‘Falling Into Now:’ Claire Smith’s Road to Recovery

Illness takes away parts of your life, but in doing so it gives you the opportunity to choose the life you will lead, as opposed to living out the one you have simply accumulated over the years.
– Arthur Frank, At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), p. 1.

Canadian Olympic eventer Claire Smith suffered a traumatic brain injury in a rotational fall at the 1997 Open European Three-Day Event Championships. She underwent three years of intense rehabilitation before beginning the Masters program at the University of Ottawa. Through her struggle Claire has found new purpose in life, which, among many diverse activities and interests, included chronicling her journey in a book titled, Falling Into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education.

From the very beginning of Claire’s powerful memoire you will be captivated by both her incredible story and vivid writing. Her raw, honest prose will pull you in for a close-up view of what life is like, both for the injured and for the family, when living with a traumatic brain injury. Follow along through Claire’s recovery and subsequent soul searching as she comes to embrace her new path in life.

While the catalyst of the story is a riding accident, Claire emphasizes that this book is not really about horses.

It’s about so much more. It’s about being driven to pursue a goal. It’s about life-changing loss. It’s about arduous recovery. It’s about a life evolving into something completely unexpected.
– Falling Into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education (Indiana: iUniverse, 2017),
p. xi.

Claire told EN, “Healing from a head injury is never really over. To sit down and articulate my feelings and what I thought and what I went through is very important for me. Only in the last few years did I realize that I had to put feelings to rest and resolve within myself to feel good about myself.”

Horses had been Claire’s life’s blood, but a return to a riding life was impossible after her fall. So she went back to school in 2000 and studied survivors of head injury. She eventually earned a Masters (2004) and a PhD in Education (2010) from the University of Ottawa.

Claire Smith. Photo courtesy of Arranel Studios.

“I had a very singular identity. I was a rider. It didn’t occur to me I could be anything else. I latched on to a ‘student’ identity after rehabilitation,” Claire said. “When I finished school I was a bit lost because I didn’t know who I was. A lot of my research was about identities and it didn’t occur to me to look at myself. When I was riding and then a student my focus was so narrow. Now it’s a lot wider.”

Claire’s education, research and experience are now applied to her writing career and her community involvement. She is a board member of the Wings of Phoenix, whose mission is to raise funds for survivors of head injury. She is also on the Board of Directors for Brockville YMCA and is a pending Director of the Ontario Brain Injury Association. As Ontario aims to be fully handicap accessible by 2025, Claire serves on the Leeds and Grenville Accessibility Committee.

Claire has overcome so much since her accident but still suffers lingering effects of her head injury. Nearly ten years after the fall, Claire suffered another enormous loss when she developed a chronic brain illness known as Dystonia, which causes muscle contractions in her leg. She wears a brace and uses a wheelchair most of the time. Though her movement may be limited by Dystonia, she has learned never to allow it to hold her back.

Today, I believe that I evolve daily, always welcoming change and new experiences, continually creating new identities, constantly resculpting me. One of these identities is central: I’m a writer. I can, at long last, painlessly create stories from my memories. Writing has become an inextricable part of me, one with which Dystonia can’t interfere.
– Falling Into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education (Indiana: iUniverse, 2017), p. 239.

Falling Into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education is available online on Amazon.com and chapters.indigo.ca. Learn more about Claire and her work by visiting her website: www.clairesmith-author.ca.