Natalie Barnhard: Rising From The Ashes


by | Jun 14, 2022 | blog

The road to acceptance.

We all face some type of event that has a big impact on our life. The hardest thing you’ve ever gone through is your “hard.” And that “hard” is different for everyone. Rising from the ashes and turning your tragedy into your biggest triumph doesn’t happens overnight. It takes time for you to heal, to learn and grow.

It took me years to fully accept my injury and to truly feel recovered. I had to go through the journey. Experience the ups and downs. Allow myself to grieve and process all the emotions I was feeling.

Feeling lost.

Very early in my injury I remember feeling defeated because I lost the ability to use my hands. As a physical therapy assistant and massage therapist, I had used my hands to help others heal. Something I could no longer do. Suddenly, I had no idea what my purpose was.

I’d ask, “Why can’t I have a miracle and be healed? Why can’t my life go back to the way it was?”

I’ll never forget the conversation with my mom about this. I expressed how I felt all my education was for nothing and my gift of helping people was taken from me. She reminded me that God doesn’t let any situation go unused and that he had big plans for my life — if I allowed him to use me. Being a woman of faith, I prayed for a new passion and purpose in my life.

Gaining understanding.

In time, I understood that if my wish for a miracle came true and my life went back to the way it was, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The challenges I faced inspired me to seek a way to make a difference for others experiencing the same thing. In time, I believed that if I could make a difference for one other person, it would be worth it all.

I also understood how blessed I was to do as much rehab as I did. Not everyone gets the chance to rehab in a state-of-the-art facility, much less in another state, like I did. The trade-off was difficult, being away from my friends, family and support system, but still, I was fortunate to have that opportunity.

Finding purpose.

As I began to heal, I envisioned creating a foundation to help people going through what I was. The vision became a reality when I established Motion Project, a foundation that provides financial assistance for people with spinal cord injury.

During this time, I also got involved with the United Spinal Association, advocating for disability rights. Later, I started the Western New York Chapter and began going to Roll on Capitol Hill, an important advocacy event the association holds each year in Washington, D.C.

It was amazing meeting people from all over the country doing incredible work in their states and hometowns. They were so inspiring and encouraging and gave me a sense of empowerment. In fact, they helped me to develop an even stronger passion to help the SCI/D community.

Dreaming big.

This growing passion fueled my confidence. I felt like I could dream big and do something big —  build a specialized rehabilitation center for people with spinal cord injuries in my area of western New York.

Even though I had no idea how to get started on such a big project, my long, difficult journey inspired and guided me. I felt called to make a difference and somehow, I was the person to start it all.

You see, God had answered my prayers. I had a sense of purpose.

About Natalie Barnhard

Natalie Barnhard, PTA, LMT, is the president and founder of Motion Project Foundation, a non-profit organization in the Buffalo, New York area. Motion Project provides financial assistance for individuals recovering from a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and neurological disorders. A wheelchair user since she sustained a spinal cord injury in 2004, Natalie is also the founder and executive director of The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery.