When you say your wedding vows you usually include the line “in sickness and in health,” which implies that no matter what happens, you will be there for one another. Marriage isn’t always a walk in the park, but you know what you’re getting into the moment you put on those rings. For many people those words are written in stone, but for others, the words are nothing more than a nice sentiment. Unfortunately, Riona Kelly had to find that out in the worst way possible.
Kelly and her husband Richard were married for a little over fourteen years. They have four kids together – Leighanra, 17, Caleb, 12, Izabela, 10 and Logan, 6. Kelly was extremely active in her children’s lives, and she was physically active, as well. Kelly would exercise regularly and cook amazing meals. They looked like the perfect family on the outside, but that illusion would be destroyed rather quickly.
When Kelly was 37 years old she suffered from a spinal stroke, a disruption in the spinal cord’s blood supply, that paralyzed her from the waist down. In order to function properly, the spinal cord completely depends on its blood supply, so a disruption in the supply can cause serious injury or damage the tissues. It can also block messages, or nerve impulses, from traveling along the spinal cord.
A spinal stroke only accounts for 1.25% of all strokes. Unfortunately, Kelly wasn’t so lucky and she was told that she would never be able to use her legs again. “I was at home one day with Logan, I can’t remember exactly what happened but I fell down a complete flight of stairs and Logan had to call for help. I’d had a car accident 18 months previous and they said that could have caused problems in my spine. But other than that I was a fit and healthy woman and there was no other reason why this would happen,” recalls Kelly.
As if becoming paralyzed wasn’t enough, Kelly’s husband decided to leave her and her children five days after her accident. Since she no longer had her husband by her side, Kelly needed to rely on her friends and the hospital staff to help her through this horrific time. Just try to imagine what she was going through. What would you do if you were going through a life-changing experience and the one person that you needed to be there for you decided to leave? It goes without saying that Kelly was feeling down.
“It was the time I needed my husband the most. Looking back, I was miserable in my marriage, but we had built a life together and had responsibilities,” confessed Kelly about being left behind by her husband. One of their responsibilities was taking care of their children. But now that Kelly couldn’t use her legs how was she going to take care of them? Kelly began to panic, feeling scared and depressed.
Kelly had been in the hospital for five days when she was told that it would take six months to a year for her to recover. “At the time I felt like giving up, but I knew I had to be strong for my children. The first time I went out in a wheelchair I thought everyone was looking at me, I hated it and hated myself. If someone had given me the choice I would have ended my life, I didn’t want to live anymore,” said Kelly.
“But the other patients on the ward were amazing, I received so much support from them and they encouraged me to get out of bed every day,” she said. Kelly spent countless hours in physiotherapy. Two weeks after the doctors told her she would never walk again, Kelly took her first steps on the parallel bar. “I was dragging my body and I had no feeling in my legs but I didn’t care. I was walking and that’s all that mattered,” she explained.
A few weeks later Kelly decided to reach out to Facebook for a personal trainer. Kelly was doing everything she could, but she wanted more help. Here is where Keith Mason comes in. “No personal trainers wanted to work with me, but somebody recommended that Keith did a little bit in his spare time. That’s how I ended up training with Keith,” explained Kelly. Kelly had no idea how drastically her life would soon change.
Mason wasn’t just a personal trainer. He also had a 14-year rugby career. He had played for four super league teams, Wakefield Trinity, Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, and St Helen. He also spent a season playing with the Melbourne Storm in the NRL. He spent some time pursuing acting, but then he turned to personal training. Kelly was making great progress with Mason, “but at the same time I found an affordable physio and so I left the personal trainer as it was too much for me.” Their relationship didn’t end there, though.
“And then one day Keith asked me out for coffee and we picked up from where we left off. I just couldn’t believe a gorgeous rugby player wanted to date a disabled woman like me,” said Kelly. Their bond was something so much more than just trainer and client. They had fallen in love. Kelly gives credit for her progress to the unbelievable support of her friends, family, and the love she found with Keith.
“Keith says I inspire him, but he encourages me every day and understands and sees the pain that I am in,” said Kelly. “He has been amazing with me and the children and I love him more each and every day. I thank the Lord for bringing my soulmate into my life. Apart from my children I have never loved anyone the way that I love my best friend. He’s shown me the true meaning of a loving relationship. A relationship that’s strong. That works in harmony. That compromises. That’s loyal and true and above all a relationship that just works so perfectly.”
Kelly is making good progress physically, as well. “I now only need my wheelchair to go long distances but my home hasn’t been adapted so I try not use it. “I’m now back in the gym, and with Keith’s help I’m getting better and stronger than ever,” Kelly said. Since her accident, Kelly has completed two marathons using her wheelchair. She also raises money for stroke/spinal cord research. They’ve even started their very own charity.
Their charity is called Go Pink and it focuses on nutrition and fitness, especially for those that have physical disabilities. The couple also acts as representatives for other disability-related charities such as Wakefield Trinity Physical Disabilities Rugby League and Para-dance. Kelly definitely has a full plate, but she still has other issues. She still has difficulty with her legs, like nerve issues, and she’ll be disabled for the rest of her life. But if you ask her, she wouldn’t change anything.
“After my stroke I thought my life was over, but it’s only just beginning and has opened so many wonderful doors. “I’ve signed up with Models of Diversity and have just landed my first TV commercial,” said Kelly. “I used to struggle accepting help but now I welcome it as it helps me to keep moving forward. We can’t always do everything on our own with no help and support. Being the bigger and stronger person is to admit when we need help and accept it off of the right people,” wrote Kelly on Instagram. You never know when you’ll find your true love.