When you take a vow of marriage, one of the lines is usually, “in sickness and in health,” implying that you will be there for each other through all the good and the bad. While it might not always be easy, you know what you’re signing up for when you put on those rings.
Some people treat their vows like they’re written in stone, while others treat them like they’re just words. Riona Kelly found out about this the hard way.
Kelly and Richard had been married for fourteen years and had four beautiful children together. 17-years old Leighanra, 12-years-old Caleb, 10-year-old Izabela, and six-year-old Logan. Kelly was an amazing mother.
She was very active and present in her children’s lives. She was physically active and loved to exercise regularly and cook delicious and healthy meals. Everyone thought they were the perfect family. But people would soon discover that that was far from the truth.
At just 37 years old, Kelly suffered a spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the waist down. A spinal stroke is a disruption in the blood supply to the spinal cord.
Without a supply of blood, the spinal cord cannot function properly; thus, injury or damage to tissue can occur. This can block nerve impulses from traveling along the spinal cord.
Only 1.25% of strokes are spinal. But sadly for Kelly, she was one of the very few unlucky people that were told they would never be able to walk again because of this stoke. Speaking about the day it happened, Kelly recalls, “I was at home one day with Logan. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I fell down a complete flight of stairs, and Logan had to call for help,”
“I’d had a car accident 18 months previous and they said that could have caused problems in my spine. But other than that I was a fit and healthy woman and there was no other reason why this would happen.”
As if things weren’t bad enough, her husband left her and their kids just five days after her heartbreaking stroke. Without him, the only people Kelly had that could provide help and support were her family and the hospital staff. What would you do if you were in her position?
Not only had this tragic event changed her entire life, but she had also lost the person she needed the most. It was clear that she was in a tough spot.
“It was the time I needed my husband the most,” Kelly confessed about the moment he decided to walk out, but added, “Looking back, I was miserable in my marriage, but we had built a life together and had responsibilities.”
One of those responsibilities was taking care of her family and her children, but how was she going to do this now that she had lost the use of her legs? Panic, depression, and fear were all setting in.
After five days in the hospital, she was told it would take her six months to a year to recover. “At the time I felt like giving up, but I knew I had to be strong for my children,” she said.
“The first time I went out in a wheelchair, I thought everyone was looking at me; I hated it and hated myself. If someone had given me a choice, I would have ended my life, I didn’t want to live anymore.” She continued.
“But the other patients on the ward were amazing, I received so much support from them, and they encouraged me to get out of bed every day,” She smiled. Kelly had spent so many hours in physio before she miraculously was able to take her first step on the parallel bar.
This was only two weeks after doctors informed her that she would probably never be able to walk again. She speaks about it with pride and deep emotion, “I was dragging my body, and I had no feeling in my legs, but I didn’t care,” she said. “I was walking, and that’s all that mattered.”
Only a few months later, she decided to search for a personal trainer on Facebook. She was doing well, but she knew she wanted more help. That was when Keith Mason stepped in. She speaks about Keith and says, “No personal trainers wanted to work with me, but somebody recommended that Keith did a little bit in his spare time.”
“That’s how I ended up training with Keith.” And little did she know what was about to happen next.
Mason wasn’t only a personal trainer, but he also had a 14-year career rugby career in which he played for four Super League teams, Wakefield Trinity, Castleford Tigers Huddersfield giants and St Helens, as well as playing in the NRL for a season with Melbourne Storm.
He went on to pursue acting, and then got into personal training. She was making great strides with him, “but at the same time I found an affordable physio and so I left the personal trainer as it was too much for me.” But that wasn’t the end.
Even after her sessions with Keith was over, he frequently contacted her to ask her about how she was doing and to check in on her progress. “After our sessions Keith and I stayed in contact, he would ask me how I was getting on and our relationship blossomed from there,” Kelly said.
Keith was everything her ex-husband was not, and there was no denying the butterflies that were blossoming in her stomach.
“And then one day Keith asked me out for coffee and we picked up from where we left off,” Kelly said. “I just couldn’t believe a gorgeous rugby player wanted to date a disabled woman like me.”
They had a bond that went well beyond that of trainer and client — they had found love. Kelly credits a lot of her progress to the amazing support system she has at home with her family, friends, and of course newfound love, Keith.
“Keith says I inspire him, but he encourages me every day and understands and sees the pain that I am in,” Kelly said.
“He has been amazing with me and the children and I love him more each and every day. I thank the lord for bringing my soul mate into my life. Apart from my children I have never loved anyone the way that I love my best friend. He’s shown me the true meaning of a loving relationship. A relationship that’s strong. That works in harmony. That compromises. That’s loyal and true and above all a relationship that just works so perfectly.”
Physically, Kelly is also progressing in leaps and bounds. “I now only need my wheelchair to go long distances but my home hasn’t been adapted so I try not use it,” she said.
“I’m now back in the gym, and with Keith’s help I’m getting better and stronger than ever.” She has since completed two marathons with her wheelchair and continues to raise funds for spinal cord/stroke research. In fact, they’ve started their own charity!
The name of it is Go Pink, which focuses on fitness and nutrition, particularly for those with physical disabilities. The pair also acts as ambassadors for various disability-related charities such as Para-dance and Wakefield Trinity Physical Disabilities Rugby League.
