After having to start from square one, this woman gained a new appreciation for her athleticism.

By Alyssa Exposito as told to Renee Cherry
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It was my sophomore year of high school and I couldn't find any of my cross-country buddies to go running with me. I decided to set out on our normal route to run by myself for the first time in my life. I took a detour because of construction and ducked into an alley so I wouldn't have to run in the street. I left the alley, looked to make a turn-and that's the last thing I remember.

I woke up in a hospital, surrounded by a sea of men, unsure whether I was dreaming. They said, "we had to take you to the hospital," but they didn't tell me why. I was airlifted to another hospital, awake but not really sure what was happening. I underwent surgery before I finally saw my mom and she told me what happened: I had been hit, pinned, and dragged by a Ford F-450 pickup truck. It all felt surreal. Given the size of the truck, I should've been dead. The fact that I had no brain damage, no spinal injury, not so much as a broken bone was a miracle. My mom had signed her permission for my leg to be amputated if needed since my doctors thought it was a strong possibility, given the state of what they referred to as my "mashed potato legs." In the end, I had skin and nerve damage and lost a third of my right calf muscle and a tablespoon-size portion of the bone in my right knee. I was lucky, all things considered.

But as lucky as I was, resuming normal life was not an easy task. My doctors weren't even sure if I'd ever be able to walk normally again. The following months I stayed positive 90 percent of the time, but, of course, there were moments when I'd get frustrated. At one point, I used a walker to go down the hall to the restroom, and when I got back I felt completely debilitated. If I felt so exhausted from walking to the bathroom, how would I ever do something like run a 5K again? Before getting injured, I had been a prospective D1 collegiate runner-but now, that dream felt like a distant memory. (Related: 6 Things Every Runner Experiences When Coming Back from Injury)

Ultimately, it took three months of rehab to be able to walk without assistance, and by the end of the third month, I was jogging again. I was amazed that I recovered so fast! I continued running competitively through high school and ran for the University of Miami in my freshman year. The fact that I was able to move again and identify myself as a runner satisfied my ego.But it wasn't long before reality set in. Because of the muscle, nerve, and bone damage, I had a lot of wear and tear in my right leg. I had torn my meniscus three times when my physical therapist finally said, "Alyssa, if you continue with this training regime, you're going to need a knee replacement by the time you're 20." I realized maybe it was time for me to turn in my running shoes and pass the baton. Accepting that I would no longer identify myself as a runner was the hardest thing because it was my first love. (Related: How an Injury Taught Me That There's Nothing Wrong with Running a Shorter Distance)

It stung to take a step back after I felt like I was in the clear with my recovery. But, over time, I gained a new appreciation for human beings' ability to be healthy and simply functional. I decided to study exercise science in school, and I would sit in class thinking, 'Holy shit! We should all feel so blessed that our muscles work the way they do, that we can breathe the way we do.' Fitness became something that I could use to challenge myself personally that had less to do with competition. Admittedly, I'm still running (I just couldn't give it up entirely), but now I have to stay hyper-aware of how my body recovers. I've incorporated more strength training into my workouts and found that it's made it easier and safer to run and train longer.

Today, I'm the strongest I've ever been-physically and mentally. Lifting heavy weights lets me constantly prove myself wrong because I'm lifting something I never thought I'd be able to pick up. It isn't about aesthetics: I don't care about molding my body into a certain look or reaching specific numbers, figures, shapes, or sizes. My goal is simply to be the strongest that I can be-because I remember what it feels like to be at my weakest, and I don't want to go back. (Related: My Injury Doesn't Define How Fit I Am)

I'm currently an athletic trainer and the work I do with my clients has a huge focus on injury prevention. The goal: Having control of your body is more important than attaining a certain look. (Related: I'm Thankful For Parents Who Taught Me to Embrace Fitness and Forget About Competition) After the accident when I was in the hospital, I remember all the other people on my floor with horrific injuries. I saw so many people who were paralyzed or had gunshot wounds, and from then on I vowed to never take for granted my body's abilities or the fact that I was spared from more serious injuries. That's something I've always tried to emphasize with my clients and keep in mind myself: The fact that you're physically capable-at any capacity-is an amazing thing.

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