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This Woman Paralyzed From The Waist Down Became An Aerial Performer

"I thought, that has to be impossible, but if I can master it I'll be able to do anything."

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In 2000 when Lauren was only 19, a car accident left her partially paralyzed from the waist down.

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"I remember thinking it was all a bad dream," Watson told BuzzFeed Life in an email. Her spinal cord injuries resulted in incomplete paraplegia, and she lost the majority of motor and sensory function in her legs. After the accident, she remained in the hospital for six months relearning how to do everything from scratch before she could leave in her new wheelchair.

Watson struggled with physical therapy for a decade until she came across an aerial demonstration at the mall.

"[PT] for me was a constant reminder of how I was different; it made me feel more disabled," she said. Then one physiotherapist encouraged her to find opportunities that allowed her to laugh and have fun. When she saw the aerial demonstration, she decided to try it. "I thought, That has to be impossible, but if I can master it I'll be able to do anything."

It took Watson months to find an aerial school that would take her, she says, and even longer to pull herself up.

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Watson finally found Industry Aerial Arts, a school that offered complete support and guidance. The first six months, she couldn't do anything but drag herself up to a standing position on one leg, she said. "I couldn't climb but I didn't give up. If you do, you'll spend the rest of your life wondering what if."

Even her physiotherapist was skeptical and told Watson she couldn't do it.

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After starting aerial, Watson saw a new physiotherapist and asked for leg-strengthening exercises to help her perform, but they told her it wasn't achievable.

"I think about it now and it would've sounded insane for a girl who's been partially paralyzed for 14 years to plan on climbing up a silk 13 feet in the air." But that's exactly what Watson did.

"I sometimes wonder if I should tell that physiotherapist that he motivated me more by his lack of support and in a way he helped me get to where I am today," said Watson.

Over the next two years, she became a skilled aerial performance artist by adapting poses, tricks, and apparatuses to her disability. With focus and practice, she was able to achieve her dream. Watson has gone on to perform circus art acts with Flyworx and in a music video for Sydney band Little Fox.

"Aerial makes me realize everything is achievable because I feel empowered to take on new challenges," said Watson. "I always find new ways to make it work."

Courtesy of Lauren Watson

Watson says adaptive aerial arts has given her extensive knowledge about the mechanics of her body, and it's forced her to think more creatively to constantly adapt positions.

Watson says she hopes her story encourages the integration of performing arts and disabilities.

Courtesy of Lauren Watson / Via starnow.com.au!photo-6841393

She's received incredible feedback from people with paraplegia, amputations, and chronic illness, she says, which inspired her to start her blog Fitness to Free, as well as a YouTube channel to share her journey and provide information for other prospective performers who may or may not identify with having a disability.

"Disability or not, we are all just people chasing the dream to be the best that we can be with what we have."

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