When Jaquie Goncher approached the aisle at her wedding, she was sitting in a wheelchair. Apart from her bridal gown and the veil on her head, Jaquie being in a wheelchair was normal. She looked the way most of her wedding guests had seen her for the past eight years.
At 17, Jaquie had been paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spinal cord injury. Doctors had told her that she would probably never walk again, but to everyone's surprise, she was able to make tiny movements in her legs just a month after her injury and, six months later, was able to stand. Still, Jaquie mostly remained in her wheelchair for the next eight years.
Then, on May 22, 2016, Jaquie stood up from her wheelchair, and with her mother and grandfather at her side, she walked down the aisle to her groom, Andy Goncher. She kept her eyes trained on the ground, not realizing that all her guests had started crying.
Her story has since gone viral. Jaquie spoke to Cosmopolitan.com about what it took to make this enormous recovery and what she learned from the process.
1. Getting stronger takes a lot of fight.
Before getting engaged in August of 2015, Jaquie had recovered to the point where she was walking around at home while holding on to walls. She couldn't move around for longer distances though because of her extremely low blood pressure. "That's what poops out on me before my body does," she said. But her blood pressure wasn't going to improve without her getting active again — and that's where things got tricky.
"I would go to the gym and get so frustrated that I wouldn't go back," Jaquie said. "I was trying to make myself do it but I kept failing at it and then I would be disgusted with myself. But I finally said, 'You have to do this. You're not going to magically get better.'"
2. If being motivated by vanity is what makes you get better, be motivated by vanity.
Jaquie openly admits that she got supercharged in the nine months between getting engaged and getting married because she wanted to look good for her wedding.
"I definitely have insecurities, like everyone else does," she said. "But you add wheelchair to that and I have fun, crazy-colored hair — I'm getting stared at a lot anyway."
"On your wedding day, everybody's looking at you, so you want to feel the most beautiful. By no means can you not be beautiful in a wheelchair. I totally believe you can be bomb in a wheelchair, but I didn't want to be defined by that. I wanted to be normal again."
"I was very naïve when I first got injured. I thought, Oh, I'll be walking again in six months. I'm going to be out of the chair, blah, blah, blah. I just wanted to reach the goal that I had been trying to reach for eight years. Your wedding day is something you dream of from when you're a little girl. I didn't want my chair to be in the way of that picture I had in my head. I didn't want to plan my wedding around my disability."
3. Just keep pedaling.
"The first time I decided to go back to the gym, I got on a stationary bike," Jaquie said. "You had to have your legs going a certain speed for the machine to stay on, but my legs wouldn't be able to push it fast enough and the machine would turn off. I got so upset that I put my head down on the machine and I just started to cry. I was like, 'I can't do this.' I prayed and God said, 'You put in the effort and I will meet you there.' So I just kept pedaling. When the machine would go off, I would laugh and pedal again. It was hard at first but after I got past that first little bump, everything else was a lot easier."
4. Motivation is a two-way street.
Jaquie struggled when she was first getting back in the gym, but once she hit her stride, others were looking to her for inspiration. "People would come up to me at the gym and they'd be like, 'You're inspiring me. I was complaining over there and then I saw you.'" This, in turn, motivated Jaquie. "When people reach out to me and tell me that, it keeps me going. I'm doing it! I'm a gym person now. That was a cool moment for me. It makes you feel good about yourself. I felt accomplished that I had actually set out to do something and I was doing it. I was going to reach my goal of enjoying my wedding and being pleased with my pictures [which were taken by Love Stories by Halie + Alec]."
5. Don't lose your faith.
Despite the fact that for a near decade, Jaquie hadn't been able to stand for longer than 30 seconds at a time without feeling like she was going to pass out, she knew she would walk down the aisle and stand for 45 minutes during her wedding ceremony. To sit back down in her wheelchair? "That never even really crossed my mind," she said. "As long as I pursued God and pursued my recovery, I would get there. I don't even know if I ever stopped to think that I might not be able to do it. You can't redo your wedding. It's a one-time thing. You're either where you want to be or you're not."
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6. Trust others to support you.
Jaquie would get discouraged, but her husband was always there to build her up. "The biggest thing that he did for me throughout the whole process was I had a lot of down moments," she said. "He was just there to keep me on it. 'Did you go to the gym today? How was it?' Actively asking how it was going. And then of course on the actual wedding day, he's very shy, so he was terrified to be in front of all those people, but he stood with me the entire wedding. I would hold onto his arm and I would drag him out on the dance floor. He was my cane, so to speak, during the wedding, because I would hold on to him the entire time."
But Andy wasn't the only one Jaquie relied on. "I have such a supportive group around me. Everyone in my life knows or believes wholeheartedly that I'll be running again one day."
7. There's still more to do.
Her wedding might be over, but Jaquie wants to continue her recovery. "It's easier for me to use my chair when I go places because it's what I've become comfortable with," she said. "But I want to use my cane more, and be OK with falling down or something going wrong. I'm not very good at it yet. When you're a young girl with crazy hair and you're walking with a cane, people are curious. You have to not pay attention to being stared at. It's really putting myself out there to reach my goal no matter what the circumstances are."
8. Remind yourself of the miracles.
"It's been really emotional," Jaquie said. "Sometimes I don't realize how miraculous it is that I am walking. When you're seeing something evolve up close, it looks like it takes longer. But for other people that come in and see you every once in a while, they're like, 'Wow! You're doing so much better!' And I'm like, 'I guess?' You can't really tell. But this experience reminds me of what a miracle it is that I can walk now."
Originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com