One of the most common epidemics infecting the world, particularly the developed world, is known as Taking Life For Granted. Sadly, it often requires one to experience tragedy, either directly or indirectly in order to pay more attention to, and show more gratitude for not only the precious breaths we breathe, but all the wonder that this universe has to offer.

So if we compare this wondrous life to, say, a large flowing river, then our body is surely the vessel that helps us navigate the waters, moving us forward in exploration, and aiding us through constant challenges.

Now ask yourself “What would I do if the boat broke down? Or worse still, if the boat sank?”

While this analogy may not be perfect, hopefully you still get my drift (pun intended), in that how important our body is for daily function, and how easy it is to take it for granted, and not keep it well maintained.

However, no matter how well maintained one’s vessel is kept, misfortune can still cause malfunctions, such as debilitating disease like ALS, or worse yet, Spinal Cord damage due to serious injury.

This is the case for 22 year old Welsh International rugby player Owen Williams.

Owen is currently in hospital recovering from significant damage to his cervical vertebrae and spinal cord sustained while playing rugby for his Professional Club team the Cardiff Blues at a tournament in Singapore in July.

Owen Williams in hospital

While he is making positive progress, the full extent of his likely recovery is still unknown, and the support from family, fans, and fellow rugby players from all over the world has been “overwhelming”.  A charity has even been set up in his honor using the hashtag #StayStrongForOws to help raise awareness through social media.

Not knowing if he will ever regain full use of your limbs again is a terrifying thought, and can stir up a myriad of emotions. Even though Owen, being a professional athlete must already have a mental toughness and determined nature that helps him remain positive while recovering from injury, there must still be moments of worry and even panic as he resides in the unknown and contemplates his odds of a full recovery.

I know this, because I’ve experienced just that. I also broke my neck while playing rugby and was paralyzed from the neck down for a good amount of time before being transported to hospital for emergency surgery, ending my rugby career.

that was a fun day

With a lot of luck, a great surgeon, and some determination, I have made a near full recovery, and I expect the same fate for Owen. The ordeal has been a life changing experience for me, in that I learned very quickly how important my arms and legs were, when I was faced with the reality of never being able to use them again.

To this day I vividly remember the emotional rollercoaster of being momentarily paralyzed, which serves as a constant reminder to be grateful for a fully functional body, and to celebrate the fact by using it as much as possible and challenging its capabilities.

One way I like to do this, is whenever I come across an elevator or escalator with a nearby option to take the stairs, I will take the stairs. This is not only a way of displaying gratitude for my working limbs, but keeps me fit too.

escalators or stairs?

I urge you all to practice celebrating your body more by taking the easy option less. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Hike to places where cars can’t reach. Ride your bike to work instead of driving.

A further display of gratitude for your mobility could be in the form of volunteering for or donating to causes such as the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

The #StayStrongForOws campaign is selling wristbands for the cost of a Budweiser. This is a great way to remind yourself constantly to appreciate your health, while supporting a young star in the making as he fights to get back on his feet…literally.

StayStrongForOws wristband

For those of you who struggle to relate to the possibility of damaging your spinal cord while playing a professional contact sport, perhaps the story of James Gribble will inspire you. James set up The Puffin Magic Foundation after becoming a quadriplegic when he feinted and fell off a stool while waiting to go on a fishing trip in Africa.

James Gribble

Moral of the story? Make the most of the amazing vehicle that is your body. Challenge it to reach it’s full potential. You just never know when the privilege could be taken from you.