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May 5, 2016 3:53 PM EDT

My life changed forever on Labor Day 2012. That was when I dove off of a dock into water that was too shallow and broke my neck in three places. I was rushed into emergency surgery and awoke to a doctor informing me that I was paralyzed from the chest down. I would never walk, be independent or move my arms again.

I had been a surfer, so it was particularly devastating to lose my physical independence. I had a lot of dark days. No matter how optimistic I tried to be, it seemed as though my whole future had just been ripped out from underneath me.

In the face of this huge setback, I’ve learned that setting goals is key to staying positive. My biggest goal is to walk again and, hopefully, get back on the water one day. I am extremely lucky to have the support of friends, family and an amazing physical therapist, all of whom believe I can do it.

Thanks to my training, I am already able to do many things I was told I would never do again, including stand with minimal support from just one physical therapist (it used to take three!), pedal a stationary bike and wiggle my left leg. Each improvement is a constant reminder to me that I am getting where I want to be.

I also have goals that have nothing to do with my physical capabilities: I currently attend Savannah College of Arts and Design and am working toward a bachelor’s degree so I can one day become an interior designer and create spaces that are wheelchair accessible.

If you had asked me four years ago what I would be doing today, I certainly would have never have been able to imagine the life I have. But if my experience can teach others anything, it’s that, if you are not happy with your situation, you can always change it. Even just taking making a little bit of progress toward a larger goal can help you stay positive in the fact of extreme setbacks.

Brooke is a 20-year old former surfer. She’s an ambassador for the upcoming Wings for Life World Run, a global charity run for spinal cord injury research.

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