Editor’s Note: Kristina Rhoades is a mom, wife, speaker, writer, and life coach. She endured a complete spinal cord injury at the age of 10 months, leaving her in a wheelchair for life. As an avid advocate for the disability community, she coordinates the “Meet Up Zone”, a family-centered social area at Abilities Expo, and will be at every US show this year. She is also a proud ambassador for Cure Medical.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been a wheelchair user.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family who were very supportive and not limiting to me. They encouraged me to figure stuff out and to have fun with the rest of my peers growing up.
I got into counseling and mentoring other people at a really young age. I’ve always been pretty outgoing and confident in talking to other people. When I was in middle school, I had the opportunity to go to a retreat called Natural Helpers and get certified to be a peer mentor at my school. Within a couple years, I also got certified in suicide intervention, domestic violence counseling, and a few other things. I became passionate about being a sounding board for others and trying to uplift them. I also did some work at a crisis center and spent a lot of time mentoring other kids with disabilities at a hospital. Even though I was one of the youngest in the teen group there, I had the oldest injury. I noticed that the kids had a hard time when a social worker would tell them how they should be feeling, so I kind of became a mentor there and would help people rediscover who they were in a new way. I tried to help them understand that their identity wasn’t attached to two working legs or an able body and that there is so much more to all of us.
I do motivational speaking and corporate presentations. My audiences are really anybody and everybody. I talk to a lot of schools and colleges. I worked at a university for some time in northern Georgia, and I spoke to a lot of the therapy, OT, and nursing classes there. I’ve spoken to military academies and at expos and disability days. I was also brought to Sweden for three weeks to do a speaking tour with several engagements in Stockholm and Gothenburg, mostly to talk about disability in America. In Sweden, their health care system covers a lot more than in the US. If they need wheelchairs, personal care attendants, or anything else, they get a lot of government assistance and are able to be as independent as they’d like to be. I really went to speak about some of the challenges we face in the US with finding health care and getting the products and adaptive equipment that we need in order to live an independent and healthy life. I also talked about how there has been a shift in the US (at the time, Push Girls was on the air), and how this community is becoming more visible to the general public. People are starting to be more educated and are defying stereotypes about who they think someone with a disability is on a more widespread level.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Kristina Rhoades’ work as a speaker or to book an engagement with her, visit her website and fill out the contact form.
Life and Wellness Coaching
My undergrad degree is in mass communication with a concentration in public relations. My master’s is in organizational leadership, so I have a lot of background in understanding people and how they cope with change, how they move through different stages of life, and what inspires, motivates, and limits them.
When I was in my early 20s, I got a life coach, and was taught about the power of attraction and a lot of other concepts such as consciousness, mindfulness, and meditation. These things have really changed my life and allowed me to be a much healthier, happier, productive adult.
I feel like my purpose here on this earth is to help people grow and to help them shift their perspective enough to enable them to live a healthier, happier life.
Like my speaking engagements, I coach anybody and everybody. We all have our disabilities, and for many people, they are emotional and mental; they are beliefs that we have about the world or ourselves that are limiting to us. Those beliefs can hold us back even more so than a physical limitation. I help people shed some of that and connect with who they really are.
I am a big proponent of meditation, but I realize that it is intimidating to a lot people. Humans have been conditioned to doing everything well. We feel like we need to have all the information and that we’re doing things the right way, instead of just trusting ourselves. When I first started meditating, I would try to quiet my mind, but my thoughts would wander. I was convinced that I didn’t know how to meditate or that I was doing it wrong. That is an example of a false belief that we have — needing to control the situation or do something perfectly. Yet, meditation is really about giving yourself that space where you’re not being judgmental, and you’re not having to fix everything or be in control.
Once you figure out meditation, it becomes the core of your overall wellness. In our household, it comes before clean eating and fitness, because it is the place where we center, quiet our minds and get our priorities in check. If I’m finding that I’m not eating well, it’s probably because I have some beliefs or thoughts in my head that are encouraging me to behave that way. If I hate working out, there is probably a reason; there is something there inside of me that is pushing up against that.
For me, meditation is the place I go first. It’s my starting point and my center.
It can be very helpful to get started by doing guided meditation because you’re not constantly wandering with your mind if have something to listen to. However, you can actually meditate anywhere by just closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Pay attention to every sensation when you inhale: your lungs filling, how your shoulders rise, how your body changes, and what it feels like to be sustained with that air. Then focus on the feeling of exhaling. The simple act of directing your attention to your breath and intentionally filling up your lungs is pretty powerful. It can clear out a lot of stuff you’ve picked up along the way, like the doubts and thoughts you have that aren’t helping you and are often limiting you.
I recommend starting short. Find five minutes a day to just center, be with yourself, and listen within, instead of looking for external stimuli. We have a lot of answers and a lot of guidance within us that we tend to ignore.
Editor’s Note: To see how Rhoades can guide you as your life, wellness, or leadership coach, visit her website.
