As children, we plan for all of the things we will do in our grown-up lives: what kind of jobs and family we will have or which adventures we will take. We don’t always anticipate the twists and turns that lie ahead of us, or the life-changing moments that will define the rest of what comes after.
The moment that changed Dr. Anna Hackenberg’s life came in 2017 during a walk with friends on the beach below Torrey Pines State Park. Without warning, rocks tumbled from the cliffs above, crushing Dr. Hackenberg, an urgent care doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, and leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.
Her life was certainly changed. Some things became more challenging. Others became more meaningful. But the drive she’s carried with her since childhood, her relationships with friends and family, a career she loves, and her adventurous spirit remain the same.
She is still Anna — or, perhaps, Anna 2.0 — and nothing will stop her from continuing on the path she began to blaze the moment she was born. “Life can change in an instant,” she says. “But don’t stop if things don’t turn out the way you planned.”
Dr. Hackenberg’s resilience and positive attitude serve as an example not only for those who have suffered life-altering trauma, but also for anyone who wishes to live a full, rewarding life. While she credits her upbringing for her ability to keep going during trying times, it is her own inner strength that gets her to the finish line.
“Early on, my parents taught me that all you can do is try your best,” she says. “They taught me to live knowing that there are some things you can’t change and not to worry about those things. So, I have always said yes to new experiences, trying not to think about what could go wrong, but rather embracing the journey and doing my best.”
Initially, losing physical abilities was devastating to Dr. Hackenberg, who had been a competitive athlete her whole life. However, she was determined to find new ways to move with help from the rehabilitation team at Sharp.
“Movement was my way of expressing myself — discovering, adventuring, building community, feeling confident, staying healthy and feeling alive,” she says. “As I learned to move again, all of the other aspects of my life came together and made the mental challenges I faced less trying.”
She admits to moments in which she misses the ability to throw on running shoes for a trail adventure, but values the things she can do. “I am more present than ever and, with the help of others, so many wonderful things are still possible,” she says.
Role of friends and family in recovering from trauma
Dr. Hackenberg’s friends and family continue to play a key role in her recovery — calling themselves “Team Anna.” She notes that she wasn’t the only person who lost expectations, hopes and dreams on that tragic day at the beach.
“My family and friends had to recover, too, but they are so strong and so encouraging that I have no choice but to feel empowered, too,” she says. “I only ever feel as strong as my team. And thankfully, my team is incredibly amazing.”
Dr. Hackenberg loves her new life — trials and all. She believes that whatever challenges you face may not be happening to you, but happening for you. She encourages those in her life to keep a positive attitude, enjoy the journey, try their best and make the most of their lives.
“Stop to feel the sand between your toes and hug your friends with your entire body,” she says. “Say yes to adventure, surround yourself with people who make you stronger, and know that everyone has their struggles — both visible and invisible — so be kind.”