To celebrate the launch of our new high-impact sports bra, Catalyst, we’re sharing the stories of inspiring athletes and what motivated them to get where they are.
In 2011, Michelle Salt was running her own business, riding her motorcycle, and killing it as a fitness model. And though she looked like a badass and seemed to be on top of the world, the truth was, she felt totally insecure. That summer, she experienced a devastating motorcycle accident, which nearly cost her her life. After losing her right leg and spending five months in the hospital recovering, Michelle looks at herself, and her body, in a whole new way. But her determination to succeed guided her to return to the fitness stage and take her snowboard all the way to the 2014 Paralympics (making her the first female Canadian Paralympic snowboarder) — and now she’s using her story to inspire others. We spoke to her about how she stays motivated in the most challenging times and how she learned to love her body again after so much change.
Can you tell us a bit about your life before your motorcycle accident?
I always wanted to keep up with my brothers, so from the time I was young, I’ve been a big tomboy. I tried all kinds of sports, but at thirteen, I strapped a snowboard to my feet for the first time, and I loved it. I had a dream of becoming a pro snowboarder.
Throughout the years, my priorities changed. I shifted my focus to becoming a fitness model.
When I walked the stage for the first time, I had these amazing abs and long, muscular legs, but I walked on that stage with no confidence. I was still trying to figure out who I was. And I thought that if I looked good, I would feel better about everything in life. The focus on how I looked turned me into a superficial, vain person. So that was my life going into my accident—I was a fitness model, I rode a motorcycle. I had this false confidence, when really I was still trying to figure out who I was.
You experienced a major trauma. How did you find the motivation to get out of bed every day, let alone get back into athletics and pursue snowboarding full throttle? What inspired you?
For me, I knew that I needed a goal to keep myself sane. I went from being a very able-bodied person, looking a certain way, to all of a sudden losing my independence and being covered in scars and missing a leg. So it was a big shift for me, but it didn’t take me long after finding out I had lost a leg that I decided I wanted to become a Paralympian. I knew right away—and I knew that I wanted to walk the fitness stage again.
I went through a grueling rehab. I couldn’t sit up on my own because I broke my back and my pelvis. I couldn’t shower on my own. I was in the hospital for five months and I didn’t walk for three of those months. Every day I would dread going to rehab, but I told myself that the only way I’d get back on my snowboard or back on that fitness stage would be if I go to physiotherapy. So I let that be my motivator: my goal.
What was it like when they told you you wouldn’t be able to keep your leg?
I was in a coma, on life support, so I didn’t know. By the time I woke up, my leg was already gone. I cried. I was sad for a long time, and I still have my days, but there was a fire fueled inside of me. I knew that there was opportunity in front of me and I wanted to pursue that. And it’s incredible because so many doors opened for me as an amputee.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
Oh, for sure. I still have my days. It’s really hard. Recently, my $70,000 prosthetic leg broke and there’s no insurance for that. So, it’s really tough to be an amputee sometimes and to go through such a significant change. Especially when it comes to looks. We get so focused on how we look because of what society is telling us is beautiful. But that’s not the true definition of beauty. It comes from who we are as people, and the good that we do in the world, and our desire to see ourselves as strong and resilient.
Some people struggle with loving their bodies. After your accident, I imagine you had to learn to love it again in a whole new way. What was it like for you?
I definitely had a new relationship with my body. It started off really difficult. I remember saying to my mom and my sister, “No one is going to love me like this.” I was looking down at my body thinking I looked like a voodoo doll, covered in staples and missing a leg. And little did I know that the challenge over the years would be learning to love myself again. I have proven to myself through my actions and my successes that I have grit and I’m strong. And every time I accomplish something that I’m not sure I can do, I see myself in a different light. I see my body as powerful, and with that, beautiful.
Is there anything you'd want to say to other women who are amputees, or living with disabilities, or have a body type that doesn’t fit within society’s “norm”?
I think that we are unique and we need to embrace that uniqueness and love that. I find that the more good I do in the world and the more I try to give back and prove to myself that I can do things that I didn’t think was possible for me to do, the more I love the way that I look. Because I’m taking advantage of the body that I’ve been given and the strength that my body has. I know that my body is fulfilling its purpose — and that’s going to the Paralympics on a snowboard, or even just getting around to help kids learn how to skateboard.
We need to look in the mirror, get everyone else’s opinions and society’s version of beautiful out of our heads and we need to find our own kind of beautiful. I hope people understand that being different and unique and not being known just for the way we look is beautiful in itself. I love the fact that I’m know for being a Paralympic snowboarder, and not because of how I look.
I love that I’m badass. I’m me, and my scars tell my story. They’re my battle wounds and I like the story that they tell.