Rolling With Purpose
I’m very thankful that I’m in a wheelchair because it has allowed me to have this unique perspective and these rich, diverse experiences that a lot of people don’t encounter in their life.
I’m writing a book right now called Rolling With Purpose, and it’s a collection of stories and experiences from my life growing up in a wheelchair. My aim is to help people shift their perspectives and be clear about what their intentions are. Each chapter is something of value that I have learned not despite my disability, but because I have a disability. For example, I talk about the ability to think critically and think outside the box. That’s a huge benefit of being physically disabled because if you want to have the same life as everybody else, you have no choice but to figure out how to do things in a way that maybe you haven’t seen done before. If that means reaching something on the top shelf, or being a mother and handling a newborn baby, or getting into a building without a ramp, we figure it out. Having to do that growing up made me a critical thinker. It taught me to use that skill in all areas of my life, whether it has to do with a physical limitation or not. Today, if I’m posed with a challenge in business or any other area, I have an excitement to overcome it and to figure out a way to get it done, versus being discouraged by it.
Advice for the Newly Disabled
Keep the faith, no matter what that means for somebody, whether it be religious or spiritual. There is a higher power, and there is a more divine plan here that we’re not always privy to. Though I know it’s difficult for somebody who is all of the sudden physically limited, being disabled offers such an incredible learning experience, and we can really do good with it; not that it’s our responsibility to do that, but it makes life so much richer.
Flower of Life: An Accessible Wellness Retreat
I recently had a bit of a rebirth after my husband and I started a conversation about what we would do if we could do anything with our lives. We decided that we wanted to create a place that would help people reconnect with themselves. We stepped down from our positions in the Atlanta area, sold our house, and moved to New Mexico to start the first ever totally accessible wellness spiritual retreat called Flower of Life. We found some property, and we’re in the process of seeking out investors. We have a good portion of the property funded, but we’re looking for some more partners that want to support us financially. We are also working on getting a crowdfunding campaign up and running. This project is something very close to our hearts, and we are extremely excited about it.
Editor’s Note: To stay in the loop on Flower of Life’s progress, follow Kristina Rhoades on Facebook. If you’re interested in investing in the wellness retreat, contact her through her website or LinkedIn. For new information on the upcoming crowdfunding campaign, bookmark this page and check back regularly for updates.
How National Ramp Helped Us
It’s very rural out here, so there aren’t a lot of housing options. The place we found is perfect for our family and really close to the retreat property, but it wasn’t accessible. At first, we figured we would just build a ramp, because my husband is pretty handy. But, when we got here, we discovered that the rise is almost 40 inches up to the doorway. That would have taken significantly more work than we had anticipated, so we started researching ramps. It was looking like no matter which way we went, it would cost well over $1,000. That was discouraging because all of our focus and money is going into the retreat.
A friend referred me to Garth Walker at National Ramp. I told him about the retreat and everything we’re doing out here and what we want to continue to do with the community. He was just so kind; he told me they wanted to donate the ramp, and they would have somebody out here to put it in that same week. One of his dealers, Home Modification Solutions out of Albuquerque, came out to install the ramp, and they were just fantastic. They worked really fast, were very nice and helpful, and just did a great job!
For the first time since we moved out here, I can get in and out of my house alone. National Ramp does a lot of work like this in the community by supporting people doing good things and helping those in need. They are a great company!
Editor’s Note: Garth Walker, Managing Director at National Ramp, tells Wheel:Life why charity work is part of their company culture. On a personal level, Walker also gives back on a regular basis by donating his time to various non-profits, schools, and churches.
Wheel:Life reached out to introduce me to Kristina Rhoades. When we learned about her project and that she couldn’t get in and out of her house alone, we wanted to help out. I called one of our dealers in New Mexico, Home Modification Solutions, and explained the situation. I told them we would pay for the ramp if they would take care of the installation. They are great people to work with, and their hearts are fully in it, so of course, they agreed without hesitation. Kristina is doing some amazing work for the disabled community, and she’s a voice for us all. We were all happy to help.
Why I Do Charity Work
When I was 18, I started my first business. A family friend spent a tremendous amount of time voluntarily helping me with that business. I would call him every day for help on different things, and he would give me advice and help me out. I’ll never forget the fact that he didn’t need to help me — there was no benefit for him — but he took the time to do it, and I’ll be forever indebted for that. Now, it’s my turn, and I love helping other people out.
What Charity Work Means To National Ramp
I think a charity work type of business and charity work type of life blend in together. It speaks to who we are as people. Charity work is not just donating money to an organization. It’s work. It actually takes time, effort, dedication, and commitment. Above all, it takes passion to do charity work because by definition, it’s doing something for others without getting paid. It’s easy for any business to write a check and give it to a cause. It’s another thing to get involved and spend time. We’re not just a company that believes in donating, we’re a company that believes in doing. At National Ramp, helping other people is embodied in our culture.
Editor’s Note: For more information on National Ramp and further examples on how they give back, check out Avoiding Slippery Slopes with Garth Walker and National Ramp.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!