Olympic mountain bike hopeful Tara Llanes has an important story this holiday season because it represents struggle, triumph, tragedy, determination and hope.
Tara’s world was turned upside down after a devastating crash left her paralyzed.
In the world of mountain bike racing, Tara Llanes is a superstar – a fierce competitor with a win-at-all costs attitude.
Even the injury tally on her Web site, stands as a kind of commitment badge of honor.
“Broke my collarbone, collapsed my lungs, blew out my knee, all in one crash,” one entry reads.
But injury never stopped Tara from pushing onward.
Advertisers courted her. She even posed for Maxim magazine’s “Girls of Extreme Sports” issue, but it all came to a crashing halt on September 1.
“I just smackedÃ¢â¬Â¦ landed straight on my head in the front,” Tara told Access Hollywood. “Immediately – it’s just something I do after I have a big crash – try to move your toes, try to move your legs. Make sure everything’s moving, and I stopped rolling and my legs didn’t move.”
Tara was paralyzed from the waist down.
“They sent me the footage and I have it on my computer,” Tara said. “I’m just not quite ready to see it yet.”
Looking back, worrying about what might have been isn’t Tara’s style.
While living at Denver’s world-renowned Craig Hospital, where she undergoes intense rehab and physical therapy, there is simply no time for “What if?” or “Why me?”
When the doctor told her she wasn’t going to walk again, Tara remained defiant.
“I looked right at him and I said ‘I am going to ****ing prove you wrong!’” she recounted.
Tara said however there have been times when her physical therapy has proved frustrating.
“I can go into physical therapy and I can do everything that they tell me to do and I can push ten times harder than they tell me to do and I don’t understand why my legs won’t move ‘cause I know I am trying,” she said. “That is the frustrating part.”
Hour after hour, Tara pushes the limit, never losing focus, or her sense of humor.
In fact, while Access visited Tara, she mooned Jim, our cameraman, during her physical therapy.
“I just needed to have some fun,” she laughed. “He looked like he was kind of walkin’ around a bit so I thought why not? Every single one of my classes needs to be fun. I mean, I’m here to get better. I’m here to walk again and get stronger every single day, but it doesn’t mean I have to mope around.”
Progress is sometimes measured in inches or less. What was once second nature, suddenly becomes a great challenge, like learning to push your way backwards, up a flight of stairs.
“I think I have more good days then bad days,” Tara told Access. “I really try not to let myself be in a really crap mood ‘cause then I don’t accomplish anything.”
And there has been some breakthroughs. Tara can move her left leg somewhat.
“I can move it,” she said. “It gets stronger all the time.”
And that small movement is amplified in the weightlessness of the water, making pool time, a favorite activity.
“It seems like every time I go in the pool it is like something happens,” Tara said. “I can move my leg up and down and all around in the pool.”
Tara leaves the Craig hospital soon, but is she happy?
“I am, ” she said. “At first I was scared because this place is sort of like your little bubble, where you are familiar with things. I have learned so much here in three months. I know I am strong enough. I will be fine at home.
“This happened and you know what? It sucks and I don’t know why it happened,” Tara continued. “I don’t know if I will ever know why it happened. But I am gonna do everything I can to get better and that is all I can do.”
To help with the cost of medical expenses, and continuing physical therapy, a fund has been established for Tara.
Visit her Web site at www.TaraLlanesRoadToRecovery.com for more information.