“The way she looked at the mountains said everything. Her body positioned directly in front of their towering peaks as if whispering, “take all of me.” No other love would come close to the bond she had forged upon their snow covered ridges. Any man who wished to compete would surely face the unrelenting granite fortress which tenderly held the key to her heart. No, this was not a competition. This was a proving ground. For the fresh air of the wilderness cocooned her body with the purity of clear flowing water. If he wished to remain, he knew he must let her go. Falling in love with her meant that she would always yearn for the unpredictable nature of the outdoors to nurture her soul. She was born without ties to the suffocating man-made cities of despair. The very stands of her DNA were rooted deep in the soil like the tallest trees of the forest. She belonged to the land and in return it loved her dearly. When mother nature sweetly called her name, she answered with a resounding yes which echoed off the canyon walls with glee, bouncing with the joy of a child. She was forged with the same searing heat that formed the tallest peaks and the lowest valleys. Her passion for the Earth and it’s familiar untamed beauty sang ballads which the soaring birds tried to replicate. No, this was not a competition. All he could do was love her fiercely with the same enthusiasm that she bled for her mountains. And all the while, as he let her disappear among the dancing wildflowers, he knew she’d come back into his arms. And with her she brought a passion that was so raw and primal that he loved her all the more. For as much as she loved the land, she needed the strong grasp which could only be found in his embrace. And when she stared deep into his eyes they perfectly reflected the infinity of those billion star nights that she had been cradled in… and she knew she was home.” – Sara C Fry
June 25th 2006. Nine years ago, I sustainable a life-altering deliberate elbow to the temple while playing in a water-polo tournament. I was 15. Little did I know how much that single event would change the course of my entire life. I wound up in a coma. I had to attend intensive rehab for cognitive, occupational, speech, and physical therapies. Among MANY things I lost my ability to read, memorize, and my cognitive functions tumbled drastically downhill. Those would become the least of my worries. Since this day 9 years ago I’ve been in pain 24/7. There has not been a single moment where I’ve been pain-free since the blow to my head. I’ve been to every specialist in the US and I’ve tried every drug to try and alleviate my symptoms from my Traumatic Brain Injury all to no avail. After about 3 years immediately following the injury I was tired of merely existing. I had 1 of 2 choices. I could commit suicide in hopes of getting away from pain, or I could battle every day to “fake it till you make it.” With unsuccessful attempts at my first option I began reclaiming my life in hopes of actually LIVING. It’s been the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. Every day is a struggle but the fight is more than worth it. Living with Traumatic Brain Injury is incredibly difficult. The invisibility of this injury makes it unique in the respect that its “survivors” appear normal on the outside. It’s both a blessing and a curse to look “normal.” Sometimes it would be 110% easier if my outsides reflected the battle that’s constantly raging internally. My injury forced me from a very early age to constantly adapt. Living moment by moment I live the life I am currently blessed with. The gift of planning is something most TBI-ers learn to live without. Our bodies dictate our current abilities and those change drastically day by day and hour by hour. I taught myself, with the tools given to me by UCLA’s Chronic Pediatric Pain Clinic, to appreciate the little things in life. To focus on the small beauties of this world because sometimes that’s all we have. Over the past 9 years I’ve gotten tremendously good at hiding my ailments in hopes of simulating a semi-normal life. Sometimes I cannot hide my symptoms and others look at me with the utmost concern. I spent the first 3 years after my injury 100% reliant on another individual. I needed help eating, bathing, walking, etc. When I first embraced the mentality of “fake it till you make it” I vowed to myself that as long as I was able, I would be self-reliant. Losing your independence is perhaps the worst thing to endure as a teenager. Once I was able to function independently I took it and ran. Many of my friends will speak of my absurd stubbornness, but there’s a reason for it. As much as I hate to admit, my entire life is ruled by my TBI. From seizures and double vision, vertigo and headaches that make you want to shoot yourself, from sharp stabbing pains throughout your body and getting sick at the drop of a hat I’ve learned to fully LIVE my life while I have the ability to. I never thought my life would be the beautiful adventure it is today, but I wouldn’t change a single thing. I’ve