therapy clinic in Indianapolis. Chris Leeuw, also a spinal cord injury survivor founded this clinic to provide long-term rehabilitation and wellness following neurologic injury. As a physical therapist myself, I understand the importance of long-term rehab, health and wellness, but unfortunately, many patients cannot afford the service due to financial limitations and/or insurance restrictions. We are also lacking places and groups for individuals like Chris and myself to be a part of after discharge from initial rehab. I am excited to announce that Team NeuroHope raised over $8,000 in 2015 with support of many generous donors, which allowed the clinic to purchase new equipment.

Crossing the 13.1 mile-finish line on my own two feet with my formal therapist and co-worker had a bigger impact on my life than past full marathons I’ve completed. I still love challenges as an athlete, however, my obstacles and goals are now just different. It’s important to focus on my current ability instead of my disability, so I can enjoy my new challenges. To promote mental and physical health to all people, I’ve used my journey as an opportunity to start Indy’s first adaptive climbing club to share my love of activities and to promote health and wellness with people with physical (dis)abilities.

Everyone faces adversity, whether it is apparent or not. The best thing I’ve learned through this journey is to focus on this present moment and to celebrate today.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

-Aika Yoshida

On November 5th, Team NeuroHope will be lining up again at the 2016 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in!  Learn more about our team members and pledge your support to their run here!