Dating can be hard enough. But imagine you had been involved in a life-changing accident, were adapting to a new life in a wheelchair and were ready to pick up from where you left off with… boys. Date Me is such a story of a young girl who experiences the highs and lows of human interaction. Find out how she takes back control.
If you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself right now, listen in to this episode for a pick-me-up. Kristin has endured more than most in her life to date. Paralysed from a Jet Ski accident at the age of 15, she has fought back physically and emotionally. She’s a reminder that anything is possible. It was a pleasure meeting you Kristin.
Kristin candidly talks about her Jet Ski accident. She mentions a friend of hers, Mark Brennan, who was killed in that accident. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends.
After Kirstin had spent four years recovering from her accident and now a full-time wheelchair user, she started dating. Most of her dates went badly, but she persevered. She was so shocked by the clumsy and, often, hurtful comments from dating partners that she started to record them. She later published her experiences in comic form in her book Date Me. You can also find out a little more about Kristin or contact her over at KristinBeale.com.
Kristin has also written:
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[00:00:00] Kristin: If you think I'm funny now, Oh you should have met me back then. Just kidding. Every six months I get Botox in my bladder, so every six months I make the joke to my husband and say, "When I come home, you're not gonna be able to recognize me".
[00:00:13] Kristin: [00:00:20] [00:00:40] Up until I was 15, when I was a freshman in high school, I was on top of the world.[00:01:00] I was on three sports teams; competition cheerleading, field hockey and lacrosse. I had tons of friends. I had a tan body, tight butt. I was just on top of the world. It was one of the best years of my life. I was very, very happy and everything was going perfectly for me.
[00:01:18] Steve: This is Kristin Beale [00:01:20] from Richmond, Virginia. She was just short of turning 15. It was the last weekend of the summer. School was due to restart. She was out at Lake Gaston, North Carolina with three friends.
[00:01:33] Kristin: Aubrey, who I had known since I was a kid in youth group for my whole life, Field who I met the weekend before, I had [00:01:40] a really big crush on him, and a guy named Mark, who I had just met. And we were just like, "Last weekend of summer, let's go". You know, the last bam before school starts, and that's actually that weekend is when I turned 15 also. So it was when everything was happening. [00:02:00]
[00:02:03] Steve: I asked Kristin if she could remember what they got up to that weekend.
[00:02:08] Kristin: I can't, I had short-term memory loss for that whole entire weekend. So your guess is as good as mine. It was summer, it was August so I guess it was hot. And I have a few, tiny [00:02:20] little insignificant memories that have come back to me about that weekend.
[00:02:24] Steve: We'll come back to the memory loss in a second. But there was one particular thing that Kristin does remember looking forward to.
[00:02:33] Kristin: ...being there with Field because I had a really big crush on him. I had met him the weekend before like I said, so I knew [00:02:40] I was on my best behaviour and I was probably wearing all my cutest clothes and, you know, all that stuff.
[00:02:46] Steve: So an innocent day out at Lake Gaston with friends. What could possibly go wrong? It was time for Jet Skiing.
[00:02:55] Kristin: So we split up onto two Jet Skis with Mark, my new friend, being the driver [00:03:00] of my Jet Ski and Field driving Aubrey on the Jet Ski that was behind us. We were coming out of a no-wake zone and Mark and I's Jet Ski slowed down a little bit. We think that there was something wrong with it so we couldn't accelerate out of the no-wake zone.
[00:03:15] Steve: The next few seconds changed so many lives, just a [00:03:20] few irreversible seconds.
[00:03:22] Kristin: Field was turning around listening to Aubrey say something, which was probably like you know, "Be careful". I don't know. So he was turning around, he wasn't paying attention, and he rammed up right on top into and on top of Mark and I, and I was sitting in the back. [00:03:40] I was in the middle of turning around like, "Watch out, they're coming". And it hit me on the left side of the head for a right side traumatic brain injury and the middle of the spine for a T8 spinal cord injury, which is like mid-torso Mark fell forward and into the steering wheel and died on [00:04:00] impact.
[00:04:00] Steve: Mark had died instantly. Kristin was unconscious and in the water.
[00:04:12] Kristin: The life jacket made me sit up like I was in a chair. Somebody who was in a nearby boat told me that ' cause if I had [00:04:20] fallen face down, that would've been the end. But I was, you know, unconscious, knocked out for the next two months.
[00:04:27] Steve: Instead of thinking about going back to school, Kristin was now in a fight for survival and subsequently for recovery.
[00:04:37] Kristin: I didn't wake up until October 'cause [00:04:40] I had short term memory loss and I was like in a medically induced coma, 'cause I had something wrong with almost every organ in my body. I was paralyzed. I had this traumatic brain injury, all this stuff going on. So I was in the hospital for three months total, um, in North Carolina. And then they shipped me, medevaced me to Richmond, my hometown, [00:05:00] so I could be closer to home and I can be in a better hospital that could handle me.
