There are three inspirational women I’m looking to in 2020: Danelle Ballengee, Bethany Hamilton and Misty Copeland. Each month, between now and May I will be sharing about each of these power women. This month: Danelle Ballengee.
Throughout my nine year widow journey I’ve hit inevitable roadblocks such as survivor guilt and self-sabotage. It’s caused me to lose precious momentum more than a handful of times. These three women represent powerful forward movement against all odds and their stories are the exact inspiration I need to achieve the goals I have in mind for this year.
Danelle Ballengee – “Inch by Inch”
You may not be familiar with Danelle unless you’re an avid runner or have watched “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”. I recently discovered this inspirational gal while watching season three, episode one of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”. Immediately I felt connected to the story because it took place in Southern Utah’s backcountry, only hours from where I currently call home.
This is going to be a spoiler alert, so if you want to watch the episode first and then come back for the commentary, feel free to do so!
***Commencing Spoiler Alert***
Danelle was used to running alone in Utah’s southern backcountry trails with her dog Taz. Inspirational even before her accident, she is a world champion adventure racer and six-time athlete of the year. During a training run in December of 2006 she slipped and fell 60 feet in Mine Sweeper Trail in a hidden canyon. Her pelvis shattered into pieces and the only thing connecting her body to her legs was soft tissue. Danelle spent three days and two nights in the canyon with few supplies and her dog Taz.
Immediately after her fall she tried to stand and walk out of the canyon but fell back down. Determined to reach her truck, she began pulling herself along the canyon floor inch by inch. The pain was masked by adrenaline for the first five hours. She barely made any distance and was forced to spend the night in the canyon which held sub-freezing temperatures in the 20’s. Next, the beginning stages of hypothermia were setting in. Danelle knew that the only way to keep herself alive was to keep moving through the night – so she did sit ups – slightly lifting her head and shoulders. The pain was becoming real and she decided on a pace that she could maintain throughout the night. Every five seconds she did one sit up over the next six hours. I can’t think of anything more inspirational! I’m amazed that she chose to do this.
Her athletic training gave her the physical and mental endurance to keep going through that night’s freezing conditions. Danelle also had to will herself not to urinate because the wetness on her clothing would freeze and speed up the hypothermia process. Miraculously she made it through the first night.
The next morning, she tried to drag herself again on the canyon floor and barely made any distance. Her adrenaline had completely worn off and she was feeling the full extent of her injuries. Dehydration set in. She managed to crawl to a small puddle of water and little by little scooped water with the bottle cap into her water bottle to drink. The second night she struggled to do the sit ups but continued anyway.
At this point, the narrator informs the viewer in the re-enactment that surviving one night in the canyon is “cheating death”. She managed to survive another. Three pints of her blood had seeped into her abdomen and she most certainly wouldn’t have survived another night.
Still determined with her athletic mindset, she was intent on getting out of that canyon. She would fight the pain and start going again, inch by inch. Inspiring, inspirational, inspiring…I admire this woman’s will power to continue on!
The pain in continuing forward was too great and she turned back to the tiny water source available to her. She gave in and told her dog Taz that she needed help and to go find it. He leaves and crosses paths with and experienced mountain tracker with search and rescue. The tracker decides to follow Taz and takes him right to Danelle.
She was airlifted to the hospital where she underwent extensive surgery. The doctors didn’t think she would walk again, however, her incredible will power and determination that kept her alive in the canyon got her back on her feet again. Her surgery was six hours long and she had months of rehabilitation – but eventually she was back up and RUNNING!
Danelle’s story inspired me to take a moment and think about my “training”. On the first night when she drew on her athletic training to get her through the night, I couldn’t help but ask myself, what training did I draw on to get me through “the night?” That night being the arrival of widowhood.
For me, it was the previous seven years of advanced endometriosis that I had to battle every single day. I experienced estrogen-induced pancreatitis, hospitalizations, ER visits, drug-induced menopause at 20 years old, three maintenance surgeries and ultimately a hysterosalpingo-oophorectomy (removal of uterus, tubes and ovaries).
I wasn’t lucky enough to have kids before I had my final surgery when I was 26 years old. Nine months after that event, in what still seems surreal, my husband died in a motorcycle accident, three months before he was to deploy overseas with the Air Force. Within one year, I had lost everything.
During my endometriosis journey, I didn’t realize I was building physical and mental endurance all those years that would make it possible for me to take on the next life challenge of being a 27 year old widow.
Balancing these layers of trauma while trying to achieve my goals and dreams is impossible some days. I move forward and have to take a breather. At times I feel I can’t pull myself another inch through my own canyon floor. There have also been many nights when I felt the only way to survive to the next morning was to do metaphorical sit ups like Danelle.
As complicated as this onion is for me, when I learned of Danelle’s story this month, I couldn’t imagine having to go through that. Her story strengthened me and reminded me that I can do hard things.
Inspirational Inch By Inch
Danelle willed herself to survive inch by inch. If she can inch her way through three days and two nights with a shattered pelvis, then I can certainly do this metaphorically with an intact pelvis.
Danelle has continued doing what she loves and still runs the backcountry trails like she used to.
During an interview with Runner’s World, Danelle said, “Wow-I lived through it. I lived through that intense experience. It’s just a dream and everything’s cool.”
I’m definitely not going to say that “everything’s cool”, it’s not cool that I’ve been widowed, stripped of reproductive abilities and left childless, but I admire her attitude towards that event. I just can’t believe what she did – she’s incredible!
Three days and two nights where she had to stay awake the entire time, do sit ups in the freezing cold with a shattered pelvis, will herself not to urinate to keep hypothermia from speeding up and dragging herself through that canyon floor – it’s insane. And she did it!
Thank you for sharing your story Danelle!
You can find a photo of Danelle and her story here.
Next month I will be sharing Bethany Hamilton’s story! Until then, keep moving forward – inch by inch.