Pamela: I watched your TED Talk. I actually watched it twice, once prior to the summit and again yesterday because it’s inspirational and encouraging.
You need to continuously share the journey you’ve been on. Even though it may not be similar to somebody else’s, I guarantee that they’re going to walk away feeling more empowered than they were before they heard it.
Shawna: Oh, friend, thank you. Well, okay, from the beginning. I think life has a lot of different beginnings, but I’ll start with my purpose and my passion because I’ve known that since I was a little girl my goal is to empower other human beings. To remember, uncover, or deepen their greatness within and to be this mirror that says, I believe in you. Even when I was little, I knew that was my path and my mission.
I’ve had the opportunity to do that in a variety of different ways. I started teaching group exercise classes when I was about 15 years old. I really fell in love with seeing people, although it was just an aerobics class, but seeing people come in, in one state of being and seeing their journey of shedding the weight throughout the day. I would see them slowly start to shed the things that were weighing them down. Then watching them walk out the door with this new energy, a new awareness and new vibrance.
It had nothing to do with me. It was their own realization of their power. I was just giving them a tool. I was creating an environment for them to have that space of discovery. That led me to getting my degree in exercise physiology and health ecology.
I began personal training when I was 18. I had my own personal training business and ran different fitness centers. Through this whole evolution, it was really about how I can give people the tools and how can I continue that in every aspect of their lives.
Fast forward to where I am as a personal trainer, and trying to figure out how to envelope fitness and well-being together? How do I create this environment? What if people could have this sense of retreat? What if people could have this sense of growth, and fitness every single day? T
hat led me to opening my wellness facility, which was called “The Sanctuary.” That was a beautiful facility, it was completely based around giving people the tools that they needed to create balance and well-being.
Pamela: Not everyone has that moment of when they know they have met the person they are going to spend their life with. Can you tell us about when you met your soulmate?
Shawna: It’s my birthday. I see my friend walk in, and he brings somebody with him. I watch this person greet everybody, not with a handshake, not with just a smile, but with a hug. And I was instantly like, whoa, that’s my kind of person. Then he turned and we locked eyes.
We had this lifetime of conversations that probably lasted all of three seconds, but it was this. “Oh, there you are!” It was this knowingness that we had known each other for many, many lifetimes. He walks over to me, and when he tells the story, he says, “I walked over and I should have said something like, ‘Hi, my name is Grant. I love you. I’m gonna spend the rest of my life with you.’” But he said, “Hi, my name is Grant,” and it went right to my soul.
We just did this beautiful kind of dance all night long and I knew he was my person.
Pamela: Now I’m curious… tell us more about what attracted you to Grant and where life was headed after you met.
Shawna: Beyond being the most incredible, genuine and caring human being, Grant is an incredible professional athlete. Mountain biking, snowmobiling, skiing, everything.
All the things in every sport, whitewater kayaking, also being the president of a nanotechnology company where they were working on curing ocular tumors and creating fusion energy and working with government labs all over the world.
Here we are, we meet, get engaged, and get married. I’m running this wellness facility and he’s running his nanotechnology company, and we have our whole lives ahead of us. We feel like everything’s going according to plan. We were married in October of 2009.
Pamela: What happened on March 5, 2010, just five months after your wedding?
Shawna: Grant was out snowmobiling, they were filming for a movie. Keep in mind, with his engineering brain everything he does is calculated. It wasn’t X Games, it was very much in his wheelhouse. He’d been doing this his entire life. He overshot a jump, landed too hard, and fractured his first lumbar vertebrae and instantly sustained a spinal cord injury and had no feeling or movement from the belly button down.
They were in the back country. Luckily he was with three of the greatest people that he could have been with. They are trained in wilderness first aid.
It was a whole epic mission just to get them out of the back country because they didn’t have cell service out there. It was a big ordeal just to get the helicopter out to them. There was a chance that the helicopter wasn’t going to make it because there was a storm blowing in.
And so now I’m back at The Sanctuary and I remember that afternoon, looking out at the window and I started calling Grant which is weird because I know he didn’t have any service. I know he wasn’t going to pick up, but I just had this need to connect with him. I kept calling. I even told my manager of the facility that I’m going to head home because it just felt like I needed to be there. I thought maybe Grant got home early. I remember I set my phone down in the hallway. I walked away and it was on silent.
I turned back around and I grabbed my phone and this an unknown number was coming through. I usually don’t answer unknown numbers. But, I happened to answer it and it was the flight nurse saying, we have your husband and you need to get to the hospital as quick as you can. I said, “Okay, what are we dealing with? Is he conscious?” And they said yes. I said, “Okay, what’s going on,” because I knew it had to be bad for Grant to be in ahelicopter.