met some of the most incredible individuals and I truly value this precious gift we’ve been given. I try my absolute hardest to fully LIVE and be present in the moment. I appreciate the little gifts nature so freely spreads. I hope with all my heart to show others that they can accomplish their wildest dreams despite their disabilities or hiccups. The only constant is change and if these past 9 years have taught me anything it’s that love is the most important gift we all possess. Within ourselves lies the ability to change and focus on positivity. Sometimes it’s easier to see than others but hope and faith will carry you through the hardest of times. Live the life of your dreams, for nothing is ever guaranteed. The happiness of your life is directly related to the quality of your thoughts. Live with purpose and meaning… and don’t ever let ANYTHING hold you back from your dreams. I owe so much to the people in my life that have stayed by my side and help to make this crazy journey better than I ever could have imagined. I’ve accomplished more than I (or anyone else for that matter) ever thought was possible… and that’s a trend I’m going to uphold until the very end. Traumatic Brain Injury is a life-long battle. Raising awareness is key to helping others successfully maneuver their way through their new world. Stay positive and cherish every moment as if it were your last… and above all else don’t ever let others tell YOU what YOU ARE capable of. Defy the odds kids… it’s much more fun
This was an update I made to my Facebook Group: Living Life and Testing Limits – Human Powered:
“Well folks, this group was in need of an update. I’ve changed the name and description to include all of my endeavors. I coined the slogan “Living Life and Testing Limits” about 2 years ago to describe not only my website, but also my personal lifestyle in general.
2014 was an incredible year for me. It began with a thru-hike of the San Diego Trans County Trail, followed by an EPIC thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. When I began long-distance hiking via the Pacific Crest Trail I thought nothing could ever compare… and I was right. No other trail does compare, but the CDT stole my heart. The sheer beauty and her ever-changing nature makes me weak in the knees. I experienced some of the most spectacular country while traveling through NM, CO, WY, and MT. I finished the CDT in a little under 5 months on September 25th at 6:13pm. Now, I definitely had my fair share of health issues on that hike (more so than ever before) but I enjoyed every second of being able to be out in such a majestic landscape. Seizures were extremely prevalent the last 3 months, but I was blessed to be hiking with a great group of individuals. I’m sure my stubbornness was incredibly hard to deal with at times, but being docile and giving in to weakness never accomplished anything. Albeit, the seizures got incredibly hard to fend off towards the end and I was having a bout of them roughly every other day… if not daily. But I tried to the best of my ability to not let them control me.
Upon returning from the CDT I thru-hiked the San Joaquin River Trail (again) setting a record of 4.5 days to travel about 150 miles. Granted there are only 2 times the SJRT has been thru-hiked and both have been by me. Regardless, it was another great achievement.
The start of 2015 was wonderful! I spent the entire first 2 months backpacking. A group of good friends (family) went and thru-hiked the San Diego Trans County Trail… again (it’s an annual hike/family reunion). Upon finishing I hopped in a car and drove cross-country to hike the 250 mile Ouachita (pronounced: Wash-i-Taw) in Oklahoma and Arkansas. It as a wonderful little trail and some good exposure to hiking back East.
Upon returning, I went into dermatology for a few suspicious spots that had been appearing within the last couple months. I had 4 surgeries and am still awaiting the outcome. Some of you may know that because of the TBI I sustained 8 years ago I do not numb for surgeries. So it’s never very fun going under the knife. However, these past 4 incisions weren’t as excruciating as my previous 11 surgeries so that’s always a plus!
A few weeks ago I put out my official announcement of thru-hiking the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal come April 2016. There are less than 10 people in the entire world to thru-hike the high route in the same self-supported fashion I’ll utilize. I’m stoked to take on this new challenge and see the beauty of the Himalaya Range.
I also announced a perimeter swim of Lake Tahoe come late July/August. This 72 mile swim will also be self-supported. Although the water will be 55-60 degrees I will not wear a wetsuit or utilize fins. I’ll tow all my food, camping gear, camera, water etc in a dry bag behind me that’s attached to my body. I’m planning on this endeavor taking 7 days at 10 miles/day.
On May 12th I’ll begin a ~350mi route I created up in the High Sierra which will utilize the SJRT on the return leg so I’ll technically be able to “walk home.”
