Amberly Lago was a former athlete and professional dancer until life challenged her big time with a big motorcycle accident in 2010. She was hit by an SUV while riding her motorcycle home from work. After being thrown 30 feet down a busy street and sliding across the asphalt, she finally came to a stop and looked down at her leg that was shattered into pieces with blood pouring out of her severed femoral artery. With a 1% chance of keeping her leg and 34 surgeries later, she was determined that she could win her life back. Read on and learn more about an amazing and inspiring woman who took on the odds to get her life back.
Amberly, your story is really astounding and we can´t imagine how it feels to live to through all of this. What was going on in your head when you had that accident?
It’s crazy what goes on in your head in a moment of shear panic and fear. One of my first thoughts was, “Oh this can’t be good. I may have to train clients on crutches for a while.” It wasn’t until I saw the people’s reactions around me that I got really scared and as the pain escalated, I wondered if I was even going to live. I was rushed to the hospital and put into induced coma because all my organs were shutting down and doctors couldn’t control my pain. The next thing I remember is waking up and being told that I had a 1% chance of saving my leg and it was like a “war wound” so doctors wanted to amputate. That one percent was the glimmer of hope I needed to get me through 34 surgeries, months in the hospital and thousands of hours of excruciating physical therapy to save my leg. And believe it or not, that was the easy part.
The hard part was when I got home, reality set in, I had to figure out how to take care of a two year old and a teenager when I couldn’t even use the bathroom on my own and then as diagnosed with a nerve disease called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome as a result of the trauma. CRPS is dubbed the “suicide disease” because it’s ranked highest on the pain scale and there is no known cure.
After trying several medical procedures, all kinds of therapy, all kinds of medications and a lot of snake oil, nothing was working to get me out of pain. At one point I was on 73 homeopathic pills a day along with 11 different prescription medications. It still takes all the Texas grit I can summon up and a whole lot of grace to get through each day living with constant chronic pain. But pain has proven to be my biggest teacher and I am inspired to share how I get through it and still find joy and live life to the fullest.
What motivated and inspired you to get back on your feet?
I was motivated and inspired to get back up on my own two feet because I learned to be self-reliant at a young age, I had big dreams and most of all I had my family and clients who needed me. I wasn’t used to depending on someone to carry a bed pan for me and don’t know if you can ever really get used to that.
I went from having a successful career and being the bread winner of the family to lying in a bed covered in bed sores. Somedays I didn’t know how I was going to push through the pain and make it through the day and I would hear my two year old daughter’s voice call out “Mama,” and that motivated me to get up even if it was only to be able to sit up.
When we have purpose, it is the biggest motivator. Even when I was stuck in a hospital bed, being of service to others is what helped me move forward. Even when I couldn’t exercise on my own, I could write out exercise plans for clients, be a sounding board for frustrated nurses, and have cuddle time with my children.
I think the thing that inspired me to get on my feet more that anything is my children. We can teach our children to be a victim in life or the victor. I wanted to be an example of a victor and of resilience for them so that when they come across life’s challenges, they know how to get through the toughest times too.
Today you work as a motivational speaker and fitness trainer. Given that you yourself had a lot to go through and you know what´s going on in the head of you audience, what is it that people who are in this situation need and want to hear?
I remember the moment a doctor told me I would be wheelchair bound and permanently disabled and after the initial kick in the gut being told this, it was my most motivating moment. I wanted to work with clients again. I wanted more than anything to be able to walk on my own two feet again. But I remember feeling so broken and thinking that no one would want to work with me again because I couldn’t do all the things I used to be able to do.
To my surprise one of my clients that I had for 20 years actually said I was a better trainer after my accident because I could better understand her pain. It was like the accident gave me the gift of more empathy and compassion because I could understand their struggles even more. Although I don’t know exactly what goes on in everyone’s head because we all have our own perceptions, I do know what it feels like to be hopeless, discouraged, broken, scared, frustrated, depressed, anxious, and stuck.
I am most passionate about sharing tools for resilience and that’s why I came up with P.A.C.E.R. which stands for perspective, acceptance, community, endurance, and rest and allows us to tap into our superpower of resilience. My sincere wish is to give hope to others that no matter what their circumstances are that they can have the life they have always wanted. You can learn more about the PACER Method when you watch my TEDx talk “The Pace of Pain.”
Are you living your life now different than you did before? Are you valuing things differently?
I live life differently now, not just because I have to but because I choose to. I used to get caught up in comparing what I used to be able to do with what I can do now and that only led me down a road of despair. Instead I focus on gratitude because that changes what we can’t do into what we can do, and it changes what we don’t have into what we do have. It’s alchemy. Resilient people choose carefully what they put their attention on. If you choose to count your blessings, more blessings come your way. Resilient people also choose very carefully the people they surround themselves with. If you want to feel good and do good, surround yourself with inspired, motivated and passionate people.
You also wrote your memoir “True Grit and Grace”. What part did writing this book play in your healing process?
Writing my book, True Grit and Grace, was cathartic. In the middle of writing my book was when I hit my rock bottom. I was writing about the childhood sexual abuse, struggles, and surgeries and felt like all the pain was too much. It was this moment I realized the meaning of “the only way out is through.” I had been stuffing, numbing and ignoring all my feelings for so long. But in order to heal, we have to acknowledge the pain, what’s not working for us, and our feelings. I think writing is one of the most useful tools in healing. It gets the thoughts out of our head and onto paper. I write in my gratitude journal everyday what I’m grateful for, what my intentions are and what are my struggles so I can make a plan to take action steps to conquer my dreams.
Often times we are told by society that there are certain things we just can not do or accomplish. On the other side, we are told that we should follow our own inner voice. You choose to ignore and defy the doctor who abruptly told you that you would never function normally within society and would not be able to walk again. Where did you get the energy and certainty that you could achieve this goal?
Well my husband calls me stubborn and I have always loved doing something that I was told I would never be able to do – like make it on the track team and set a state record, make it as a professional dancer in LA when I was from a small town in Texas, and workout and train clients again when I was told I would be “disabled.”
I believe you can be dignified and disabled. I think there is just something so rewarding about accomplishing something that you have had to work hard for. I think it’s important to listen to doctors and other people who care for you but also know that you know yourself better than anyone. Listen to your gut. Set goals and celebrate your small victories along the way.
I remember when I could only stand up for 3 seconds at a time. Each day I would set a goal to stand up for a few more seconds, which led to minutes, which led to me walking with crutches, and eventually on my own two feet. I also believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today, walking and working with clients, if I didn’t have faith. Believing in something bigger than me is what has pulled me through on some of my toughest days. By the grace of God I have been able to get through surgeries, get sober, and have the life I have today.
Today you offer workshops, publish podcasts, your book and give keynote speeches. What´s your favorite thing to do?
Who would have thought that I would be a podcast host, author and be giving keynote speeches and a TEDx talk! I have lived my most my life on the dance floor and gym floor and I hand wrote my entire book and then bought my first computer to type it. I barely knew how to send an email and now I am publishing podcasts. If I can do it, anyone can!
I have had to learn so much and the scariest thing for me isn’t getting on stage to give a talk but learning technology. My favorite thing in the world is connecting with people, seeing them reach their goals, and their light shine. So when I get nervous or scared to do a presentation I remember my “WHY.” It’s not about me but the people I serve.
What are your priorities in life today?
Health is my top priority. Without my health I can’t enjoy life, my family or my career. So I do all I can to be healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually.