Hickory native Maggie Gettys is an avid outdoorswoman graduating from Appalachian State University in May.
The former Fred T. Foard three-sport athlete grew up in Catawba County playing sports and enjoys all things outdoors, including hiking, skiing, rafting, yoga, paddling and above all, rock climbing.
In July 2016, her outdoor endeavors came to a halt when she was traumatically injured.
While staying in Bryson City as a raft guide for Nantahala Outdoor Center, Gettys fell from a loft in a cabin in the middle of the night and broke her T-11/T-12 vertebrae.
“The vertebrae cut into my spinal cord, resulting in an incomplete spinal cord injury leaving me paralyzed from the waist down,” Gettys said. “‘Incomplete’ meaning that the bones did not completely sever the spinal cord, which meant I might have a chance at some recovery.”
Gettys mentioned she also suffered from complications, such as issues with her bladder and bowels, nerve pain and muscular spasms.
Following the accident, she endured a successful surgery at Mission Hospital in Asheville for two weeks before being sent to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga. for treatment. She was there for three months.
“I slowly started to regain little amounts of feeling and movement. Leaving Atlanta in October , I was able to walk with the assistance of a walker, braces on my lower legs and someone beside me,” Gettys said.
Today, Gettys, 22, still has no feeling from her knees down, experiences weakness in her muscles and walks with arm crutches and braces on her ankles. But that hasn’t stopped her.
Gettys will graduate with a recreation management degree in May, which will follow her internship with Beech Mountain’s Adaptive ski program. While she’s graduating a year later than planned, her injury helped her realize her desire to become a recreational therapist.
“I feel that it taught my classmates and professors that someone who uses a wheelchair is still capable of anything someone who doesn't can do,” Gettys said.
She hikes weekly, practices yoga twice a week and will spend time on the water during the warm months. Volunteering is also one of Gettys’ strong suits.
“I volunteer with Catalyst Sports, an adaptive recreation company. They originated in Atlanta and have chapters all around the Southeast, including North Carolina chapters in Charlotte and Boone,” Gettys said. “In my time as a student in Boone, I have also volunteered with Camp Crinkleroot, a camp for kids with autism and I have also volunteered with F.A.R.M. Café, a restaurant in downtown Boone whose mission is to serve all regardless of means.”
What motivates you?
I find motivation from small feats, such as carrying my groceries up the stairs and generally seeing my legs slowly get stronger. I am motivated by friends and family that continue to encourage and support me and also sunny days where I am able to play outside.
What makes you happy/gives you joy?
Spending time with friends and family outside doing things that I love is what makes me happy. Dogs … dogs also give me lots of joy.
What is the greatest challenge you had to overcome?
This is a tough one … living with my injury on a day-to day-basis is pretty tough. When my friends all go outside and do something that I physically can’t participate in is hard to deal with. I also struggle with feeling bad when I feel sorry for myself. There are lots of problems in the world and many people out there facing injuries like mine or worse without the support that I have. Which is just unfair and I’d like help them.
What is something you would change about your life?
I guess I would rather not be paralyzed. Although I have learned a lot about life from this injury, I would still wish I would not have had it. It has caused my family a get deal of stress, and I wish I could take that away.
What is the best advice you have received? Who gave the advice?
I have heard from multiple physical therapists over the years that progress is not a straight line. It’s important for me to always remember that progress may be great one day and slow another but that never means that I should stop trying.
How do you wish to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who never gives up and someone who works hard. I want to be remembered as someone who helps others achieve their goals.