While she has a very full plate, she also still has some issues — difficulty with her legs, including nerve issues, and she’ll have a disability for the rest of her life. But oddly enough, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“After my stroke, I thought my life was over, but it’s only just beginning and has opened so many wonderful doors,” she said. “I’ve signed up with Models of Diversity and have just landed my first TV commercial.” “I used to struggle accepting help, but now I welcome it as it helps me to keep moving forward,” Kelly wrote on Instagram.
“We can’t always do everything on our own with no help and support. Being the bigger and stronger person is to admit when we need help and accept it from the right people.”
Much like Kelly, 18-year-old Chris Norton’s life changed in the blink of an eye. Chris was born and raised in Decorah, Iowa. Ever since he was a young boy, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up – a professional football player.
Ever since he decided that it was what he wanted to do, he dedicated every second to become the best he could be. He was an ambitious young man with a bright future ahead, but life had other plans for him.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, and Chris woke up with excitement. It was the big game against Central College, and he felt prepared to take the trophy home.
Chris knew he was an excellent athlete, and he knew the game plan like the back of his hand. However, no amount of preparation would have been enough to predict the tragedy that would occur that day.
The game started, and everybody excitedly watched. Chris was giving it his all, until he made one fatal miscalculation. Chris’s body hit the grass and the crowed gasped. The whole field got quiet and all he could hear was the crowd’s anxious whispers.
However, he didn’t pay them any attention rather, he was focused on the fact that he couldn’t move. His mind began to wander to the worst-case scenario, but this was not the end of his story.
Chris tried to push his body off the ground, but to no avail. “I’m trying to push myself up off the ground, but nothing’s working. I prayed to God to please let me just get up and walk off the field,” he recalled.
Despite his best efforts, he had to be airlifted off of the field. The only thing he could think about was his football career. He spent the entire ride praying that whatever happened to him was fixable. However, as soon as Chris saw the expression on the doctor’s face, he knew it was over.
After the doctor’s examined Chris, he informed him that he fractured his C3-C4 vertebrae. To add insult to injury, the doctor told Chris that there was only a 3% chance that he would be able to move his body below his neck.
The future Chris spent years building was destroyed in a matter of hours. Just this morning, he was one step closer to his dream but now he might never move his fingers again. Chris was a fighter, and he was taught to never give up in what he believed in. He was determined to prove the doctor wrong, and so that was what he did.
“I wasn’t going to accept that,” Norton told a journalist. “I was going to be part of that three percent.” And as it happens, his persistence paid off in a way that would help others going through similar difficulties.
One year after his diagnosis, Chris started the Chris Norton Foundation that was aimed to assist those with spinal cord and neuromuscular conditions to get their lives back on track. He managed to raise more than $800 000 for his foundation. He did not do this all on his own, as he had a great support network around him.
Norton had a lot of help from his loved ones, friends, trainers, and numerous other unique individuals who were moved by his story. “My circumstances would have been completely different if it wasn’t for these advantages,” he shared.
Chris was doing everything in his power to make a succesful recovery, and with the help of those close to him he knew it was possible. However, there was one particular person that changed his life in a profound way.
It was Norton’s goal to walk the stage at his college graduation, and that was all the motivation he needed. In order to achieve this, he even relocated to Michigan to work with Mike Barwis, a physical therapist.
Mike taught Chris so many important lessons, including just because of his injury, he shouldn’t stop living his life. So he decided to join a dating app but things weren’t going as he hoped. Until he stumbled upon Emily.
Finding love wasn’t easy, and Chris felt like his circumstances made things even more difficult. However, as soon as he and Summer started talking he knew he was speaking to the love of his life. “For someone to look past my injury and my physical challenges, and instantly I knew, Emily, she didn’t see that — she saw me for who I was, and I instantly had a connection with her,” he explained.
Even though Chris found love, he knew his fight wasn’t over just yet.
Chris worked hard for months, and it was finally time to receive his college diploma. Once his name was called, the entire auditorium fell silent as Chris got up and walked to claim what was rightfully his. Everyone was cheering and clapping their hands.
It was the most important day of his life, because not only did he receive his diploma, but he proved the doctors wrong who doubted in him. He made his whole family proud. It was as if his life was finally falling into place, but there was one last thing he needed to do.
Summer was everything he has ever wanted, and more. It was a no brainer for Chris, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. As soon as he received his diploma, he grabbed her hand and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.
She happily agreed, and the young couple was ecstatic. Chris was now faced with another daunting task, as he didn’t want Summer to be the only one who walked down the aisle.
He became accustomed to his body and how it worked, but some days he felt like giving up. It was a constant fight against his own body – some days he won, other days he lost.
However, Summer was his rock who did nothing but support him. She motivated him to walk again. She was his biggest inspiration and he knew he couldn’t have done any of this without her.
Eight years after the fateful accident that changed Chris’s life, he walked down the aisle. He was about to marry the woman of his dreams, and he couldn’t believe his luck.
Traditionally, only the bride walks down the aisle, however, Summer insisted that they both walked down the aisle together. That was just the type of person she was. Chris thought his life could not get any better, but he was wrong.
Soon after their wedding, the young couple began discussing expanding their family. Chris couldn’t wait to grow his little family. If he were to tell his younger self where he would end up in life, his younger self would laugh.
With hard work and determination both Chris and Riona fought to get the life they deserved, and it just shows that anything can happen if you put your mind to it. In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.