I’ve got a few other plans up my sleeve as well… so stay tuned.
This life is about truly living and following your passions. It just so happens that mine include being out in nature and testing my body in a way that has long-since been forgotten and overthrown by the complexities of “city life.” I updated the description of this group to “Human Powered.” I fully believe and cherish the beauty of approaching adventure under the will and skill set of our own bodies. I love the feeling of accomplishment that I receive knowing that I got someplace through no outside help. Our bodies are capable of incredible feats if we harness our dormant abilities.
I hope you had a great weekend! Keep spreading the love!
Sara “BloodBank” Fry
My soul craves the dark and deeply beautiful depths of nature. It yearns for the brilliant unknown. To frolic with the wildflowers and sit among the trees telling stories of love, laughter, and the crazy but glorious people I’ve encountered. I yearn for more to follow. For others to understand the pull and tug of life. I try to help people be more conscious. As I drift on by I leave clues for everyone to see. Clues that speak of the unity of the world. There is an illustrious energy that surges through all life. Every being emits a spark of vitality to which we all resonate with. For life is within each and every one of us. The soul of creation is beaming itself through and reflecting the most glorious dance I’ve ever felt.
All material is copyrighted. Do not duplicate or share without written consent from the author – Sara Fry
I’m speechless. A couple days ago I made the front page of my local newspaper. I’m incredibly honored and blessed. The reporter, Angel Moreno, did a fabulous job. Thank you, Fresno Bee, for printing the story. If you want to read the article on their site go to:
I hope my story inspires you to take hold of your life and live with meaning.
Front page… speechless… enjoy.
Sara Fry sees nothing as impossible, certainly not a 3,100-mile south-to-north trek across the country, especially after dealing with cancer and a traumatic brain injury.
Soreness and fatigue from the hike? She’ll happily deal with that as she travels the Continental Divide Trail from New Mexico to Canada, a journey she began Wednesday.
She has learned to live with pain far worse, the kind that at age 15 made her lock herself in her room and sleep for up to 23 hours, to attempt suicide four times.
A straight-A student and promising water polo player at Clovis High before the brain injury, Fry finally found an adequate treatment and returned to graduate, only to then be diagnosed with melanoma.
And so now she hikes, often alone, a welcome release from the residual pain of her original injury and the specter of what cancerous cells might remain despite 11 surgeries.
“It’s peace. It’s joy. It’s everything,” Fry says. “When you’re on the trail, it’s just you and Mother Nature. You don’t have people constantly worrying about how you’re feeling or if you’re OK. I’m able to be just another person.”
The fallen star
Her parents recall a young girl interested in sports at an early age, eventually gravitating toward water polo.
In the first grade, Fry told her mother that she’d get a college scholarship in athletics. And it was shaping up that way when as a Clovis High freshman Fry lettered on the girls’ varsity.
Then came summer 2005.
Playing in a club water polo tournament in Los Angeles, Fry took an elbow to the temple and was knocked unconscious.
Trainers and doctors diagnosed a mild concussion and prescribed rest.
But mom Michelle, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente, knew it was something more.
“I know my daughter. They didn’t see the symptoms.”
Fry, 15 at the time of the injury, would lock herself in her room nearly all day. She had trouble sleeping. She would lie there, trying her hardest to escape the pain.
A girl used to being active and outside now dreaded sunlight and any kind of physical activity.
“She was used to being physical and to lie there in pain, days on end, was horrendous,” Michelle Fry recalls. “You could watch the pain in her face and hear her moaning from her room upstairs.”
Sara tried to take her own life multiple times — seemingly the only way to escape the pain.
“That was the only reason,” she says. “When you are laying there and it feels like somebody is jabbing an ice pick into your skull 24/7 and there’s nothing the doctors can do about it and you’ve been to all the best TBI specialists in the state and there’s still nothing they can do, that’s why.
“The pain is all I can think about, and it was debilitating. I didn’t want to be in physical pain anymore.”
One afternoon, Fry emptied a bottle of sleeping pills into the palm of her hand and tossed them into her mouth.
Moments later, Toast, a Jack Russell terrier her mom had gotten her a month earlier as a 16th birthday present, bolted up the stairs and started licking Fry’s face.
