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Celebrating “Crashiversaries” and Breaking the Mold with Lena Schoemaker

When Lena Schoemaker was just 17, she injured her spinal cord in a car accident and landed herself in a wheelchair. Since then, she’s gotten a degree from Stanford University, hand-cycled in three marathons, traveled to 11 different countries and is currently working towards her Master’s Degree. Plus, each year she honors her “crashiversary” to celebrate her new life.

We sat down with Lena to learn more about how she Breaks the Mold and defies the conventional, and we learned more about the travel blog she started to help promote travel within the disability community.

Tell me about yourself and your story.

I’m a data scientist, concert enthusiast, and world traveler on two wheels. When I was 17, I injured my spinal cord in a car accident which didn’t change what I did, but changed how I did things. I’m also juggling getting a Master’s degree and the urge to drop everything and move to Paris.

Currently, I’m a student, part-time researcher, and a TA at Stanford University (my alma mater).

How did you come up with the idea to celebrate your “crashiversary” every year, and what are some of the best things you’ve done to celebrate?

A year after the exact date of my car accident, my father held a small gathering of people who were key players in helping me transition into my new life. Although it was a lovely get together, I realized that I didn’t want to sit around each year feeling sad about the thing that happened to me on that date each year. Instead, I wanted to celebrate the new life I had, the things I’ve accomplished and the goals I want to achieve, while simultaneously acknowledging that the date of my car accident was still a significant part of me. So I named it my “crashiversary”. The date of my car crash, and the anniversary of a new life and new way of experiencing the world.

Each year has been different. Some years it has been really low key where I went to a concert with friends and didn’t even tell them the significance of the day. And other years (the bigger years), I go to a country I’ve never been to.

For my 5-year “crashiversary”, I went to Israel—and for my 10-year “crashiversary” to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to watch the Paralympics. I also plan to do something on my 17-year “crashiversary”, as it will mark half my life of being able-bodied and half my life of being a wheelchair user. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do yet, but it’s definitely on my radar.

Who inspires you to #BreakTheMold?

Society.

“I like challenges and when people say I can’t do something, I immediately want to prove them wrong.”

Breaking stereotypes of what people think I (and others) can and can’t do motivates me to get up in the morning and just live the life I want to live regardless of what others think.

Where do you hope you’ll be in five years?

In Paris, eating a baguette.

I also hope to have a steady following for my travel blog, Lena Boards First. It’s still in its infancy, but I want to get to a point where I post more consistently and frequently. In five years, I want to hone my writing skills and be a better storyteller.

I started a blog to help promote travel within the disability community. Many people still find traveling hard and that many places do not offer the accommodations that they need. Though there is still a long way to go to make the world 100% accessible to everyone, I believe that the first step is increasing the knowledge and information that is available for people with disabilities to travel. Even the knowledge of what type of barriers someone would face if they went to a particular location is more helpful than venturing into uncertainty.

Finish the sentence: I #BreakTheMold by _____.

I #BreakTheMold by taking on a world that isn’t always readily accessible to me.

This post is part of our #BreakTheMold series, where we celebrate the lives and work of trailblazing women. Check out the rest of the series here.

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