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PLANE CRASH The Joy Cooper Story

By Batista Gremaud


Meet Joy Cooper, a 34-year young lady from Paris, Texas, who was the only survivor of a deadly plane crash. Three years later, this is the story of her journey from paralysis, surgeries, and finally walking again.


Picture design by Batista Gremaud


Q: What brought you into the aviation industry?


My father was a pilot and told the most adventurous stories of his flying career. I watched movies and read books about fighter and missionary pilots' daring exploits. Pilots were the most intelligent, most daring people. So, of course, I wanted to be a pilot!


I got my pilot's license when I was 19. Unfortunately, due to finances, I could not go further and instead studied Air Traffic Control. Today, I am an operations manager for United Airlines at Dulles airport in Virginia. Along with my coworkers, I coordinate, communicate, and direct everything that goes into getting customers to and from their destinations. I love everything involved in aviation and airline operations.



Q: Tell me about being the only survivor of a crash where 3 of your friends tragically died.


I was on vacation in Alaska with my friend and her aunt south of Anchorage. Twenty minutes into the flight back, we got surrounded by smoke from a wildfire three hundred miles to the west. The pilot did the best he could to turn us around, but we were flying at 2,500 feet in a valley enclosed by mountains over 5,000 feet.

Only ninety seconds after being in the smoke, turbulence tossed our plane up so violently my door flew open. I reached out and slammed it closed, thinking we would be back in Anchorage soon. Unfortunately, the turbulence did not stop. The warning alarms were blaring by this time. Instead of flying parallel to the mountains, we were hurled straight into them. The sudden command put our plane on a steep climb, only to fall out of the sky and crash back into the same mountain we were trying to avoid.


 


 

I woke up after a while. All I could see was dirt, broken glass, and twisted metal. My friend and her aunt, who were sitting in the back, were dead. The pilot was alive but critically injured. I tried to get out and get help. My forearm swung free like a pendulum when I lifted my arm to push the door open. It was almost completely severed at my elbow. I stared at my fingers and willed them to climb up the buttons of the cockpit dashboard, over the top, and around the window frame to the strong part of my arm. I pulled myself up four times, trying to get out the door. I couldn't. My legs were stuck, and each agonizing pull only made me weaker. Finally, I decided to stop trying, rest, and prepare for when help would arrive.



The National Guard did arrive about four hours later and air-lifted me to the hospital. The pilot hadn't made it. I was the only survivor. I woke up five days later in the hospital and found that I had broken much more than my arm. My back was broken, and had torn my spinal cord in four places. Both legs were smashed; my right femur was cracked in two places; my left wrist, right elbow, and rib had also been completely shattered or broken. I was paralyzed from the waist down.


Q: What part of your physical journey and multiple surgeries helped you to recover the most?


Before the crash, I was an optimistic 29-year-old who loved family, career, sports, and dancing. I looked forward to new challenges because they taught me to be a better person and leader. I learned that times of weakness were not failures but rather an opportunity to grow stronger.

I spent four agonizing and painful months in the hospital, listening to those who said I would never walk again, those who pitied me.

I took responsibility for my recovery by signing up for every available day of therapy and expanding my mind to accept my limitations and creative ways around them. I listened to those who loved, encouraged me, and believed I would walk and dance again.


Q: How do you maintain a positive mental attitude after such a tragedy?


My faith is what brought me through the events of that day. I survived for a purpose: to encourage and inspire others. I was always a positive, motivated person, but it wasn't until the crash that I understood what that looked like in tragedy. I leaned on the strength of others when my own wasn't enough. I grounded myself in faith, knowledge, and determination that my situation would not change who I was.


I had to accept that I would never be the same physical person. Some days, I was happy just to be able to wash my face. I took each day a moment at a time and kept a positive, long-term perspective, even when things weren't going my way.



Q: Do you believe you can learn resilience as a skill?


Resilience is both a choice and a learned skill. My physical conditioning as a competitive athlete and the mental resilience I developed before the crash gave me a foundation to be resilient when it mattered the most.


I prayed, listened to my body, and believed I would recover and walk again. The therapists and doctors did their part, I had to do mine.



Q: What three main takeaways do you want our readers to remember?

Choose Grounded Optimism


Grounded optimism is having a positive outlook with a practical perspective. It is a rooted, informed, realistic optimism that acknowledges life's facts and maintains a positive mindset.


When I woke in the hospital, immobile, in pain, and hearing that I may never walk again, I could not deny the facts of how broken and weak I was. I found positive things, like using my broken left wrist to text, being resilient, and sharing my optimism with those caring for me.

Become Unlimited


In line with grounded optimism, becoming unlimited understands the facts are unchangeable but realizes that the facts do not necessarily define us.

One year after the crash, I walked back to work using a cane. While I can walk, I have residual spinal cord and orthopedic damage in both legs. I could let those facts limit my dreams and experiences. Instead, I look for alternate solutions such as orthotics, braces, or assistive devices. My limitations don't define me; my response determines my outcome.

Plan for Weakness


We will all experience weakness in our lives. But it doesn't make us any less of a person. On the contrary, acknowledging weaknesses allows us to strengthen those areas in our lives so the next time something comes up; we bounce back faster.


3 Years Later


Joy and her father, 2022


Joy Cooper is still undergoing surgeries and on the path to recovery; her journey after her accident inspired her to co-write "Overcoming Mediocrity: Limitless Women" and "Flying, Falling, Fighting, A Pilot's Memoir."Joy is also a Keynote Speaker.


No one is promised a tomorrow, and tragedy can strike anytime. This is why it is so important to be prepared. Having resilience in the face of difficult times is key to managing how you cope in the event of a tragedy. It is essential to take the time to develop greater emotional and physical strength proactively.

Practicing regular self-care in the form of exercise, healthy eating, rest, mindfulness, and quality time with close loved ones can help to strengthen both the body and the mind, which can aid in creating resilience when tragedy occurs. It is also important to build emotional strength by engaging in activities that bring joy and contentment, such as creative hobbies, nature-based activities, and volunteering.

Dr Fitness USA THE SHOW makes its debut with Joy Cooper's inspiring story on January 19th, 2023, at 5:00 pm PST.



Register to THE SHOW to be notified of our upcoming episode https://show.drfitnessusa.com/registration-page


JOIN THE LAUNCH - JANUARY 19TH - AT 5:00 PM PST


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