Paralympic Snowboarder Michelle Salt: My Accident Made Me Feel More Beautiful

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With a resume that includes model, snowboarder, motivational speaker and successful businesswoman, Michelle Salt seems to have it all. But when a life-threatening motorcycle accident four years ago left her with a prosthetic leg and extensive scarring, it gave her the strength to add her most impressive accomplishment to a long list of achievements: choosing triumph over tragedy and giving new meaning to “beauty comes from within.” Here, she shares her story.

I’m covered in scars, but they tell my story, one of survival and strength. I know I will never have the same body I used to and I will never be without battle wounds, but I don’t care—I love me just the way I am. Beauty really does come from the inside, and let’s face it, eventually we all get wrinkles and our bodies change. So for now, I will embrace what I have and that’s a body with one story to tell!

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Growing up in a small town in Canada, I was a bit of a tomboy. I lived on a farm and wore my brothers’ hand-me-downs. My story in school was like a lot of other young girls; I wasn’t popular, which caused me to be self-conscious and shy. I struggled with basic things like reading out loud because I was so afraid my classmates would judge me. It wasn’t easy living with this extreme shyness and it took me until my accident to come into my own and figure out who I was.

I know many teenagers say this, but I would see women on television and in magazines who had these slender, perfect bodies, and wish I could be like them. I never saw women who looked like me and it caused me to believe that the ultimate goal was to look like these models. I also saw the way men would look at my slimmer friends and the attention they would get. It made me feel ugly, like I couldn’t compete with their beauty.

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As I grew older, I fixated on trying to fit in, which drove my obsession of body image. After a tough divorce and the loss of a good friend, I was barely eating and I’d run three miles a day with hopes that someone would notice my slimmer figure.

I eventually went on to compete in a fitness competition, and I was convinced winning would finally make me “beautiful.” At that point in my life, I only measured beauty by how I looked on the outside—it never occurred to me that maybe being beautiful should have something to do with what kind of person I was on the inside. I did, in fact, win, but everything in my life—including the way I looked—changed forever soon after. 

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I honestly don’t remember that much about the accident. When I hit the guardrail on my motorcycle, I broke numerous bones, many of which were compound, including my femur which severed my artery. I was experiencing rapid blood loss, but because I had a strong heart from living a healthy lifestyle, I was able to live 23 minutes before I got to the hospital; the doctors told me that most people would bleed out within 10 minutes. My physical shape also played a huge role in my quick recovery. 

Waking up to a body covered in scars and missing 75 percent of my right leg was an adjustment, to say the least. Rehab started with small things like learning to take care of myself. This really broke down my pride and self-esteem, as I couldn’t do much of anything without someone helping me. You never realize how much you take for granted until you are faced with this type of dependency.

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As the staples came out, I slowly realized more and more that my body would never look the same. I went from 128 pounds to 90 pounds in less than three weeks, and between the weight loss and the fact that my body was now covered with scars, I looked like a completely different person—to the point that it was shocking. For the first six months after my accident, I struggled with allowing others to see me the way I now was. I had let myself believe I was no longer society’s definition of beautiful, and because of that, I wasn’t worthy of love.

It took about a year, but this started to slowly change as I began to get back to doing the things I loved to do and I started sharing my story with others. I realized I wasn’t alone with the way I felt, and that in order to shift my mindset, I would have to start from the inside out.

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I started to take in the incredible moments (those little moments where everything was so much more vivid, and I was so much more focused and appreciative), help others when they weren’t expecting it and to be patient with myself. I would often stop whatever I was doing and take a minute to just breathe in the fresh air, something I was unable to do while on the respirators. I also worked hard on my recovery and really made a point to celebrate my milestones, like learning how to walk again and returning to the gym.

Even with my injuries, I became excited to look at myself in the mirror because I was now seeing so much more than just scars and a prosthetic leg. As I learned to love myself, I learned to see beauty in a totally different way. Though I no longer had long, flawless legs and sculpted abs, I had become a better person with this desire to help others, as so many people had helped me. I embraced the flaws that now made me beautiful and I walked around proud to be an amputee and different than most people. I learned that beauty starts from the good in your heart and the love for others and for yourself. By believing I was a better person, I also started to believe I was a beautiful person.

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Fitness always has and always will be a big part of my life and most people are surprised to learn that I can actually do almost all the things I could physically do before. I truly believe that because of the choice I made to be active before my accident and throughout my life, I am alive today. It’s not all about looking toned and fit—there is something very powerful about being active that affects your entire mind-body-spirit.

Unfortunately, I still believe there is a stigma around having to look a certain way in order to be successful—so many people think that equates to being a size 0 and 5’10”. But, since becoming an amputee, I have seen huge strides in the fashion industry to embrace those living with a disability, as well as plus-sized models. It’s inspiring and allows women to see that having curves or missing a limb is gorgeous.

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My accident was a chance for me to press the reset button. I have stopped focusing on the things I can’t change, like aging, and I now take it day by day. Now, I am 30, and yes, it really is just a number. My scars tell a story and I would much rather get old with stories than having my body in tip-top shape and not having lived. I truly believe that imperfections are a testament to having lived a life full of struggles, mistakes and lessons. They are nothing to hide, and they show strength and resiliency. Nothing comes easy and I am proud that I have the scars to prove it.

Life is such a blessing and we must not take it for granted. Through living our lives to the fullest and doing what we can for others, we can see so much beauty in the world—even in the little things!

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