This isn’t a story of how I overcame adversity and “healed” after a traumatic event. This is the story of how fitness helped me step out of the shadow of my old self by channeling emotion and vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness.
It was 2008. One minute, I was a healthy, athletic 21-year-old young woman having the time of my life studying abroad in Ecuador and enjoying a ride around the city with friends. The next minute, I was lying on my back in a pile of glass shards, grabbing onto a stranger’s pant leg, thinking that the car that had just flipped over and flung me to the pavement was going to explode, and wondering why I couldn’t move my legs.
I didn’t know where my friends were or if they were alive. I didn’t know how I ended up outside of the car. I thought I was paralyzed from the waist down. It was too much to process in that moment. I didn’t cry or scream. I just kept gripping that guy’s pant leg, stunned and in shock. All I could do was stare at all the lights above me. I felt nothing - no pain, no fear. Time completely stopped.
People ask two questions when they learn about the accident: “What were your injuries” and “How long did it take to heal?” The answer is complicated. I usually just tell people that I spent 10 days in an Ecuadorian hospital, was medically evacuated back to the United States, learned how to walk again, and ran a half marathon nine months later. When the four pelvic fractures had fused back together, doctors and my insurance company declared me “healed.” This story has a happy, finite ending: I was hurt and now I’m not. The end.
Never mind that I had non-stop pins and needles in the back of my right leg for months, or that more than 10 years later, one of my toes is still numb from sciatic nerve damage. My right glute is slightly weaker than my left. I am understandably scared of cars, but not so understandably still scared of other things, too. The girl who used to jump out of airplanes is now afraid of all amusement park rides, including the tea cups - especially the tea cups. I am anxious, jumpy, and get overwhelmed by the unpredictability of large social events. Yes, we all lived, but there was no going back to the life I had once known.
Trauma is a Greek word for “wound,” mostly in the physical sense. In modern lexicon, it refers to an overwhelming event that causes a sense of helplessness and a loss of control. Trauma isn’t really about the incident itself, but the aftermath - what the incident takes away from you and how it alters your daily reality. The accident took away my ability to move freely, the basis of my entire identity as a strong, independent, athletic young person. Suddenly, I had the mobility of a bed-ridden 98-year-old and had lost all autonomy to do anything for myself - bathe, eat, go to the bathroom. It was humiliating.
Trauma is a Greek word for “wound,” mostly in the physical sense. In modern lexicon, it refers to an overwhelming event that causes a sense of helplessness and a loss of control.
When we lose control of our lives, survival mode helps us get back to being functional as soon as possible. We numb the scary feelings. Nobody could tell me if I would ever get my full mobility and strength back. Terrified of losing myself, I decided that I would not be defined by this accident. I pushed down all the big emotions and got to work. I taught myself how to walk again, step by step, until I worked up to walking for hours through the woods. My uncoordinated steps got faster until they turned into a labored trot. Nine months later, I ran a half marathon. It was a stupid idea, by the way, but it was a way to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken. I would not be broken.
Through my recovery, I discovered so many things outside of soccer, running, and skiing that I never would have considered otherwise. Reluctantly, I tried new classes like Zumba, Barre, and Pilates. At the end of the day, I was just happy to be able to move. Then, someone introduced me to BODYJAM™. Even though I am a horribly robotic dancer, every class brought me so much joy.
Eventually, the same Instructor friend encouraged me to get a Les Mills certification and that’s when my life changed. I chose CXWORX™ and attended training without ever having been to a class before. CXWORX was exactly what I needed. Physically, I started to truly feel strong from all the amazing moves in the program that glued my broken hips back into place. I wasn’t broken, but just needed to train in a different way! In addition, I was immediately drawn into the community of caring and passionate people. I had found my tribe. This was my new life and I loved it.
Five years later, I now teach seven Les Mills formats and am a National Trainer and Presenter for BODYATTACK™ and BODYPUMP™ on Team USA. I am also a Certified Personal Trainer through ACSM and NASM and a Certified Health Coach with a specialty certificate in Fitness Nutrition from ACE. In addition to fitness, I have worked for a number of amazing non-profits in sports-based youth development. I currently lead Community Impact for Reebok where we work with local organizations in Boston so that vulnerable populations like kids in low-income neighborhoods and survivors of domestic violence not only have access to fitness, but that people from these communities have the opportunity to become fitness leaders themselves.
The accident was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. In the short term, it took away my sense of self-worth and made me feel broken, powerless, weak, and vulnerable. In the long-term, however, it helped me find my purpose in life, which is to help people find health and happiness through fitness. The accident is also how I met my husband - but that’s another story for another day!
I remember when all I wanted to do was be able to stand up and walk a few steps by myself. In those moments, I would have given anything to have the freedom that I have today. I love LES MILLS GRIT™ and LES MILLS SPRINT™ because they allow you to push yourself to your maximum, to go somewhere new and scary. Have you ever gotten choked with emotion during LES MILLS SPRINT? I have. It happens all the time. This is how deeply exercise touches me. Exercise is something that we get to do. Exercise is a joyful expression of who we are. Exercise is freedom. We only get one body and one life, and every day I get to help people enjoy this freedom to move.
As for the ending of my own story, I have realized that our entire lives are one long journey filled with multiple chapters and trauma is often an inflection point, not a starting point or end point. Every morning, we get the chance to write a new chapter and the chance to thrive; to be broken or be better. I am good at what I do because of my anxiety, not in spite of it. Anxiety drives me to keep moving and is the undercurrent of my bubbling energy. I take better care of my body because of my injuries.
I am also more empathetic because of this experience. My biggest challenge as an Instructor has been connecting with myself and with other people because connection requires tapping into those big, scary emotions that I tried to numb for many years. In the aftermath of the accident, I felt like I was broken not only physically, but also emotionally. Thanks in large part to the Les Mills Advanced Trainings and amazing support from the Tribe, I learned to embrace my whole self - anxiety, fears, and all. Connection is no longer a challenge. In fact, it is the most fulfilling part of teaching.
I have a magic word: Glow. When I think about glowing, I am reminded to allow my inner self to shine in its true, unedited form. Your glow is something that comes from within you and can provide great comfort for others.
Trauma impacts so many more people that we realize. To grow our global tribe, let’s talk less about calories and weight loss and more about fitness for our mental and emotional wellbeing. So many people who have experienced trauma also feel the pressure to “heal” or fix whatever is “wrong” with them. The truth is that when trauma happens, it becomes a part of you. When we as Instructors embrace our whole selves instead of denying the experiences that make us unique, our potential to create a fitter planet is limitless. Let yourself glow.
Brooke Rosenbauer is a National Trainer and Presenter for BODYATTACK and BODYPUMP for Les Mills US. She is based in Boston, where she is the Senior Manager of Community Impact for Reebok