[00:05:04] Steve: It wasn't until December 5th 2005 that Kristin first left the hospital.
[00:05:11] Kristin: My parents and my sister, I have an older sister, two years older than me, we have always been a close family, now we are a very, very close [00:05:20] family. They are all just champions and they are the ones who the doctors told them she'll never feel or move below her injury level. They also said she'll never breathe or talk or swallow or she'll be a vegetable, all this stuff. And my parents had the mind to say, "Yes, she will. She can do all this stuff, [00:05:40] just, you know, let her prove us wrong". Then I went two weeks later... after getting home, I went to California for a month and a half to work out at a gym called Project Walk. It was four hours a day, five days a week, just like, you know, my whole life was working out.
[00:05:57] Steve: What was it like eventually going back to school [00:06:00] and meeting up with friends?
[00:06:01] Kristin: Going from California where I'm a hundred percent in my rehab to going back home to Richmond and going to school every day and like trying to care about algebra and history, whatever, which are important things I know but it's just two completely different worlds. So,I lost a [00:06:20] lot of friends, 'cause they didn't know how to handle me. I didn't really know how to handle me. No one's at fault. It's fine.
[00:06:26] Steve: That's a very generous appraisal of your friends, isn't it? Because none of us really know how he would react.
[00:06:31] Kristin: Um no, but three or four of 'em just really shined, and they stuck by me. I [00:06:40] didn't really meet a whole lot of friends at that time because my mind was so elsewhere, but those friends that stayed with me and supported me and my crazy dreams, all the stuff that I was doing and my whole lifestyle, those are the ones that I said, "You guys are enough. It's all I need".
[00:06:56] Steve: Kristin had been introduced to another companion, [00:07:00] her wheelchair.
[00:07:01] Kristin: So I use a manual wheelchair cause I have full use of my upper body. it's as bare and small as I can possibly get it. The back's low. I took off all the extra stuff. It's black. It's very much in an effort to say when people look at me they see Kristin before they see the [00:07:20] wheelchair and Kristin in it.
[00:07:22] Steve: Kristin had gone from able-bodied to disabled over one summer and autumn. The wheelchair is a physical representation of that change. What about the psychological?
[00:07:35] Kristin: It's amazing how that can completely change. Like before my accident,[00:07:40] I would always use the handicap stall in the bathroom, in a public bathroom just 'cause it's bigger and I can spread my legs out. But now I'm in a wheelchair and I have a different perspective of like, "Why would you use the handicap stall, like you can fit anywhere"? But it's like, "I used to do it all the time".
[00:07:55] Steve: Four years later, Kristin had overcome so much.[00:08:00] She was now a proficient wheelchair user and she had some spare bandwidth to start looking forward, to contemplating some of those experiences that had been parked since her accident. One of those experiences, boys.
[00:08:17] Kristin: I had my first boyfriend in a wheelchair when [00:08:20] I was a junior in college, so that would make me what, 19. Dating was a big thing because right after my accident I didn't have time to think about boys. That was one of the last things I cared about. It was kind of a, I'll get a boyfriend when I can walk again, because for a long time [00:08:40] I had the impression that no one's gonna wanna date me until I am whole. And whole in my mind, looked like a walking able-bodied person... like rehabilitated, so I didn't even try to date.
[00:08:53] Steve: Skip forward a few years, Kristin graduated from college. She'd broken up with that [00:09:00] boyfriend and she decided to try a new technique for meeting young men, a dating app.
[00:09:07] Kristin: It was to go on dates. Yes. 'Cause I love meeting people and I love going to new places, but it was also to build the confidence in... people can see that I'm in a wheelchair and they can see all of [00:09:20] me, but they still think I'm attractive. Is this even gonna work? Is it like, is anyone gonna think I'm attractive?
[00:09:25] Steve: And once she got the hang of this, boy did Kristin go for it?
[00:09:29] Kristin: I tell you it was fun. I love meeting people and I love going out. I love [00:09:40] like going out to rich restaurants and stuff. For a while it was like four days a week. You know, all different guys, you know, a first date every night of the week. Some days I had lunch dates and dinner dates with two different people. I was like, a mad woman. I don't know. I don't know what got into me. I don't recommend it to anyone.
[00:09:58] Steve: [00:10:00] Kristin was not quite prepared for some of what happened on her dating app journey. Unwittingly, she was starting out on an accelerated course on able-bodied perceptions of the disabled. She shared some memories of those early [00:10:20] dating experiences.
[00:10:21] Kristin: Why are these people so rude, or why are we talking about my accident the whole time? And it's not a date, it's just like an interview. One person said they're actually dumbfounded that I'm in a wheelchair, when he found out... lots of blessing my heart after they see I'm in a wheelchair, just generally making a [00:10:40] really big deal out of it. When I look at myself and I'm like, "I'm Kristin. I'm in a wheelchair, but you know, that's not a big deal. I'm just sitting down. I'm a normal person. You know, I can still date and talk and all this stuff". But I learned with my dating that being in a wheelchair is a much bigger deal than I thought. We had [00:11:00] some people canceling dates when they found out that I'm in a wheelchair. I got a couple people that said you're very attractive even though you're in a wheelchair. Like, what does it even mean? Thank you. But what does that mean?
