Life presents each of us with a seemingly endless series of tests and challenges. It often seems that just when we catch our breath, the next challenge hits us. But regardless of our circumstances, we always have the power to choose how we will respond to life’s difficult moments. Choosing to keep a positive attitude during tough times enables us to bounce back more quickly from adversity. This is the true story of a remarkable woman who refused to give up after a heartbreaking accident, choosing instead to fill her life with meaningful pursuits that brought joy to herself and others.

Excitement filled my mind as I called Jill Kinmont Boothe. This was two years ago, and Jill had graciously agreed to an interview for the book I was writing. I eagerly looked forward to hearing the inspiring story of how she rose above the tragic skiing accident that left her paralyzed and went on to become a teacher and painter. I clearly remember watching the 1975 movie about her life, The Other Side of the Mountain, and soon I would be talking directly to her!

I placed a stack of cassette tapes near the tape recorder, envisioning a long interview. After all, learning to cope mentally and physically with being paralyzed must have taken years of hard work.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jill was not interested in reliving all the gory details of her tragic accident. Our conversation went something like this:

KAREN: Learning you were paralyzed for life must have been pretty devastating for you.

JILL: Well, it was, except that I had so much support from family and friends. There were moments when I was teary and said “why did it happen to me?” but generally I held myself up because everybody else had to be held up. Everybody had to be strong for everybody else . . . I was pretty positive from early on. I don’t remember it being a horrible, horrible ordeal. . . .

And with that, Jill went on with her story and with the rest of her life. No whining or complaining, no regrets, uninterested in sympathy—I was not sure what to think at that point.

When Jill described her years as an elementary school teacher, I made a comment that I thought would lead to a candid description of the challenges involved. Once again, Jill’s response surprised me.

KAREN: That must have been a challenge, being a teacher and dealing with little kids without having use of your hands and legs.

JILL: It was a challenge, but just like any other teacher faces! The kids were a great resource for me because they could do all the things I couldn’t do. They could write on the board, they could organize the files, they always responded when I needed help. That was never really a problem.

Jill’s matter-of-fact attitude about her paralysis stunned me. Our conversation lasted only about 20 minutes. When it was over, I sat there scratching my head and wondering if I had enough material to write a story.

I thought of Jill and her casual attitude about her life-altering injury many times over the next few days. I admit it—at first I was disappointed because she did not go into detail about her feelings and all the difficulties involved with being paralyzed. I thought those details were necessary to make a compelling story that would engage the reader.

But before long, the real meaning of her story hit me like a ton of bricks. Jill’s brevity and laid-back attitude were the real story. Here was a woman who had been paralyzed for over 50 years—her Olympic dreams cut short, unable to do many basic life functions for herself—and yet she had no interest whatsoever in dwelling on those things.

If Jill had done what I expected and gone into great detail about how horrible it was to be paralyzed, I am quite sure I would have missed the incredible message her life brings us. Jill’s legacy to us is simple, but powerful:

• do not dwell on unfair and painful things that happen to you in life
• always focus on what you can do rather than on “what might have been.”

Although Jill is now retired from teaching, we can all continue to learn from her example. In life we tend to get more of what we focus on. We can choose to focus on our troubles, or we can focus on being the best we can be every moment of our lives. The choice is ours alone, and whichever option we choose will become an even stronger reality for us. If we focus on our problems and difficulties, they seem to grow in stature, and we have a harder time overcoming them. By focusing instead on our strengths and abilities, we open ourselves up to experience greater joy and fulfillment than we may have ever dreamed possible.

But we cannot accept the new if we are still clinging to the old. Had Jill stayed focused on what she had lost, she would have wasted precious energy that she instead used to make the world a little brighter through her love of teaching and painting. Owing to her accident, Jill let go of her expectation to have children of her own. Instead, she made her influence more widely felt by profoundly impacting the lives of hundreds of youngsters—teaching them not only how to read, but how to live life to the fullest.

Remember that in every situation we are free to choose our response. Jill’s decision to focus on her abilities and how she could best serve others made all the difference in her life. With Jill’s example in mind, let us all resolve to take a look within and see where we are selling ourselves short in life. Start by completely accepting yourself and your current situation, without judgment or regret. Refuse to dwell on your faults or shortcomings, and focus instead on your strengths and your passions. With joy and confidence, move forward day by day toward your goals and dreams. Learn your lessons as life presents them to you, progressing steadily year by year, and soon you will graduate to new levels of success and happiness.

Keep these principles in mind, and you will find there is no limit to what you can accomplish in life, despite any challenges you may encounter in the school of hard knocks.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Karen Wheeler Hall is the author of Illumination—Inspiring Stories about Finding the Silver Lining, a collection of powerful true stories about people who discovered that painful events in their lives actually turned out to be blessings in disguise. Visit to learn more about Illumination and to download your free copy of Karen's e-book, Positively Incredible! Karen received a B.S. in dietetics from the University of Texas and an M.A. in human services from St. Edward’s University. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Greg.