Amanda Sullivan has been sent through the wringer. She's been hit by a car, had lengthy hospital stays, and amputation, and more. Most people would have given up on trying to stay active, but Amanda hasn't, and she even has her eyes on the 2019 New York City Marathon.
We got to hear about the details of her accident, recovery, and what keeps her going. Read our interview with her below to learn more about Amanda!
KC: How athletic were you before the accident?
AS: I grew up playing sports. My senior year of high school, I was the Captain of the Varsity Field Hockey, Basketball and Lacrosse Teams. I was also on a summer swim and tennis team from the ages of 5-17.
Leading up to my accident, I was working with orphans & refugees (specifically little girls who had been sex trafficked), in conflict & disaster zones. I was running between 6-9 miles a day. I remember being proud of how quickly I could mix cement floors, scale walls & make money off of “machista” men, on the basketball court. I taught the little girls, in my care, how to play sports, as well as self-defense. Looking back, I took full advantage of my mobility. Playing sports, running and being active was the best therapy for my soul. Nature was my church. I strived to be as physically strong as possible because I knew my life depended on it. I was sexually assaulted and attacked a few times (par for the course, given where I was). Each time, though, I healed and grew even more determined to stay and continue loving the little ones in my care.
KC: What all do you remember from the day of your accident?
AS: I remember it being an unusually warm day, for it being the middle of winter. I remember walking through a parking lot & passing a beautiful woman, driving one of those senior citizen vans. I thought how perfectly golden her deep brown skin looked in the sunlight. I remember seeing a few little old ladies coming towards me, in the opposite direction, with mobility aids. I thought they were adorable. They made me think of my own grandmas. I was smiling.
I remember hearing a noise and looking behind me. It felt like slow motion, as I was being struck. It didn’t feel like a car, though. It felt like playing basketball with my siblings. I’m the runt of the family, so I always had to be scrappy & tough, in order to get rebounds. The car was a really big person trying to “box me out”.
I remember the sound of my skull hitting the back windshield, then the sound of my body hitting the pavement. I remember tasting (what I later learned was) cerebral spinal fluid mixed with blood. I remember being peeled off the street and having a woman trying to stuff me into the back seat of the car that I had just seen coming towards me.
There were people fighting all around me. I thought I had done something wrong. I knew I didn’t want to be in the car because they weren’t good drivers. I saw the face of the driver, right before he jumped back into his car and left the scene. His stare was blank. He was elderly & his eyes looked sad. I didn’t know him, but my heart dropped. I felt sorry for him.
It was deafeningly-loud around me, one second. Then I was floating with rainbows around me. There were freshly baked pizzas, deli sandwiches, puppies, kittens, babies and this calming humming in the background. “Lalala lalala.... lalala lalala...” over and over again. I felt warm.
Before I knew it, it was loud and chaotic again. People staring at me. Feeling extremely uneasy. No idea what’s happening.
Then, again, peace. “Lalala lalala...” I felt angels around me. I was being hugged. Nothing hurt. My soul felt rejuvenated. It was perfect.
KC: How long was your recovery? What kind of mindset did you have during this time?
AS: Oh, man. This is a tough question to answer because I’m still recovering ten years later. I was in and out of the hospital and on bedrest for two years straight. I couldn’t catch a break. The plans for the orphanage that was supposed to open in Mexico had fallen through, which broke my heart & riddled me with guilt. I was in a wheelchair & desperate. I’m going to be honest with these questions. I’ve never spoken about this publicly. But, I decided recently that my past is just that, my past- both good and bad.
I was sexually abused my entire childhood by someone my family trusted. In second grade, I made a pact with God: If He could help me escape my situation, I would do everything in my power to ensure no little girl had to cry herself to sleep, for the same reason. This is how I started working, after college, with women and children who had been tortured and abused. My soul absorbed their strength, their dignity & their humility. I had finally come “full-circle” and was living my purpose. I felt unstoppable.
After my accident, I was recovering at my Mom’s home, in the same exact bedroom where I was abused all those years ago. It felt as if a random man came out of nowhere again, to break my body (and my soul). I thought that I’d worked through the trauma of my past. But, traumatic brain injuries will bring anything, in the darkest corners of your mind, to the surface again. The memories will feel brand-new. Except, this time you won’t have the ability to push them away & suppress them. It’s a constant tsunami of memories you can’t run from anymore.
I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself. My body felt deformed. I didn’t recognize my face. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons from my pectoral wall down to my abdomen were completely shredded. I could see torn muscles right under the skin on my breasts. I felt dirty, used, discarded.
