A personal story, from Peru.
What if you graduate and start your own studio with fresh energy and believe in yourself. And the next day, you wake up in a hospital and your life completely changed.
It starts in October 2011. I graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven (the Netherlands) and started my own design studio. With tons of energy, fresh in the world of entrepreneurs, I made my first proposals and worked on commissioned designs for several clients. My work was picked up well at the graduation show, which gave me a flying start. My studio workshop was made for ceramics, a material I loved working with already in school. In my spare time I bouldered (climbing without a rope). In my endless enthusiasm I worked hard and played hard. Too hard.
After a long work week, I went bouldering. It completely went wrong that night in February 2012. I fell out a boulder and landed very bad. I shattered my right leg, bones sticking out my skin everywhere. My fall completely damaged nerves and muscles as well. I went into the hospital where a long journey of several surgeries and rehabilitation started. During this healing process many things went wrong. They didn’t fix it well, so I needed more surgeries, which caused even more trouble and left me with life long damages and daily pain. The doctors said I would never be able to walk without support and I would always need a wheelchair for long distances. It takes too long to explain everything, but my whole world collapsed at that time.
I became completely dependent on my friends around me and felt like I lost everything I loved in life. There was only one thing what kept me going, my own design studio. I had the feeling that if I continued working I would be seen as ‘someone’. Not as a handicapped and disabled. My life became small and I felt isolated, but my studio kept me connected to outside world.
The work in my studio became physically too heavy and after 4 years of struggle, I had to quit my studio and put everything into storage. I found a freelance side job and started a new training. I trained 6 days a week, 4 hours a day for more than 6 months. I had a strong believe that I could get better, so I trained, trained and trained, in the hope that this would be my way out and that I could work for my studio again. After 6 months of intense training, I was able to walk about 1-1,5 kilometers without crutches and sit in a chair for about 6 hours with a break in between. This was in September 2016.
Gaining strength also made me excited to start working again for my studio. I slowly became able again to do things I loved, such as going to the ocean or swim in the sea. I became more confident to go out again and experimented to travel and fly. This was also the moment when I dared to apply for a residency in Jingdezhen, China. I wanted change my way of working in the studio and find ways to produce sustainable porcelain.
Beside work related travels, I was able to go on holidays which automatically drawn me towards to the ocean. I’ve always been loved to the ocean, but never once did I think I would be able to surf. Last September I finally got the confidence to give it a try and went to Portugal where I first stood up on a board. I began to find comfort in the waves as they carried me and I realized I wasn’t as fragile as I thought. Surfing taught me to face my fears and it truly transformed my life.
I met really great people surfing. They gave me the courage to open up and be proud of what I achieved. Surfing showed me that life is about so much more than work. I’m really proud of my body and mental strength which brought where I am today. And I no longer want to organise my life only around work, but combine work and surf together.
Having this strong feeling and believe, I left the Netherlands last January. I went on a trip to Central America to learn surfing. My amazing friends Meaghen and Marie of Mirror Image Media who encouraged me surfing and open up told me about Unleash Surf, a surf retreat for remote workers. The owners Amy and John gave me the opportunity to join their retreat in Peru. I had surf training every other day and this whole experience got me more on my feet than ever. It was a huge learning curve in gaining trust in my body and mind and I met amazing people who inspired me to continue the journey and changes I started.
Being so happy to do what I love, made me draw back to my studio as well, searching for ways to combine my studio with surfing around the world. This is how I found out about a residency opportunity in Lima, where I continue my research what I started in China two years ago. I will not only research ways to produce sustainable porcelain, but also connect with local culture, heritage, materials and production methods. Exchanging knowledge enriches my life and influences the designs I make.
Being disabled had a huge impact on my daily life and it has always influenced my work. Working as a creative entrepreneur got me back on my feet and made me feel proud at times where I could not face myself in the mirror. Not giving up and fighting to get better brought me where I am today. Sharing my story will not change peoples judgement about my designs, it will only give an insight in the person behind it.
It took me a long road to understand that, but now I’m happy that I found trust in being open, share and inspire others on their journey.