High school is a challenging time for many, and 2010 Lee’s Summit High School graduate Madison Cannon understands that far more intensely than most. Madi, as her friends know her, has a positive, can-do attitude despite adversity.
In middle school and high school, she swam, played the flute, sang in the choir, was a lifeguard and had fun.
Her story is sad, yet she has used it to help others. It began over Thanksgiving break her senior year when she and a friend went out to celebrate.
“My best friend and I had gone out with some friends, and at some point, I ended up passed out in that friend’s car,” she says. “Despite urgings to stay the night with our friends, she wanted to go home. She ended up losing control of the car, running off the road and hitting a tree. She chipped a tooth and sprained both ankles, climbed over me in the passenger seat and pulled me from the car.”
Madi’s resulting injury was a broken C5 vertebra. She was life-flighted to Centerpoint Medical Center and immediately rushed into surgery to repair the damage. Today, she is an incomplete quadriplegic, which means all four of her limbs are affected, and she is paralyzed from the chest down. She has lost the use of some of her arm muscles and the use of her hands. She explains that she can feel her whole body, though she cannot move it.
It is her positive spirit that makes her such an inspiration to others. Keeping an open mind always brings about change, and fate stepped in when, toward the end of her senior year, she received a call from a friend about the Operation Impact assembly about drinking and driving being held at Lee’s Summit High School.
“They had public speakers from a group called Think First, all about brain and spinal cord injuries. I was hooked,” she says. “I went onto the stage to get more information about what they do because the only thing I could think throughout their presentation was that I should have been the one on that stage talking to my senior class.”
That was the beginning of her involvement with their organization. For five or so years, she traveled around to schools in the Kansas City area, sharing her story. Currently, she is finishing her first semester at Longview College with the motivation and patience to continue her education.
Like so many young people, she feels she was terrible at all physical activities, trying her hand at volleyball and basketball. She found her artistic side and began singing in the choir. She sang in the all-women honor choir at LSHS. She is very happy that she was able to sing with her choir for the last time during the graduation ceremony.
She swam on the swim team but did not feel she was excelling until she became a lifeguard at Legacy Park Community Center, where she taught swimming lessons.
“I found that was where my true passion was, and taught in all the different levels and had the most fun teaching the parent-tot classes, where parents and their children under the age of 3 were both in the water with me,” she says. “I ended up earning my water safety instructor (WSI) certification through Red Cross to teach private one-on-one lessons. I became swim coordinator at the MCC Longview Recreation Center, which was a huge step up for me at that age.”
After her injury, she went back to work at Longview for a bit because she genuinely missed it. Although she doesn’t exercise now, her activity comes from the daily workings of life living with injury.
A bright spot is her car, which is modified on the driver’s side so she can get into it with her power wheelchair, which acts as the driver’s seat. Once in, the doors close and she uses hand controls to drive. Her left arm works the gas and brake, while her right arm steers the vehicle.
“My friends and family keep me going, and I’m also well aware of the fact that I am extremely lucky, not only because I lived through everything, but because I am still able to do quite a bit for myself,” she says. “I’m still the same Madi in a lot of ways.”
This young woman is truly an example of gumption, strength and moxie. The future will definitely hold many challenges, but she will face them with ambition and fortitude.