The Moment Life Changed
On October 23 2004, Joei Harrison’s life changed in one brief, horrific moment.
Her car was hit head-on by a drunk driver. The collision that took the life of her six year old daughter Elisabeth cracked the skull and lacerated the liver of her son Ethan. The accident knocked her unconscious and left her with a host of injuries including fractured vertebrae, a shattered arm, and a concussion.
Harrison awoke five days later in the hospital with no memory of the accident but immediately saw her arm in apparatus, pins sticking out of her thumb. Looking around, she saw a room full of doctors who were at that moment deciding whether or not they would have to use a halo thoracic brace with a metal ring that is secured to the skull with screw pins.
That was a devastating day. Her emotional grief and physical rehabilitation would have to somehow begin and she also had to manage the impending legal battle with the person who caused it all. She recalls, “On the way home to my mom’s house I remember trying to speak and what came out of my mouth sounded like a tape being eaten. My words were all jumbled up and could not make sense of what I was saying.”
The Beginning of Recovery
Harrison was angry, “I was pissed off that I could not speak. I remember just mentally thriving on the anger to overcome what was wrong with my speech, something clicked and I was focused and able to speak again.” Life was busy and difficult, “I was going to rehab 3 days a week, dealing with funeral arrangements, being a mom and trying not to lose it for my son.”
The rehabilitation was a long road back grounded in excruciating pain. “My right arm was about three times the size of my left one after the apparatus came off. I remember the first time going to physical therapy where Jack, my therapist, massaged my arm to get all the fluid out. It was so painful I passed out.”
The surgery on her arm left Harrison with limited range of motion, “My arm was missing bone in 6 different spots. When the doctors put my arm back together there were gaps in the bone where metal plates would connect one bone to the other.” The reality of the damage was setting in, “I now had a permanent disability in my arm, loss of range of motion, could not extend my arm fully out and lost length in my arm since it was a permanent 90 degree angle and no longer could touch my face or drink with my right hand. I had to learn how to use my left hand.”
She’s been getting surgeries ever since. A constant state of rehabilitation and recovery but in 2011, Joei registered for the Super Spartan in Temecula. She wasn’t sure on the day of the race if she was ready, “Saturday morning it was raining, cold wet, and miserable. Out on the course the weather changed. It started to hail on the way up the mountain until it turned to snow. I was already sick and I could not believe what I was getting myself into. At that moment, along came the spear throw and I made it on my first try.”
She finished the race, proud of the accomplishment and found a new challenge, the Spartan Death Race, “I learned about the Death Race here at one of the booths. I looked at the information and said I suffered and went through Hell and back I think I could do this. So I registered for 2012 Summer Death Race and finished top 5 female.”
Proving to herself that she’s a survivor in every sense of the word and that she’s somehow found a new normal, “My life is not normal but doing stuff like obstacle course racing gives me a sense of being normal again.”
Her son Ethan has also recovered from his injuries, “When I came home from the SoCal Super in Temcula, my son Ethan was waiting for me. His eyes popped out when he saw the medal that I got and he said, “mom I want to do this.”‘
And so she got him involved in the races. ”At the 2012 NorCal Beast he did the Spartan Kids race. He was having so much fun out there. As he would approach an obstacle, he would already have what he was going to do planned out. One obstacle after another, he dropped and rolled under the obstacle and popped up to his feet to continue the run. Spartan Race brought my whole family and friends together.”
Even in her darkest hours, a mother’s love, coupled with a will to survive, and the ability to push through any obstacle put in her way made Joei realize her own strength. The gritty determination that carries her through every aspect of her life, whether it’s providing for her family, recovering from devastating injuries, doing her job, or attacking a Spartan Race course. And Joei will be in Las Vegas to race the Reebok Spartan Race in Vegas.
If you have ever wondered if you can finish, you just have to decide to start. We’ll see you at the finish line. Sign up today.