At elite levels of sport, there are naturally bigger risks that come with going faster, stronger, harder. Bella Picard, All American division 1 softball player, learned the hard realities of this at the height of her game when she crash landed with the force of a car crash into second base and the opposing team’s shortstop’s knee.
Up until that life-changing moment, Bella’s athletic career was unstoppable; she received a full scholarship to Fordham and had already stolen ten bases at the start of her sophomore year. She was ready to continue her career at full force in the spring of April 2015.
But when Bella was knocked unconscious, everything around her went still. When she came to, she was confused and disorientated. Things only got worse after she had been taken to the hospital and woke up to find her entire world turned inside out. The results of her crash were devastating for the star athlete; the entire right side of her body had been paralyzed.
Doctors told Bella she would never play softball again. But instead of accepting that diagnosis, Bella decided she would get back on the field. To bring back her right side, she used her grit, dedication and athlete mentality to start training. Except now, her goals were to achieve baseline functionality that she had previously taken for granted. Incredibly, against the initial diagnosis of the doctors and after multiple surgeries, daily rehab and a will made out of steel, Bella now has full function of her right arm and leg. She is walking, playing, and training harder than ever. We got to chat with Bella to learn more about what she’s been up to lately and to get her advice on overcoming limitations. Read on for more.
Hi Bella! Where are you living these days?
I am currently in Florida and I have been living here since January. I moved here after I was contacted by a training and rehab facility called Barwis down here in Deerfield beach, FL—they told me that they have been following my spinal cord injury recovery for years and they told me about their Neurological Re-engineering Program. I was evaluated in October and fell in love with the facility, the atmosphere is so vibrant and the methods they use for physical therapy are unlike anything I’ve experienced throughout my entire rehabilitation.
What about softball first drew you into the sport?
I was strictly a soccer player until my freshman year of high school, one of the seniors on the varsity soccer team convinced me to play softball the following spring. So I did and I made that varsity squad, I was just a really fast base runner. I made the switch to softball because I was battling annoying injuries from playing soccer and found that I could stay pretty healthy and sharp playing softball, because there’s not much physical contact. The ironic part of that, looking back, is I ended up suffering one of the most serious injuries playing a sport I thought was a heck of a lot safer than soccer, haha.
What I love about softball is the fact that you get an ego check every game, because failure is inevitable. Soccer taught me a lot about my athleticism and physical fitness and drive.
Was there ever a moment in doubt in your mind about when you'd be able to play softball again? If so, how did you deal with any feelings of frustration or sadness?
The only moments where I found myself doubting not just my ability to play the game of softball again someday, but also doubting my ability to walk again were always moments of frustration. I was able to recognize very early on in my recovery during my inpatient rehabilitation with the help from my therapists that when I started to speak negatively and become doubtful, it was because I was just having a bad day or I was in pain. All of my therapists brought out the absolute best in me and they really talked to me like a coach would talk to their athlete, they encouraged me to be present whenever any doubt would cross my mind. The more I became present in my emotions, the more I realized how present God was and still is.
As an athlete, do you think there are two different mindsets required for training versus recovery? Or are they the same?
I think that having an athlete mentality is a huge advantage in any recovery. The mental toughness, discipline, and competitive spirit that made me the athlete I was and still am helps me tremendously in my training. I think the only negative side to having such an athlete mentality in this recovery is the result aspect. As an athlete, I have spent my whole life training and practicing a sport only to see myself become better in my athleticism and physical performance. I always saw results quickly. In my spinal cord injury recovery, I found myself mentally struggling with not seeing the physical progress I hoped to see. I had to stop comparing my ability to what i could do before I was injured, and to be honest I still struggle with this very thing!
How have you learned more about the human body since your accident?
I learned all about the spinal cord and the brain and how brain paths can be interrupted to the spinal cord when there is trauma. I didn’t really know anything about neurology, so this whole recovery has been the most eye-opening experience as to how amazing and incredible the design of our human bodies are. We are made so wonderfully and designed with such purpose even if that purpose is just to keep our heart beating. The behind the scene work our bodies are constantly doing is just unbelievable and I think if more people understood the spinal cord and brain, more people would have hope and gratitude.
What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to overcome challenges?
My advice for anyone looking to overcome challenges is simply this; your feet will never head in any direction your mind wasn’t already going. Any challenges that you may be facing aren’t there for no reason, you were made to conquer whatever lies in front of you. Don’t let anyone or anything make you think you aren’t capable.
Thank you for the inspiring words! To follow Bella’s progress, check her out on Instagram here.
Written by Cyrena Lee