COLUMN: 10 years later, Malafronte getting stronger

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Nick Malafronte initially posted this message on his Facebook page on July 14 2021, the 10th anniversary of his accident. He has generously allowed Abington News to republish it.]

10 years down. 10 years stronger. 10 years closer to walking again.

Today marks 10 years since my injury. A decade living life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Still seems crazy to me.

10 years ago it was a nice hot July day at Island Grove working as a lifeguard. I loved that job and the people around it. Not a day goes by that my mind at some point doesn’t drift back to that day and the split second decision I made to throw the ball the way I did while jumping off the dock.

I’ll never forget the crack I heard as my C4 vertebrae exploded and my C5 broke and I was under the water unable to move anything. Those 10 to 20 seconds seemed to last a lifetime. I remember thinking I had to show the other lifeguards I was in distress because they would probably think I was joking around at first. I expelled every ounce of breath I had into that water to blow as many bubbles as possible. At this point it gets a little hazy and the next thing I remember I was looking up at the sky while being placed on the backboard in the water. I still can’t think my coworkers enough for saving my life that day and for acting so quickly. As a lifeguard you’re prepared for all types of things that could happen in the pool but you never expect that to happen to you.

I knew the second it happened that I was paralyzed. Since that day 10 years ago I’ve only had 1 thing on my mind and that is to regain full use of all my limbs and walk again. Monday thru Friday grinding day in and day out for the last 10 years doing everything in my power to regain what I’ve lost. Literally thousands of hours of therapy to get where I am today. I was told by Dr.’s when I first got hurt that I would most likely never move my arms on my own again. It took a few months but I got there. They also told me that what I regained in the first year would be as far as I would most likely get, somehow just in the last year I’m still getting stronger and setting PR’s in rowing, lat pull down, combo twist and other strength-based exercises. 10 years later and I’m still getting better and stronger. These are the types of small goals that keep me so motivated even 3653 days later.

There’s certainly more than the average person sees of just me being in the wheelchair, what I would give to just be able to grab a handful of chips and feed myself, or just get in my car and go for a drive. Or being able to play a round of golf with my friends and being by far the worst one. To not have to worry about planning every detail of a trip out and be spur of the moment or truly what I miss most being able to lace up some skates and play some hockey. It’s so much more than just a wheelchair it’s truly the minor stuff that I miss the most.

People always ask me how I’m able to stay so positive and seemingly unfazed by my injury, and truthfully I don’t really know. I guess I’ve always been a positive person and I’ve always had a smile on my face and that never changed even in the face of this injury. I think one of the things I’m most proud of myself for doing these last 10 years is just trying to be the very same person that I was prior to my injury and not allowing it to change me for the worse.

No 19 year old or any age should have to go through what I’ve been through but very early on in my injury I realized there was no way I could feel sorry for myself seeing some of the situations and seemingly more difficult obstacles others faced in life. Could I complain about being in this wheelchair for the last 10 years? Hell yeah I could. But that wouldn’t do any good and it’s a lot easier to be happy than anything else. Somehow I’m able to compartmentalize all of this where it doesn’t overwhelm me. Everyone has bad days, my bad days may be a little bit worse than the average person but you know what, they are just bad days and they pass and in my life right now the good ones certainly outweigh the bad. Every emotion and thought goes through my brain at some point on this day every year.

The word that rings through the most though is grateful. I’m grateful for getting hurt at work where I had the best possible outcome, being transferred to a world class hospital just minutes after my injury. Grateful to be sent to one of the best SCI rehab centers in the world in the Shepherd Center. So grateful for everyone who’s helped me along the way at Mass General, Shepherd, Spaulding Boston and Cambridge and Journey Forward. Some incredible nurses, PT’s, OT’s, Dr’s, therapists, specialists, and fellow clients that are on this crazy ride who I’m happy to call friends. I know I’ve been able to meet people and make friends and have some incredible experiences that for sure would not have been possible without this injury and I’m so grateful for all those.

I’m grateful for having an INCREDIBLE support system. Abington has been the absolute best to me and I couldn’t be prouder to call this home. To everyone who has ever donated a penny to me or sent me a card, I’ve read them all and truly from the bottom of my heart thank you. My family and friends are truly the best anyone could ask for and I’m so grateful to have you all by my side and I know I couldn’t do this without you so thank you for everything you do and everything you’ve done for me these last 10 years. Especially my parents, I’ll never be able to repay you for everything you’ve done and all the sacrifices you’ve made. I love you guys.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit so I’ll end with saying I’m so grateful for how far I’ve come these last 10 years. I know I have so much further to go but luckily I’m 29. Still young and still enough time to get where I need and want to be. This has always been a marathon and not a sprint, no idea when it’s ending but I won’t stop or give up till I’ve finished it. I will be walking again someday. ✌🏼👊🏼💪🏼#Believe#HardworkPaysOff#NoDaysOff#NeverGiveUp#motivation#wheelchairlife#gymmotivation#quadriplegic

Photo courtesy of Nick Malafronte
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