"You shouldn't wait until something has been taken away to truly appreciate it."

By Faith Brar
Updated: June 18, 2018

Three years ago, Lauren Rose's life changed forever after her car plummeted 300 feet into a ravine in Angeles National Forest in California. She was with five friends at the time, a few of whom suffered critical injuries-but none as bad as Lauren's.

"I was the only one to be ejected out of the car," Rose tells Shape. "I broke and fractured my spine, causing permanent damage to my spinal cord, and suffered from internal bleeding as well as a punctured lung."

Photo: Lauren Rose

Rose says she doesn't recollect much from that night except a vague memory of being airlifted by a helicopter. "The first thing I was told after being examined at the hospital was that I had a spinal cord injury and that I'd never be able to walk again," she says. "While I could make sense of the words, I didn't have a clue what that actually meant. I was on such heavy medication so in my mind, I thought that I was hurt, but that I'd heal over time." (Related: How an Injury Taught Me That There's Nothing Wrong with Running a Shorter Distance)

The reality of her situation began sinking in while Rose spent over a month at the hospital. She underwent three surgeries: The first required putting metal rods in her back to help fuse her spine back together. The second was to take the broken pieces of bone out of her spine so that it could heal properly.

Rose planned on spending the next four months in a rehabilitation center where she would work on regaining some of her muscle strength. But just a month into her stay, she fell extremely ill due to an allergic reaction to the metal rods. "Just as I was getting used to my new body, I had to have a third surgery to get the metal rods in my back removed, cleaned, and put back in," she says. (Related: I'm an Amputee and Trainer But Didn't Set Foot In the Gym Until I was 36)

This time, her body adjusted to the metal, and Rose was finally able to focus on her recovery. "When I was told I wouldn't walk again, I refused to believe it," she says. "I knew that's just what the doctors had to tell me because they didn't want to give me any false hope. But rather than thinking of my injury as a life sentence, I wanted to use my time in rehab to get better, because my heart knew that I had the rest of my life to work on getting back to normal again."

Two years later, once Rose felt like her body had regained some strength after the accident and trauma of the surgeries, she started putting all of her efforts into standing up again without any help. "I stopped going to physical therapy because it was too expensive and wasn't giving me the results I wanted," she says. "I knew my body was capable of doing more, but I needed to find what worked best for me." (Related: This Woman Won a Gold Medal at the Paralympics After Being In a Vegetative State)

So, Rose found an orthopedic specialist who encouraged her to start using leg braces. "He said that by using them as frequently as possible, I'd be able to maintain my bone density and learn how to keep my balance," she says.

Then, recently, she went back to the gym for the first time since physical therapy and shared a video of her standing up on her own two feet with minimal help using her leg braces. She was even able to take a few steps with some assistance. Her video post, which has since gone viral with more than 3 million views, is a heartfelt reminder to not take your body or something as simple as mobiity for granted.

"Growing up, I was such an active kid," she says. "In high school, I went to the gym every day and was a cheerleader for three years. Now, I'm fighting to do something as simple as standing-something I definitely took for granted my whole life." (Related: I Got Hit By a Truck While Running-and It Forever Changed How I Look at Fitness)

"I've lost nearly all of my muscle mass and since I don't have any control over my legs, the strength to lift myself up into a standing position all comes from my core and upper body," she explains. That's why these days, she's spending a minimum of two days in the gym a week, an hour at a time, focusing all of her energy on building up her chest, arms, back, and abdominal muscles. "You have to work on making the rest of your body strong before you can get to the point of walking again," she says.

It's safe to say that her efforts have started to pay off. "Thanks to exercise, not only have I felt my body get stronger, but for the first time, I'm starting to feel a connection between my brain and my legs," she says. "It's hard to explain because it's not something you can actually see, but I know if I keep working hard and pushing myself, I might get my legs back." (Related: My Injury Doesn't Define How Fit I Am)

By sharing her story, Rose hopes she'll inspire others to appreciate the gift of movement. "Exercise truly is medicine," she says. "Being able to move and be healthy is such a blessing. So if there's any takeaway from my experience, it's that you shouldn't wait until something has been taken away to truly appreciate it."

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