I knew it wasn’t good. But I was grateful that they told me that he was conscious because they wouldn’t give me much information. I drove our mini cooper over 100 miles an hour getting to the ER. I ran in and that was probably one of the most challenging points, the waiting.
I needed to see him mostly because I needed him to know that I was okay. That we were going to be okay.
When I got back to see him, he was still on the back board with a neck brace and tears in his eyes. He’s telling me, “I can’t feel or move anything from the belly button down.” The only thing I could do was just beam as much love as I possibly could. I just held his face. I said, “We’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through it running, skiing, adventuring, and achieving our goals and doing everything that we ever said we’re going to do.” That set us on the journey that we’ve been on for the past 10 years.
And really, it’s been his determination, his positivity, and an amazing community. It takes a team, it takes a village and a whole lot of hard work. The most important thing is love. That’s been our guiding force and I think that when we come from that place of love, it is the greatest fuel and most powerful force that we have.
Pamela: Right? I could listen to you talk about your love over and over. I can feel it from a distance. What has been the journey through recovery been like?
Shawna: We chose to close The Sanctuary so that I could focus solely on him and his recovery. That was my dream that I had since I was 13, but I knew when I stood in the ICU that this is why I studied the human body, why I’ve worked with hundreds of bodies. I wasn’t afraid of the human body. I wasn’t afraid to research. I loved to research and it became very apparent early on that I needed to be the advocate. I am going to need to be the warrior and protect my person. Because if not, then somebody else is going to decide our future.
Every spinal cord injury is different, every outcome is different, which is another reason why they tend to err on the side of, let’s not be too positive or too hopeful. One of the greatest tools that we have as human beings is hope.
We have to have hope. That’s what drives so many people to get out of bed every day, the hope that we can achieve our goals. The hope that we can create a positive world, the hope that today might be better than yesterday.
Then you pair hope with a whole lot of hard work, belief and love, because you can have all the hope in the world, but you have to follow through with it. That’s what led us to this journey of traveling around finding the best products, the best programs, the best people, the best therapists, and now Grant can feel and move all the way down to his legs.
I would say he was in the wheelchair for a solid six months and then about three months in he started to get flickers in the quads because he was never supposed to move his legs.
My intuition was telling me, you need to be fierce, you need to be focused, and you need to have a belief bigger than you’ve ever had in your entire life. Take every tool that you know, some of it’s going to make sense and some of it’s not. I think I even told Grant at one point, “We’re gonna do everything under the sun. I need you to just trust me.”
And so, early on I told myself that if he doesn’t see you believe, how is he gonna believe? I would say, “We’re going to go mountain biking.” And I would be moving his legs and I would say, “Imagine. I want you to feel… “ and I would go through which muscles would be working.
That’s kind of where it started. That led to him getting a little bit of movement back in his quads and the top of his legs. Then we started playing with a wheelchair and walker. Luckily we had a great therapist, even though she had never really worked with somebody with a spinal cord injury, but she wasn’t afraid. She was an ally with me. I told her, we gotta get him up walking. She was all for it.
It was us moving his body. Then we started practicing with a walker and I’d follow behind with the wheelchair. This progressed and I would say we used a wheelchair and walker for about eight months. Then we tried forum crutches. We used the forum crutches for almost three years then we transitioned to a set of canes and that is what we’re working on now. Transitioning to one cane and I know with every fiber of my being that we will get there.
Pamela: Can you share a little bit about ‘Choose Positivity’. What’s happening with that?
Shawna: In 2012, Grant became the first athlete with a spinal cord injury to push himself to the final degree of latitude on the geographic South Pole in Antarctica. So about 100 miles. This was all born out of saying that Grant needs an expedition, Grant needs something to train for, because although I grew up in a gym and I’m comfortable working out and doing all that, that was not his jam, his jam was being outside.
I knew that we had to tap into that. When we were presented with this opportunity to empower a foundation that we love, as well as have Grant do something that would push his body, we said absolutely, yes.
That led to Grant being invited to speak all over the world for companies and corporations. During this time Grant wrote a book as well, right before he went to the South Pole. It’s called Two Feet Back. It is really just our goal to think positively right now. t’s not always easy, but it’s very simple. Choose it, choose it now.
That was really our mission and what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Grant does a little bit more one-on-one corporate coaching.
I’m getting ready to launch something really big and exciting. Our mission is still the same, Choose Positivity. Now it’s this whole big umbrella, that’s holding all of this together, that is our mission. To empower people to choose positivity.
When Grant talks he reminds me that positivity isn’t walking around like everything is perfect and having rose colored glasses on. No, no, no.Positivity is an action. Positivity is about doing the work. Positivity is about saying, you know what, it’s not easy right now but I’m going to choose love over fear. That’s what I’m going to do, that’s where I’m going to put my focus. And so that’s really what the goal of that was. We’ll carry that on in a few different ways.