Laying in that bed, in that room, unable to walk, with a crippled body and, an even more broken soul, convinced me that I would never “beat” my circumstances. My brain was telling me things that I was told when I was being abused as a little girl. I was convinced that I was worthless. I hated myself. I believed I would always be suffocated by pain-the real deep-seated kind of pain- the type that permeates your soul. My body may have been injured. But, my heart and soul were truly disabled. Perhaps they had always been and I was just masking it, from the world... and, from myself, for all those years.
I contemplated suicide. Finally, one night, I wrote my "goodbye" letter and, cried for hours. I realized that if I ended my life in the midst of all this darkness, then the darkness would define me. But, I wanted to define me.
KC: When did you start becoming active again? What was your motivation?
AS: The beautiful people I met in my travels taught me invaluable life lessons about shining in the face of adversity. I realized that I needed to become the HERO that I was sitting in bed waiting for. I realized that I needed to take my recovery into my own hands and fight for my own life- the way I fought for others. I joined a regular able-bodied gym, not quite sure what to expect. I began taking vitamins & eating clean. I eliminated toxic people from my life. I instantly felt stronger, healthier and more “able”.
I started playing wheelchair sports, like basketball, and a fire was lit inside of my soul again!! I was so depressed for all those years because I had allowed myself to STOP LIVING. I blamed the wheelchair, my traumatic brain injuries, the never-ending surgeries, my past and the man who hit me for my sadness and problems. My attitude was my problem.
I began doing races, as I transitioned to forearm crutches. Since my first race in September of 2012 (in which I finished dead-last out of 30,000 people, but felt like I won an Olympic Gold Medal), I have completed over five dozen 5k races, 3 dozen 10ks, 34 half marathons (13.1 miles each), three full marathons & innumerable Spartan Races.
I was protected by the military in many of my travels and was linked-up with wounded service members, recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, in Bethesda, Maryland. I began taking my steps for my friends, who no longer had feet (nor prosthetics) or were confined to their beds, unable to move.
With each step I took in my races & in training, more light, hope, inspiration, and love engulfed my soul. I was finally able to forgive the man who ran me over (he died shortly after the accident). I found true strength & serenity by pushing myself to my limitations... in order to DEFY them. The torch in my soul was finally lit again.
KC: Do you have a post-accident accomplishment that you are most proud of?
AS: As I said before, my Mom was my caretaker when I was first injured. She never complained about how hard it was to get my heavy wheelchair in & out of the car (on her own), during the 3+ years I used it. She dried my tears more times than I can remember. She was like a permanent “Rocky Training Montage” video, in terms of how much she motivated & inspired me to keep pushing myself to be my absolute best self. I realized that as long as I went to bed each night having bettered my soul that day, then I was winning.
In October 2015, my Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer & given 1-3 months to live. All I could think of was how my accident blessed me with all of those years with her. Had I not been injured, I would have stayed abroad & never truly had a chance to “know” my Mom, as an adult (if that makes sense). An overwhelming sense of gratitude engulfed me for the years of one-on-one time I had, post-accident, with my Mom. As a result of becoming so strong on my crutches, I became my Mom’s caretaker. I can just hear her now saying, “Jesus take the wheel!”
A full life circle moment, gifted to us wrapped in tragedy. But, that’s what life is. True beauty infused with tragedy. True love mixed with heartbreak. Light conquering the darkness. This is the natural cycle. Focusing on the positives, while working to turn your weaknesses into strengths, is the challenge. Learning lessons from adversity, while sharing as much light as possible, in order to help others through the darkness enveloping them, is the reason we are here.
Being by my Mom’s side, during the 2.5 years that she crushed the odds, was the biggest blessing of my life. I was able to give a little of the happiness, courage, strength, faith, hope, laughter and love, with which my Mom blanketed me throughout my life, back to her, in her time of need. My Mom showed me how to reignite the torch within my soul when I was lost in the darkness of despair. And, now that my torch was burning bright again, it was easy to relight hers.
Going on 2 mile walks at least 4xs a week with my Mom, completing a 5k by her side, knocking-off items on her bucket list, endless “girls’ nights” spent on the couch watching Netflix with our puppies, attending weekly chemo sessions and making my Mom laugh, when she wanted to cry, were all highlights for me.
To be next to my Mom, looking her in the eyes (with no fear & pure love), softly rubbing her little bald head and telling her how much she means to me, as she took her last breaths and headed off to Valhalla, is not only my greatest post-accident accomplishment. It is also the greatest honor of my life.
KC: You recently had to amputate your right leg. Was that difficult for you to come to grips with?
AS: I’ve known for years that amputation was an option. I had hoped that through healthy-eating & training, I could somehow “save” my leg. Two years ago, my Mom and I had a long conversation, after I had met with a few top doctors. We both decided amputation was the answer. Since my Mom’s health was not stable, I decided to wait. In the meanwhile, I focused on becoming my strongest self: In mind, body, and soul.
