Every year on Dec. 2, Stephanie Bennett tries to do something to make the day special. On that date in 2017 the Sykesville, Maryland-based professional suffered a fall that led to a spinal cord injury and left her paralyzed for 10 days. Even after the paralysis subsided, she had lasting effects.
Bennett needed surgery to stabilize her neck and did inpatient rehab for three months, using a wearable robot that helped move her legs as she re-learned how to walk. Even then, her proprioception was affected, and she now uses a cane to assist with her balance. She also had a brachial plexus injury that was so severe it led to amputation of her right arm in June of last year.
“It was very hard, but I tried to remain positive through it all and sort of be a light for myself and my family because I didn’t want my family to worry a lot,” Bennett said.
So the tradition of trading tragedy for positivity was born. One year, she and friends took a beach vacation in Mexico on the anniversary of her accident, but the pandemic prevented a similar indulgence in 2020. After coming across an Instagram post about safety vests from Gwyneth Babington, daughter of Kevin Babington, the Irish show jumper who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019, Bennett struck up a conversation with the teenager.
She decided that for 2020, her positive experience would benefit Kevin.
“I just got this idea that my walking’s going really well; maybe I can try to walk a mile and raise some money while doing it for Kevin,” Bennett said.
She started her Walk A Mile In My Shoes fundraiser on Facebook and encouraged her friends and family to walk a mile and donate towards her $5,000 goal. It was the first time Bennett, who used to include running in her fitness routine, had walked that distance since the accident.
After sending her check to the Kevin Babington Foundation, Bennett received a call from Kevin.
“He was so positive and so inspirational to talk to,” Bennett said. “He talked about how he’s teaching now from his porch. He said, ‘I just want to thank you so much for what you’ve done.’ ”
Kevin hasn’t given up on his goal of walking once again, and he told Bennett he hopes to walk his first mile alongside her.
“It was really good for my progress to be able to do that,” she said.
Bennett, 57, hasn’t been able to ride or teach since the accident, but her doctors finally gave her the go-ahead to take therapeutic riding lessons this spring. She also hopes to be able to drive on her own and maybe start teaching again.
Bennett has also joined the push for increased usage of safety vests not only in the show ring but every ride. Though she’s not sure it would’ve prevented the damage to her spinal cord, she believes it could’ve mitigated some of her other injuries.
“You just never know,” she said. “Your life can change in an instant, and I always tell friends and family to covet every moment because you just never know.”
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