“I was sitting on the ground crying and this puppy runs up, licking my face and is so happy to see me. I can’t leave this innocent dog here alone; I just got her.
“Right then I went to the bathroom and threw up everything. Toast saved my life.”
Getting a grip
The family went back on the medical circuit, looking for a solution. Following an acupressure session in early 2007, Fry was referred to the Centre for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield.
She underwent a range of therapies — cognitive, physical, speech and visual.
There were days when Fry wanted to go back to bed and say forget it, says Dr. Ellen Katomski, Fry’s case manager at the Bakersfield center. But together they stimulated and challenged Fry’s brain once a week for the next two months, trying to help her relearn and reconnect what was lost because of the injury.
As medical experts explain it, the injury has left her brain vulnerable to being overloaded by her senses. In a “normal” brain, the important stuff is processed and the rest — from people moving about on the street to birds chirping in the trees and strangers’ conversations in public settings — is filtered out to varying extents.
But that isn’t the case for Fry. Her brain doesn’t push anything aside. Everything is passed through.
And there is no cure. Not fully, anyway.
“It’s a lifelong change,” Katomski says, “and Sara’s trying to make the most of it.”
School no longer came easy and Fry fell behind as she struggled with her focus.
Algebra, which she once conquered with no trouble, was like a foreign language.
With the help of Elaine DeSilva, her home hospital teacher, and Rita Nitschke, her high school counselor, Fry tackled subjects one by one over the next three years.
She returned to campus for what was her senior year, taking classes there in addition to continuing her home schooling. She graduated with her Clovis High class of 2009.
“I was so far behind, but I knew I could do it. I wanted to go back to school and graduate with my friends. I was determined to not take no for an answer.”
After graduation, Fry drove to San Diego to stay with older sister Andrea for a few weeks.
It turned into months, as San Diego suited Fry. She enrolled in community college and life was returning to near normalcy, despite dealing with the daily residual effects of her brain injury.
“They’re all just a part of my regular life. There comes a point where you can’t let this hinder you.”
But in August 2009, Andrea was diagnosed with melanoma. Her doctor suspected it may be genetic, prompting the entire family to be tested. Among her mom, another sister and a brother, Fry was the only positive.
She had 11 surgeries over the next 13 months to remove cancerous cells.
“When Sara came down with that it was tough at first, but she did it her way. It’s heart-wrenching to see your beautiful daughter turn into a patch quilt from the cutting and cutting,” says her father, Michael.
Her brain injury made it all the worse. Fry didn’t numb for any of her surgeries, feeling each prick and prod.
Finally, she decided she’d had enough — the 11th surgery would be her last, regardless of how the cancer was responding.
“I’ve never been afraid of death. I had already thought I was going to die because of the TBI. I was just extremely unhappy with it, so I decided that I would be done.”
With that, Fry opened a new chapter on her life.
At the start of 2012, sparked by an interest in backpacking and the outdoors, Fry announced to her family that she would hike the Pacific Crest Trail — alone.
She started in April at the California-Mexico border and finished the 2,660-mile trek to Canada in October.
“When you do something like that, it’s a personal deal,” Michael Fry says. “It’s about how far you can go and what you can do. Did I expect her to go all the way? Probably not, but she did.”
Fry masked her pain, using her trademark goofiness and smile to keep hikers she came across from noticing.
“The pain is still there. Sometimes it hits me hard on the trail, but being outside and enjoying life when I once couldn’t is what drives me.”
Fry kept hiking, first around San Diego and then in the summer of 2013 in Alaska. Back home for visits, she jumped on trails around Millerton Lake, eventually taking on the San Joaquin River Trail.
In November, Fry and friend John McKinney, whom she met while hiking the Pacific Crest, became the first to thru-hike the entire SJRT.
Michael Fry says his daughter’s love of outdoors feeds her soul.
“Life deals you hands like that and only God knows why. The human soul is pretty resourceful to keep going and going like that. With all Sara’s been through, this is just another challenge and another day.”
Her next adventure
Symptoms from the brain injury remain constant. Even today, they are sometimes so painful she is forced to stay home.
Nausea and light-headedness are daily companions.
