Life can change in an instant. For Anna Hackenberg, the instant that changed her life in 2017 left her paralyzed from the chest down.
“My friends and I drove to Torrey Pines State Park, parked at the top and walked down the beach trail,” she says. “I remember stepping onto the beach and it being a gorgeous day. That’s where my memory of the day stops.”
While on the beach, rocks broke away from the cliffs above, tumbling toward Anna and crushing her spine. Her friends were spared. She woke a week later in the hospital only to learn that she would never walk again.
While obviously devastated, Anna was undeterred. With help from the rehabilitation team at Sharp, she has gone on to swim, complete a marathon, learn a new way to drive, return to work — and even play a little golf.
Sharp is the community leader in spinal cord injury rehabilitation, encouraging patients to focus on ability, not disability. The program fosters independence and strengthens self-esteem, two attributes Anna obviously possesses in abundance, and always has.
An athlete her entire life, Anna ran six marathons before the accident. The loss of the use of her legs wasn’t about to stop her from continuing to participate in them or the other sporting activities she loved.
She started off in the pool at the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Rehabilitation Center, learning first how to float and turn her body on her back to breathe.
“When I’m in the water, I don’t really feel any different from anybody else in the water around me,” she says. “Every time I get into the water, I learn something new about the way I need to move my new body. I feel very free.”
After learning how to maneuver the wheelchair that would take her through her daily life, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which gives individuals with physical challenges access to sports and an active lifestyle, provided Anna with a hand-crank racing wheelchair. They then paired her with a trainer, also a paraplegic athlete, to prepare for the 21st Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, a race she was training to run before her injury.
Anna originally planned to participate in the half marathon. However, characteristic of the grit and determination she displays during her daily life, she decided she’d rather conquer the full marathon.
“Sharp’s programs really helped me navigate my new world,” Anna says. “I’m so grateful to my whole team of therapists. Sharp set me up for success, so I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
With a marathon finishing time of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 17 seconds, it would be impossible for Anna to disappoint anyone, especially herself.
“Getting to be my best self is all I could hope for,” she says. “I’m just super grateful.”
Watch the video above for more of Anna’s story, in the latest chapter of the award-winning medical reality series, Stories of The Sharp Experience.