After my Mom passed away, I began double sessions of therapy to heal whatever bruises and wounds the last few years had left on my soul. This past fall, I found out that my right leg was dead below my knee, due to extensive nerve damage and poor circulation (amongst other things). I had no choice but to amputate soon, as to not risk also losing my knee & more of my leg.
Had I been faced with this sort of urgency ten years ago, and had my right leg amputated, I would have been consumed with anger and rage. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place back then. It would have felt like my leg was “taken” from me. This would have fueled my already negative & toxic mentality.
On the flip side, upon receiving this news a few months ago, I felt grateful for those extra years with my right leg. I was proud of how hard that little guy worked to keep up with me, albeit being dragged against its will, through countless adventures, races, awesome nights with my Mom, etc, etc. After burying my best friend (my Mom) and being more positive than ever about the power of the human spirit, it’s not difficult to say “goodbye” to a piece of flesh.
I did mental imagery every night until my surgery, in which I imagined that my right leg was a capsule beneath my knee. I started by placing everything that had weighed me down over the last few years, into that capsule. I would sort through various situations and remove the positives from it, tuck those into my heart, and toss the rest into that capsule. The capsule was attached, in my mind, to my right knee via a series of thick chains.
When I had my leg amputated, it was as if the surgeon cut through those chains, as well. All of the heartbreak, pain, sadness, despair, feelings of self-doubt, negativity, darkness, weakness & tears dissipated along with that leg... And, in return, I was left with nothing but goodness, light, strength, hope, inspiration, humility & love. #Winning
By being brave enough to let go of that part of my body, I had finally FREED MY SOUL. For the first time in my life, I feel complete. My mind, body, and soul have found their harmony. It may have taken me on unexpected paths, but it took breaking my body to truly heal my soul. It was ten long years of trial, error, and lessons. It was everything I never wanted. And, it was everything I always needed to start this next chapter and make it my best chapter.
KC: You are planning on running the New York City Marathon on a prosthetic leg in November. Do you have any goals for that run?
AS: At this stage of the game, nothing scares me. I am PUMPED for the NYC Marathon! I’ve had plenty of setbacks (and, hospital stays), since becoming the newest “five-toed freak” on the block in January. I have no idea when I will receive my prosthetic leg, as my little “nublet”, is still healing. But, I crutched four blocks the other day! And, yesterday I walked my dog 4xs without help and carried three big trash cans up two stairs, then dragged them to their place on the side of my building. I even successfully hopped up the five steep stairs to get into my building! After this interview, I’m heading outside to train. I’m going to crutch 8 blocks, even if it takes me all day.
I don’t care if people stare in public or make fun of me anymore. What they see as my “weakness”, I see as my “strength”. I will complete those 26.2 miles this November, whether it’s on a prosthetic, crutches or in a wheelchair. I’ll crawl if I have to. After all, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles- whether it takes me 3 hours or 13 hours.
My goal for this run is the same goal I have every other day that I’m not doing a marathon:
1. Look cool 2. Don’t die. 3. Hopefully, motivate someone out there to start taking control back of his/her life 4. Eat all the pizza & pet all the dogs and, 5. No matter what happens, always refer back to Rule # 1.
KC: Our motto at Kill Cliff is Kill the Quit. What does that motto mean to you?
AS: “Killing The Quit” is the moment you decide to no longer make excuses for yourself. It’s the moment you start living. It’s learning to accept the apologies you’ll never receive. It’s taking responsibility for your actions. “Killing The Quit” is no longer waiting until “tomorrow” to put the work in today. It’s doing what you can, with what you have, where you are. It’s understanding that your mobility & your health are GIFTS, only lent to you for a short while. Treat them that way. It’s refusing to allow terrible people, places & things to define you. It’s knowing that your soul defines you.
When I say, “KTQ”, or “Kill The Quit”, I’m trying to remind people that they are MUCH MORE than whatever bad stuff life has thrown their way. The most crippling things to happen to us are the wounds we carry in our souls. No one is spared heartbreak, setbacks, devastation or loss. That’s life.
What separates one life from another is what we do with that pain. Are you going to just lay down and take it? Are you going to let all your days pass you by, feeling like a victim? Are you going to use the pain as an excuse to cheat, hurt & knock others down?
Or, are you going to “KTQ” and use that pain to uplift and empower others?!
The quality of our lives depends on which option we choose. So, what’s it going to be? A or B?!
I’m choosing to uplift others. I’m choosing to be tougher than whatever tries to break me. I’m choosing to never settle. I’m choosing to “Kill The Quit”. I hope you do, too.