Splashing Back into the Water: How I was going to swim again as a C6 quadriplegic


I grew up all around the world, but home base since I was born has always been the Bahamas. I was a fish in water and you would be hard-pressed to find me out of the water. After my accident, I was pretty devastated not being able to get back into the water due to a myriad of medical complications and a massive pressure sore that was given to me in the hospital. This pressure sore took nearly a year to heal up.

The moment I was able I found an incredible swimming instructor who helped me get back in the water about a year and a half after my accident. I broke my neck shallow water diving so I had some hesitations with getting back in the water, and how I was going to swim again as a C6 quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down with limited arm function.

2012… Swimming for the very first time after my accident

The first time I was rolled into the water using a PVC pool chair I was very nervous … My body was floating and I just couldn’t get my feet down due to the loss of muscle mass and being paralyzed.

I had seen many videos of other quadriplegics swimming on their backs and just floating doing the backstroke with assistive devices. I really wanted to be able to swim on my own whether that be on my front, back, side, etc. without any assistive devices.

I even created a video on YouTube back in 2012 of my swimming:

This was quite a feat… The first time I was rolled over onto my stomach, kind of like a dead man float, I panicked… I flailed my arms around and I simply could not push my head above water. I felt like I was drowning all over again.

It took many weeks and patience on my end and my swimming instructors to teach me the body mechanics of how my body worked in water.

After some time things just clicked. I was able to swim forward, kind of like a butterfly stroke, push my arms deep in the water and pop my head up like a turtle. I look absolutely ridiculous swimming, but that feeling of floating without a wheelchair is one that I cannot describe in words. I must admit swimming back in 2012 was significantly easier than swimming again in 2017 because I had about 40 pounds on me that I had gained after the accident, which made floating so much better 🙂

2017 Swimming

Swimming is so incredible for the body, especially when paralyzed, because it takes the weight, the aches, and the pains away as you float. It is great for movement of the spine, energy for the soul, for anxiety, and just generally to have a lot of fun getting out of the chair.

I swam for about a year and a half in Miami, where I was living in the time, and then I moved to China for several years for spinal surgery. Upon my return back to the United States in 2015 I had a series of medical disasters including pressure sore flap surgery on my tailbone. This prevented any activity.

Now, 6 ½ years after my accident in 2010 with my skin all healed up I decided to take the plunge and start swimming again a few weeks ago. I was understandably nervous as I had not been swimming in nearly 4 years and I did not have a swimming instructor. I did have my sister, who is absolutely fabulous, but I had to replay how I would swim in my mind over and over again for the last few months.

Finally, I bit the bullet and went swimming three weeks ago and have been every week since. I’ve posted some pictures and videos for you to see how I swim, but it is 100% possible as a complete C6 quadriplegic to be able to get in the water and swim independently (even with a bum shoulder as I have). There are so many tips and tricks that I can offer those interested.

Family Swim!

I did get thrown for one loop though… When I was swimming in Miami back in 2011 I had a urethral catheter. Since then I’ve had a surgery to put in a suprapubic catheter (hole right over my bladder) and, unbeknownst to me, I got a wicked urinary tract infection several days after swimming for the first time. It was one of those ones that snuck up on me and did not give me any warning before it was too late. After much research and consulting with doctors and fellow spinal cord folks I came up with a solution, actually multiple potential solutions.

Essentially, I cover the site with a lot of Vaseline to prevent water from getting inside the suprapubic site and I do a bladder flush right after swimming. So far this is working, but I’m going to see my urologist so she can teach me a specialized taping technique so that no water gets in!

I’m so excited and confident about my swimming abilities again that I signed up for a handicap surf event called “Life Rules On” on Carolina Beach in North Carolina the first week of August. This will be the first time since I’ve been back in the ocean in seven years since my accident.

Sister Swim

Last year when I was lying in bed after surgery from a major pressure sore swimming seemed like a distant memory that was permanently  in my past, which I would never get back to it again. Patience, determination, and holding onto hope is probably what got me to this point.

Swimming is just one of the many adventures I am beginning to enjoy again in my life after six years of medical hell. I take all kinds of crazy mini adventures on the weekends with friends and my boyfriend, even if it is only a couple hours.  I go on unusual, crazy, weird, and wacky adventures for the story & memories!

I am excellent at coming up with doable, inexpensive, and manageable adventures. So, just reach out to me if you are interested in wanting to get out more.  For a long time I thought life’s little fun adventures were over, but I realized I just had to adapt my definition of what an adventure is in my situation.

Ali Ingersoll

Ali Ingersoll is a delightful and beautiful young woman who is famous for her China Quad Diaries where she documented her fascinating trek to China for spinal surgery that would not be attempted in the United States.

She has now embarked on her newest endeavor, aptly named, Quirky Quad Diaries here on PUSHLiving in which she will delve more into sexuality, dating, and generally sassy life adventures. Ali, who loves to make people laugh, likes to do things "just for the story", and "even if this is a terrible idea, remember it is for the story!" So be sure to follow along as this highly intelligent lady talks about medicals outliers, stock trading, health, dating, pain management and how she has adapted in the six years since her C-6 injury.

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