November 4th marks this year’s SkyRise Chicago, the tallest stair-climbing event in this country. Able participants from around the world walk, sprint or jog up the 2,109 steps or take part by using hand-cycles to effectively climb up those daunting 103 floors to help raise money for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Darline Abesamis, a soon to be 28-year-old Chicago native, was in a major accident two years ago that left her without functional use of her legs. After rehabbing at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with the use of the Ekso, a robotic device that enables her to walk, she's now dedicated to giving back to the Institute that helped her reinvent her life post-accident. Currently she’s gearing up to complete her third SkyRise challenge with the support of her friends, committed boyfriend, family and fans. Girls Gone Sporty had the opportunity to talk to Abesamis and learn more about her accident, her recovery and how she finds the motivation to keep on competing for advances in rehabilitation research.
Robyn Macy (RM): How did your accident happen? Did the doctor's know whether you would be able to walk again?
Darline Abesamis (DA): The accident happened on April 21, 2010. I was in nursing school at the time. I decided to miss a day of class to [go] with my boyfriend on his business trip. My cousin was driving through the night. I was in the front passenger seat while my boyfriend was laying on top of the boxes. I woke up the middle of the night to grab something, took my seat belt off and fell back asleep. I woke up startled from feeling our van swerving. I looked to my cousin, who fell asleep and yelled at him to wake him up.
We had swerved four lanes over, going toward the oncoming lane of traffic. My cousin jerked the wheel and our van rolled several times. I was ejected from the windshield and landed on the shoulder of the road.
The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t feel my legs, but honestly, that didn’t bother me. I was mostly concerned about my boyfriend and cousin. I kept yelling their names waiting to hear their voices. Finally, a few minutes later I heard them and saw them from the corner of my eyes. After that, I knew everything was going to be okay.
I had surgery done on my back where I dislocated my spine at level T-10. I had more injuries on top of that, but my spine was my main injury. As soon as I woke up from surgery, the very first thing that came out of my doctor’s mouth was, “I’m sorry. Unfortunately you will never be able to walk again. You are now paralyzed from your waist down and will be in a wheelchair the rest of your life.” The funny thing is, I didn’t seem to mind. I was just happy to be alive.
RM: The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago helped you walk using a robotic devise. Did you think you were going to be able to walk again before they introduced this technology to you?
DA: As soon as I woke up from the accident and felt my legs I knew something was seriously wrong. After hearing my diagnosis from my doctor that I would never walk again, it didn’t bother me. I knew deep down inside that I would walk again one day. With God as my witness I kept, and still keep, a positive mindset about my injury. I was never depressed, scared or regretful that this traumatic event happened in my life. Before RIC [The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago] called me about the Ekso, my boyfriend and I had already done research and watched a YouTube video about it. So when RIC contacted me, I was overjoyed and excited that they chose me to be able to walk again using this robotic device. The first day I used the Ekso was unforgettable! I broke down in tears because what I was hoping and praying for came true…I was [able] to walk again.
RM: How did you first hear about the SkyRise Chicago event?
DA: I heard about SkyRise when I was an inpatient at RIC. I remember seeing a flyer about it. Immediately, I told my therapists, doctors, family and friends that I wanted to participate. I was discharged from RIC in July 2010. I promised myself that I [would] sign up to prove to myself and others that [despite] whatever your circumstance may be, if you are determined and motivated, anything is possible!
RM: What was your first thought when you found out that it was 103 floors?
DA: I was excited! I love a good challenge! It just pushed me to workout harder. I just kept telling myself that I am doing this for me! It was my way of celebrating a successful spinal cord recovery and my way of welcoming a new chapter in my life.
RM: What did you do to train?
DA: My boyfriend bought me an inexpensive tabletop handcycle and a couple 5-pound weights so I [could] train at home. From the accident, I also dislocated my left shoulder and fractured the head of my humerus. Due to this, it was difficult and painful to train. However, all the hard work paid off! “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!”
RM: Before the accident, do you think you could have done this stair climb with as much confidence as you do now? Were you athletic prior to your accident?
DA: I probably wouldn’t even have known about SkyRise if I were still an able-bodied person. I definitely would have been intimidated by the whole idea of walking up 103 floors! Before the accident, I tried my best to keep in shape. I would workout at the gym and jog…not run! Running was my worst enemy.
RM: Who's on your team for the stair climb?:
DA: So, this will be my third year participating. This year is extra special. Since I will be celebrating my 28th birthday on Nov. 28th, making it my “golden birthday," I decided to use the SkyRise as a way to celebrate. My goal was to raise a team of 28 people. I am honored to say that I now have 42 people on my team, T10 Risers! I wanted to share this one-of-a-kind event with my close family and friends.
RM: What does it mean to you to be able to participate in a competition that directly benefits the rehabilitation center that worked with you?
DA: It means the world to me! Participat[ing] in the SkyRise every year is my way of showing my appreciation for all that RIC has done for me. They (occupational therapists, physical therapists, doctors, PCTs and the rest of the staff) have helped me significantly with my recovery. They have been the number one rehab facility for more than 20 years for an obvious reason. I can’t thank them enough for helping me through this tough transition in my life. I definitely created a close bond with RIC. RIC and Chicago SkyRise will always hold a special place in my heart.
RM: How can people support this event (and your team) if they can't make it to Chicago on November 4th?
DA: I would be extremely thankful and humbled for any help our team can get. The link below will take you to my team page where anyone will be able to make a donation:
RM: Any last words for all the sporty girls out there?
DA: My advice to all the wonderful ladies out there is to never second-guess yourself. We can be our own biggest fan or our own biggest enemy. With that being said, you control your life and your destiny. Don’t let the noise and nonsense of negativity affect your life. Really dig deep down inside your heart, body, mind and soul to pull out your positivity. Whatever trials or obstacles you may face in life, just make sure to conquer them with your positive mindset.
Also, every time you look into the mirror, make sure to give yourself some credit. Admire the person that you see and just allow your inner beauty to radiate and shine toward everyone you come across. My motto in life is to live, laugh and love to the fullest! Count your blessings, not your problems
Proceeds go to the number one ranked rehabilitation center, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.