A young Texas woman turns tragedy into triumph. Meet Belle of Steel #15 Emily Allen Colbert

It’s the doorbell that no one ever wants to answer.  “There’s been a horrific accident,” emily-colbertexplained the policemen.  “It’s your husband.” Emily, a young wife and mother of two fell to her knees on the floor. There had been a car accident on Highway 66 in Rockwall. “Oh my God,” she cried out through tears.  “Is everyone okay?” But everyone wasn’t okay.  A vehicle had struck her Garland Fire Department husband’s car from the side.  The impact caused it to spin violently and roll with their oldest child.  Rockwall Fire Department was on scene. Her husband Devon was trapped inside the vehicle. The jaws of life were being used to cut him out. The car seat of her child was covered in glass shards, but miraculously he was unscathed. In just an instant, Emily’s life changed forever.  It was seven days before Christmas, 2012.

Emily threw her things into a bag and frantically called her mother to drive her to Parkland, one of two major trauma centers in Dallas, TX.  According to the policeman it was controlled chaos and they were still cutting Devon out of the car. He was alive, but in critical condition.  In the trauma bay at Parkland, there were already thirty Garland firemen surrounding her for comfort.  “He’s gonna be okay. We promise.” But he wasn’t. Not totally. The next bad news Emily would hear was from the ER physicians.  Devon’s spinal cord had been sublux’d, or pinched at cervical spine number four. This dashing, young, strong fireman became a quadriplegic at age 29.

Emily’s mother, a nurse, knew what that would mean. Devon would never walk again. Never run again. Never be able to put out fires, the job he loved, again. He would live the rest of his life in a chair with wheels. For most young women, this would be the kiss of death to a relationship; just too large a tragedy with which to cope. Because at first, everyone is helpful. Everyone is there. But it’s the heavy burden of long term care. Bathing your husband. Toileting your husband. Helping him to dress. Finding uncomfortable challenges with intimacy. Helping him find meaning in life. Thank goodness for the brigade of Garland and Rockwall firemen who came to their aid.

The first few months were pure torture. Rollercoaster’s of hope and despair. Their tiny home was not wheelchair accessible. But it wasn’t just the pragmatic day to day. Emily was exhausted from the protracted hours at rehab and caring for their two small children. She was bereft of energy or strength. She missed her husband’s caress. She missed the way he made love to her. She felt alone and, at times, hopeless. She had only one thing – her faith in God. She trusted in God’s love to win the day.

Over months, Devon slowly gained the ability to power his chair with his hands and shoulders.  He regained some gross upper body movement. Emily gave in to the generous charity and time that people provided so that she could get meals on the table and care for her children. Through it all though, she never considered this her rock bottom.  This was just another challenge that God had laid before her.

For years ago, Emily had indeed hit rock bottom. She was a gorgeous young twenty-something. Her life involved parties and partying. She dabbled in drugs and had become an addict; even when she had first met  Devon. She was at her lowest low. “My only option was to go up. I wanted to leave a life story worth knowing and reading. Not a life story of worthlessness and addiction. I chose to ‘forget about it – and left drugs behind. I chose joy.”

Upon that decision, everything changed.  Emily had a new focus on life and chose living. So she channeled that same strength in overcoming Devon’s accident. It had to have meaning. So many people had given to them to help them survive a life of quadriplegia, she had to give back. Emily started The Colbert Project, a non-profit foundation which raises money to bridge gaps for other facing financial ruin from tragedies throughout the fire community brought on by illness or off duty injury. Their mission?  To do behind the scenes work so that all the glory is given to God.

At their first event, a silent auction and ball, the seed money was raised. Now three years later, The Firemen’s Ball is one of the largest fundraisers of its kind in the Dallas area.  They have raised thousands of dollars to assist three families on a large scale and helped countless others with hospitalization care packages, gas cards, grocery money and so much more.

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Emily believes that because God blessed her little family, it is her job to return the goodness.  As a mere high school graduate, “Never in a million years would I have seen myself where I am today.”  She is a mother of two lovely young boys; the wife and life-long partner to a husband with quadriplegia; Chairman and CEO of The Colbert Foundation.  “This is a path that God chose me to tackle. I want to be remembered as a warrior doing good for others, not someone of stature in society.”

The people in life that most inspired her and mentored her to overcome are her grandmother and her parents.  “They are beautiful, unique creatures inside. That’s what counts.”  Despite her success, Emily is extraordinarily humble.  “I’m no one special. I’m just me. I live minute by minute, day by day. I never expected to face the challenges in life that God sent me.  I’m living and screwing up just like anyone else. I really don’t see myself as a Belle of Steel, although I am honored.  I just walk in hope each day. In that hope, I pray to kick some ass along the way.  Maybe that’s what makes me a Belle of Steel. Bam!”

For these reasons and seeing/watching with joy as another strong women overcomes, AgeView Press is proud to celebrate Emily Allen Colbert as its fifteenth Belle of Steel.

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Make it Memorial May – CarryTheLoad

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off.   Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee.    Your left leg has gashes and is burned.  Part of your left arm is blow away.   You are unconscious and laying on the ground.   Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body.  Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004.  A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital.  He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy.   We’ve got ya.  Don’t die on us.”    Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter?    Angry?    Depressed?    Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?   Many would.   However, Jacob is not.

Recently, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load.   He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team.  I found him to be the antithesis of any victim.   He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive.    As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery.    Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers.   “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’  It’s the military mindset.  It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals.   They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers.    His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011.  It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military.   It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America.   It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service.  Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations.  Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising.   Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load.  Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism.   Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal –  we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May!  Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders.   Come out and carry more than you have to.  Go just a little bit further.   Get away from BBQs and car stalls.  Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail.  May 26th and May 27th.

Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?