Her eyes go “completely bonkers.”
“The entire world shakes and moves, no matter how much I rub my eyes. This isn’t spinning; this is everything shaking and my eyes hurt really bad when this happens,” Fry says.
She lives with a constant headache, putting it at a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Sharp, stabbing pains make her ears feel like they’re about to explode, the agony often forcing her to the ground. She at times suffers from “underwater” or muffled hearing, sometimes lasting all day. Her chest will tighten, making even breathing painful to the point where she has to take really short, quick breaths.
Her joints and muscles always hurt and extreme fatigue often overtakes her. Her immune system is weaker than average. She’ll easily catch a bug and take longer than most individuals to heal.
Fry’s body still doesn’t numb. She feels everything, from a slight touch to a cut.
She still has regular checkups for melanoma.
But on Wednesday, off Fry went, embarking on her next adventure.
Annually, only about two dozen hikers complete the entire Continental Divide Trail.
Fry will traverse four states, starting at the Crazy Cook Monument in New Mexico, about 150 yards from the U.S.-Mexico border. From there, the hike will carry her through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, all the way to the Canadian border.
She plans to cover 20 to 30 miles per day, taking a day to rest every five or six days. Twenty wilderness areas and three national parks — Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Glacier — are along the way.
The route moves up and down in elevation, zig-zagging rugged mountains with summits ranging from 4,600 to 14,600 feet. Such heights and the cold temperatures could interfere with some of her medications.
Fry self-injects neurosteroids into her thigh or abdomen every day as a result of the brain injury. Resupply boxes will be shipped to her at 30 stops along the trail, each carrying medication, food and other necessities.
It’s all part of the new life she has made for herself.
“On the trail, I love every day of it and I wouldn’t change a thing. … As painful and crazy as my life has been since the TBI, it all really has been a blessing in disguise.”
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @anhelllll on twitter
After all the planning, researching, mapping, prep-work, resupply nightmares, and social media outreach I’ve been engulfed in for the past few months, I’m about to finally start making my way towards the Continental Divide Trail. I couldn’t be more thrilled. The planning aspect of this thru-hike is tedious and often times a chore, but once my feet hit the ground at Crazy Cook in New Mexico I know everything will fade away like the setting sun.
This past week has been hectic to say the least. All the last minuet tasks start jumping out of the wood work. There were 3 days where I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. It’s brutal, but I wouldn’t change a thing. This is all part of the experience and I’m incredibly lucky to be following my passion.
This past Easter Weekend my family threw a “CDT Send Off” party for me. It was incredible having so many of my loved ones and friends there to support me on yet another crazy adventure. You all mean so much to me and I’m truly blessed to be surrounded by such encouragment. Keep it coming! I’m going to need it while I’m out there walking 3,100 miles.
Mom and I … “And I will walk 500 miles…”
Grandpa and Me with my Aunt Suzi and Igor
Mom and myself (again)
I would like to thank everyone who has been there for me thus far. My experience wouldn’t be the same without you. A huge shout out to my buddy Michael McWilliams, co-founder of Digs Apparel, for helping set up and manage the visual aspect of my hike. He’s created an Instagram Account: @Sarabloodbank to tell a visual story of my adventure on the CDT. (More platforms are in the works in addition to IG so be on the look out). Mike is an awesome friend to have along on the journey and it just so happens that we both whole heartedly support Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors and raising awareness of this invisible injury. His campaign ‘”#amelonaday”is a movement dedicated to generating cause awareness for Traumatic Brain Injury by way of melons, people, and art.’ This lighthearted take on TBI is right up my alley with spreading positivity. If you follow along on Instagram/etc you’ll be seeing his handy work so be sure to spread the gratitude. Thank you Maz! You continue to impress me.
Photo on: @digsapparel – Some of his creative genius campaign “Hel-mutt” #amelonaday
I leave tomorrow (4/24) to head down to the Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off and from there I’m driving over to Lordsburg, NM with my PCT hiking buddies Ipod and Nugio. I’ll update as I get closer to jumping on trail. There’s still so MANY people I need thank!
For tonight I leave you with….
Dancing with my pack. So thrilled to be sharing this experience with YOU!