When she speaks it is easy to forget that Anna Sarol is only 18 years old. When she eloquently recalls the moment her life changed, there is not a note of sadness in her eyes. Instead they have a vivacity that only come with confidence, gratitude, and faith that her journey is exactly as God intended.
There are life-changing moments and there are life-defining moments. For Sarol, she just happened to experience both at the same time. Since around the age of six she had lived the life of a gymnast. Growing up within an athletic family, she trained five times a week for four hours a day. By the time she was in her early teens she had made a name for herself on the balance beam and as an all-around gymnast.
Entering her freshman year, she decided to join her high school team to represent her support for Olathe schools. Excited for the opportunity to make new friends and further experience competitive gymnastics, Sarol was eager for what her next four years would bring. But on only her fourth day of high school, and while practicing a typical warmup on the bars, Sarol’s athletic future would come tumbling down. She remembers the shock she felt while watching the events unravel around her. The prognosis would be severe—a complete spinal cord injury. But instead of dwelling on the fact that she would not easily “bounce back” Sarol chose to look at the injury as an awakening that God had given her.
“I never thought, ‘Why me?’ I never got depressed. I knew I had a bigger purpose—to use this pain, and all these hard times. I will inspire other people’s lives and show them I’m still smiling and not making excuses for myself.”
Sarol made a promise to herself four years ago to graduate with her class. Even through missing her whole first semester of her freshman year due to extensive hospital stays, she completed online courses and returned to school her second semester. She maintained her motivation through the difficulties of balancing education, social life, and her health.
On May 19, 2019, Anna Sarol lived out her personal achievement in the most inspirational of ways. Adorned with three honor cords, she walked to receive her diploma. It would be the first time her peers would see her out of her wheelchair. She was told she only had a 10 percent chance she would walk again. Her sister assisted with her leg braces, and following the announcement of her name, she took her place on stage. The entire stadium was moved to tears.
“I had kept it a secret,” Sarol explains. “I took a second and looked out at the crowd and saw everyone on their feet with me. It was an overwhelming day.”
Through this experience there are three words that stand out to Sarol: insightful, as her eyes have been opened to a new purpose in advocating for inclusivity and accessibility for all; appreciative, in that she is forever grateful for the undying support from her family and the community; and moving or as she explains, the push to keep the wheels going even when there does not seem to be a way.
She hopes through missions’ work, motivational talks, and becoming active in adaptive sports she will prove that even though she cannot walk she can still change the world.
“When you are going through a hard time in your life your pain can inspire people,” Sarol says. “They are going to wonder how you are still smiling. I promise you if you just trust the process you will see beautiful things through it.”