[00:11:12] Steve: Kristin was learning that more often than not, people see the disability before they see the person.[00:11:20] Often they can't get beyond the disability and never see the person, which is a shame. When you meet Kristin, you meet someone full of energy. She's bright, she's intelligent, she's funny. So it wasn't a surprise to learn how she was able to take control and [00:11:40] turn the tables back in her favour.
[00:11:48] Kristin: Most of the dates, 80% of the dates, we'll get into that, 90% were terrible and ended badly. I wanna like, be in a relationship. But it got to the point where I'm saying like, "I'm [00:12:00] wasting so much time and effort and money dating". So I'm gonna make a book out of this. It's called "Date Me"... and so then it got to the point of like, "Say something bad to me I dare you, 'cause I'm just gonna go home and like, put you in my book". I never really wanted people to be rude to me. I never wanted the date [00:12:20] to go badly but it's kind of like, " Haha", If you say something rude to me", I'm like, "All right", Soak it in, keep going, because I got a story out of this".
[00:12:29] Steve: Dates weren't all bad. Kristin's perseverance did give rise [00:12:40] to some long-term friendships.
[00:12:41] Kristin: But I did go on dates with some cool people that we turned out to be friends, you know, "There's no romance here, let's just be friends", or just "I like being friends more than I like, you know, dating you". So I came out of it with an army of attractive friends, a lot of people that I hope to never see again, but [00:13:00] they're published in my book, so, you know, I might one day.
[00:13:05] Steve: Kristin actually published a book, "Date Me", as a cathartic solution to some unbelievably insensitive interactions. It was a way to turn the disappointment of human attitudes into [00:13:20] something creative and humorous and in some way to take back control.
[00:13:26] Kristin: It just kind of happened that way because in my experience dating in Richmond ... boys are terrible and horny and rude and just like, it was just really bad whatever reason. It never really got to the point where [00:13:40] it was not fun until I reached the end and I was like, "I'm not having fun. I'm done with this".
[00:13:45] Steve: Kristin is now happily married. How did she meet her husband? Well, funnily enough, not a dating app in sight.
[00:13:54] Kristin: I woke up late one morning, went to put on a t-shirt and messy bun and went [00:14:00] to a later church service than I usually go to. Well, there was an attractive man sitting in the seat that I usually sit in, and I'm like, all right, he's alone, he's attractive. Where's his wife? Where's his girlfriend? She just went to the bathroom, whatever. So I go and I sit in my seat, which is right next to his, and we start talking [00:14:20] and I meet him and he's attractive and he's single and he's at church and you know, it's too good to be true... he must be gay. Two weeks later comes over to my house for the Bible study that I was leading and then we went on our first date. And it's all history from there.
[00:14:34] Steve: [00:14:40] And Kristin today?
[00:14:41] Kristin: So today I am the happiest that I've ever been, but I think I say that all the time. Christopher and I are married. We've been married for two years. I am about six and a half months pregnant, due in April. I've completed 16 marathons. I'm a wheelchair fencer... So my fourth book is coming out in... a couple [00:15:00] months.
[00:15:00] Steve: How do you reflect on dating apps?
[00:15:02] Kristin: Ooh... A necessary evil is what I thought. I thought they were just, that's how you meet people as an adult. You get on apps. The lesson that I learned is go to church, meet boy there, all that stuff. But it was fun and I don't regret anything about it, 'cause I'd met a lot of people. I went a lot of [00:15:20] places. I was active. It was fun, but I'm glad it's over.
[00:15:24] Steve: I wanted to know how Kristin felt she had changed as a result of her life experience at the age of 15.
[00:15:33] Kristin: I think my accident and my paralysis and everything that came after gave me a perspective; how to [00:15:40] treat people, just appreciating every moment and not getting wrapped up in small things. I'm a person and I'm just like you, I'm just sitting down. I work really hard and I do sports... all that stuff just like you do, but I just look a little bit differently, so putting the person with the disabilities, [00:16:00] people can relate to me more.
[00:16:01] Steve: And finally, the million dollar question: If Kristin had a magic wand, would she rewind the clock to just before that fateful day, and do something else?
[00:16:13] Kristin: No way. Not a chance. The death of my friend is the only thing that is [00:16:20] regrettable about my situation. But the way I came out of it, I'm such a, in my opinion, stronger, better person than I could have been before, 'cause I have this whole new perspective.
[00:16:30] Kristin: It just changed every part of who [00:16:40] I am and I love who I am today and I'm confident in that, so I don't wanna change it.