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Struggling with Serendipity: The Aftermath of a Disability-Resulting Car Crash

Cindy Kolbe is passionate about sharing the power of hope and loves to connect with others in the disability community. She authored a book which addresses her battle with depression and also her role as a caregiver to her daughter, Beth. Beth became paralyzed from a car accident injury (where Cindy was behind the wheel). In her own words, Cindy offers AmeriDisability the following insight into her personal story, including an excerpt from her book.

By Cindy Kolbe

In one second, I went from having a daughter who could walk to one who couldn’t. And it was all my fault.

Near midnight, I drove the last stretch toward home after my son’s college concert on May 20, 2000. When I fell asleep at the wheel, my youngest daughter Beth was in the passenger seat. As the car flipped across a dark Ohio field, my daughter’s spinal cord ripped, along with my identity as a mom. When told of her paralysis from the chest down, fourteen-year-old Beth paused only a moment before simply responding, “Let’s talk about what I can do.”

My new memoir, Struggling with Serendipity, shares a mom’s crisis, a daughter’s paralysis, and a road of hope—from a small town in Ohio to Seattle, Harvard, Capitol Hill, and around the world. My struggles with guilt and depression are in direct contrast to my daughter’s, who challenges the physical limits of quadriplegia with tenacity and optimism. We become a team. I find support and inspiration from Beth, a stubborn teenager who refuses to let her new disability prevent her from enjoying all life has to offer.

Beth helps me find a new normal, with serendipity in the most unlikely of moments.

Not a swimmer before her injury, Beth learns all the strokes and swims on the U.S. Paralympic National Team for 5 years. She becomes the first with a visible disability on the Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving Team. She set 14 American records, including one at the Beijing Paralympics.

Beth lends her voice to Struggling with Serendipity through her media quotes and writings. She is a health policy lawyer in Washington, DC. Her clients and pro bono work include companies and nonprofits in the disability community. She shares my passion for volunteering and her wedding last spring was featured in The New York Times.

“Becoming independent,” Beth said. “That is my greatest achievement.”

A lifelong disability advocate—even before Beth’s injury—I directed a nonprofit, managed group homes, and worked at an institution. I’m a writer with a blog and more than 52 articles since 2016 in various media outlets. I also am a peer mentor for the Reeve Foundation and a volunteer for other disability groups and mental health nonprofits. I live with my husband of 42 years in the Shenandoah Valley.

Struggling with Serendipity was published by a small press (not self-publishing) in April of 2019. It is available everywhere books are sold. Plus, I’ve embarked on a coast-to-coast book tour.

Here is an excerpt from Struggling with Serendipity:

College applications covered our kitchen table before Beth’s senior year of high school. She questioned the need for help during her freshman year and wondered if I could live off-campus instead of in the dorm with her. Separate housing for me for any amount of time would add significant costs on top of her out-of-state tuition, room, and board. High college expenses seemed certain, but John and I decided not to hold her back because of finances. We owned the Tiffin house and planned to borrow off it.

One mom authors a book about disability and caregiving.

I watched Beth hold a pen awkwardly in her right fist, not hesitating as she wrote her motto on a Challenged Athletes application. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. I filed away a note I wrote to myself that said, “Anything is possible, except when it’s not.” It amazed me how she dismissed all she couldn’t do as irrelevant and wholeheartedly believed in the truth of the motto. And it really was true, but only for her and a small percentage of others with her priceless perspective. Those with and without a disability.

“I think walking is over-rated,” Beth said, with a smile.

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