Your Tomorrow Starts Today
by Charlene Paul
To say that speaking with Tracy Rodgers is inspiring is a gross understatement. She is upbeat, honest, and positive as she speaks about her journey to fulfill her dream of becoming Ms. America International. To understand just how inspiring her journey has been, you have to go back to June 23, 2011.
Tracy was the reigning Ms. Nevada State and was preparing to compete in the Ms. America Pageant. In fact, she was on her way to finish last-minute details when she was literally hit by a bus. While driving on I-15, she was struck by a tour bus that crossed into her lane directly in front of her after making an illegal u-turn. She hit it going at freeway speed.
She woke up in the demolished car to see bone coming through her white pants. Her right leg was covered with a patch of blood. White powder from the airbag was everywhere. Although she was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, she sustained nine fractures in her neck and four fractures in her lower back. Both arms were broken, and her left wrist was snapped off, hanging backwards, totally shattered. Both of her legs were broken, as well as her pelvis. In total, 21 bones were broken. Her left side took most of the impact.
It was touch and go for the first couple of days. In the trauma unit, the doctor told her, “You have no idea how lucky you are.” Lucky because she hadn’t sustained more internal damage. The surgeons inserted a big rod in her right femur, plated her left hip, and stabilized her left knee. Her wrist was completely rebuilt with cadaver parts, rods, pins, and screws. Her left knee was also completely rebuilt. She endured 29 surgeries. She says, “At one time I probably had more metal in me than most American-made cars. Whenever I go through the metal detectors at the airport now I set off the alarms one hundred percent of the time.”
Not long after the accident, she asked her doctor when she would be able to walk and he replied, “You need eleven weeks of non-weight bearing time for your leg to heal.” She was down, but not beaten. When the doctors told her she probably wouldn’t be able to do something, her answer was always, “Watch me!” Can’t isn’t a word she uses very often. With assistance, she stood for the first time eleven weeks to the day her doctor told her she had to wait. She almost passed out, but slowly started walking from that point in time.
After one of her many surgeries, she sustained foot drop where her left foot just dragged. It was sort of like a little flipper, making it necessary to wear a brace, which she hated. The doctors thought the nerve might regenerate, but it didn’t.
“That was the first time – almost three years after my accident – that I had a teary breakdown. I was crying so hard that my contacts were bobbing around on my eyeballs,” she explained. She didn’t stay teary long, though. She decided that no amount of crying would fix her leg so she told herself, “You get up, brush yourself off, and just do the daily grind.” She was able to lose the brace after a tendon transfer surgery to heal the foot drop. After an especially long and tiring day, however, she says her foot still drags a bit.
It is so easy to take simple things like flossing your teeth for granted, but after what Tracy has been through, she appreciates even the smallest things. “I wasn’t able to do anything for myself for three weeks,” explains Tracy. “A positive attitude was key in my recovery. If you let yourself go down the path of self-pity and negativity, you will stay there. Always try to find something in your life to be grateful for.”
Five years after her accident, a friend challenged her to finish the journey she had started five years earlier to compete in the Ms. America Pageant. She wasn’t sure she could do it, but decided she had to “finish my race.” It wouldn’t be as easy as explaining that she had already won the Ms. Nevada State title; she would have to start from the very beginning. She once again competed for the Ms. Nevada title. It was hard work and there were grueling days. But with her platform, “Your Tomorrow Starts Today,” she saw each day as a new beginning. She won the Ms. Nevada title for the second time, and began the process of preparing for the national title.
At the national pageant, she was surprised when her name was called in the top twelve. When her name was announced as Ms. America International 2017, she was overcome with too many emotions to count. It has been a whirlwind year and a half. She has traveled all over and has been able to finish her race and share her story with thousands of people.
As she prepares to crown the next Ms. America International in March 2018, she is thankful for the opportunity she has had to speak to audiences about her story. She is quick to say that no adverse circumstance gets to define you. In her own words, she shares her feelings about where she has been, where she is, and where she hopes to be:
“Whenever I find myself doubting how far I can go, I will remember how far I have come. I will remember everything I’ve faced, all the battles I’ve won, and all the fears I’ve overcome. I am walking proof that hard work, dedication, perseverance, with a perfect faith in God, can see you through hard times. Never give up on your dream!”
If you ask how she is feeling today, she will smile that award-winning smile and say, “Today, I feel great. Most people don’t know what I’ve been through. At the end of an especially long day, I usually end up with a little bit of a limp on that left side. My left knee and left lower calf are very atrophied. You just find ways to stand a little differently.”
She still deals with some pain, and says she is a perfect predictor of barometric pressure. “The day before it storms, I can tell you because my left knee and hip will ache and ache.”
To call Tracy Rodgers inspiring is definitely a gross understatement. She is gracious, intelligent, gorgeous, well-spoken, upbeat, honest, and positive. She is a shining example of making the best of what life deals out. Spend a few minutes with her, and you will walk away knowing you, too, can get up, brush yourself off, and just do the daily grind. Your Tomorrow Starts Today. But don’t simply take Tracy’s word for it; get out there and make today your best day yet.