A semi-professional motocross and freestyle rider, Christina Vithoulkhas was no stranger to injury when one badly landed jump changed her life forever.
The accident left Christina with a broken back. Paralysed and unable to walk, doctors told her she would never ride a two-wheeler again.
However, Christina was determined that her spinal cord injury would not stop her from living her life and getting back on her bike, and today she travels with her twin sister, rides motorbikes, races cars, and lives her life fully.
With approximately 20,800 Australians living with a spinal cord injury, and over 1 in 6 Aussies having a disability, Christina is sharing her incredible story with Yahoo Lifestyle readers in the hope of normalising disability and encouraging others to also live their lives to the fullest.
Christina’s spinal cord injury left her paralysed
“I knew I was paralysed the minute I regained consciousness, because I was in so much pain but couldn’t get up, and after every other crash I’d always get up no matter how big it was”, says Christina.
“I had someone at my legs asking me if I could feel this or feel that, and I instantly knew that this time this wasn’t your normal broken bone, this was going to change my life forever.
Christina was airlifted to the Royal Adelaide hospital where she underwent a six hour surgery to install 12 screws and two rods.
“I lost about six litres of blood and spent the next three days in the ICU. The next three weeks were spent in intensive care before I was transferred to Melbourne Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre where I spent another two months trying to relearn how to do all the basics in my day to day life, whilst paralysed.
Relearning how to do the basics
“I had to learn how to go to the toilet - to empty my bowels and use catheters to urinate. I had to learn how to do transfers from the bed or a car. I had to relearn how to brush my teeth, to shower, and even how to exercise, stretch and swim”, remembers Christina.
“Gaining access to places also changed, and sometimes involves ramps, or elevators. I shower on a waterproof wheelchair which is called a commode and have to do my bowels every single morning or every second day which involves inserting a suppository and catheters roughly every four hours throughout the day, as I’m unable to tell when I need to urinate. If I’m drinking alcohol and I’m drunk I put timers on to remind me just in case I pee myself.
“There’s other things like driving that have changed. I have a modified vehicle that has a Bluetooth satellite hand control that wraps around my hand which is my accelerator and then a break underneath the steering wheel, and a chair that comes out of the car and drops down to my height to allow me to transfer.”
Staying positive through her injury
Despite the consistent challenges of recovery, Christina remembers finding positives in her situation: “As weird as it sounds, the injury and recovery process was kind of fun for me to watch how much I could improve as quickly as possible.
“I definitely had a few moments that hit me after I left rehab, for example putting on skinny leg jeans and noticing them being too loose for me for the first time, and also the thought of not being able to walk down the aisle.
“There was also the time I was declined Centrelink because I was apparently not disabled enough for the system to receive a disability payment. But, my own mentality supported me, in knowing that the quicker I swallow the pill, the quicker life can get better.
“However, I cannot deny the support from social media, and family and friends when I was in rehab. They helped me and hyped me up to stay as positive as I am.
“Having that reassurance kept me going and kept my vision a little bit more clear - knowing that I was on the right path and to stay true to myself.”
Normalising sexuality, inclusiveness and living a full life with disability
“I’m passionate about normalising sexuality through my Instagram,” says Christina, “because it’s something that is asked so frequently, and I know is probably the most misunderstood concept with being disabled so I like to normalise that disabled people are still human, we still get horny and we still want sex and that intimacy with someone else or on our own. That’s why I express my sexual needs, to breakdown that stigma.
“I also like to promote myself out and about partying, or going on certain adventures, to show that just because we’re having to manoeuvre around this earth on a wheelchair doesn’t mean we don’t want to do these extravagant activities.
“I’ll show the challenges that I have to face whether it be being picked up, carried or whatever it takes to get stuff done, so it makes other people realise how important inclusiveness is.”
Life has never been better
“And honestly, my life has never been better. I lost so much when I paralysed myself, the ability to urinate, poo, walk, the list goes on. But, mentally I was more paralysed before and I feel like I am capable of doing anything I want to do just in a different way now.
Christina’s inclusive message for others
“My message for other people going through the same thing or even if they’re not disabled, if they feel that they're mentally being paralysed and stopped with anxiety or depression from doing things that they want, I would say to them it’s okay to feel things but it’s not okay to let it stop you from believing you’re deserving of happiness and a life worth living.
"It won’t happen overnight, it’s something that you will need to work on every single day and some days you might fall back in that trap and it might last a week or even a month or even three months and that’s ok, but as long as you believe and focus on a better life for yourself in the future it will come to you. Loving yourself is key."
Christina is an ambassador for Wings for Life World Run, the largest global run where everyone all over the world starts running at the exact same time to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injury research.
One hundred percent of the entry fee goes directly to spinal cord injury research. The ninth annual Wings for Life World Run takes place on the 8th May. Register at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com.
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