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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Get On Your Feet!

This time of month, I’m noticing that there are a lot of charity walks that are being held to raise money for various organizations.  There are walks to fund research towards finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.  There’s the annual “Relay for Life” which is held in memory of those who have lost their battle with the disease, as well as raising money to eventually find a cure.  Even my workplace has an annual walk called the “Walk for Miracles”, which benefits children’s hospitals all across Canada.  If only I weren’t scheduled to work this year, I would be doing that walk in a heartbeat.  But, I did that walk the last three years in a row, and I hope to take part in the walk again in 2013.

But, you don’t need to sign up for a charity walk in order to really enjoy the benefits of a nice walk down the street.  The weather is perfect this time of year (well, unless you’re living in the southern hemisphere) for a nice stroll down by the river, down to the park, or even just up and down the street walking your dog.  Really, I think that for most of us, we take the ability to walk for granted, and we don’t even think that we could have that ability taken away from us at a moment’s notice.  For those of us who still have the mobility, I encourage everyone to be thankful for your legs, and be grateful that they still work.  There are lots of people who would switch places with you in a heartbeat.

This is the story of how one woman was faced with the possibility of never walking again, and how through hard work and determination, she managed to overcome the challenges that were thrown her way one cold day in 1990.

This is the story of Gloria Estefan.  And the song that I have chosen for this blog entry is a song that is quite appropriate given the context of this Sunday Jukebox entry.

ARTIST:  Gloria Estefan
SONG:  Get On Your Feet
ALBUM:  Cuts Both Ways
DATE RELEASED:  September 30, 1989

This song happens to be one of my favourites by Gloria Estefan, even though it just missed hitting the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts.  It was a decent song in comparison to some of her other efforts, but she certainly had other songs that peaked higher, including a couple of chart-toppers.  But it’s a song that upon retrospect probably has a lot of significant meaning for Gloria Estefan, because just six months after this song was released, Gloria wondered if she would ever get up on her feet ever again.

The date was March 20, 1990, and Gloria Estefan and her band, the Miami Sound Machine, were right in the middle of the North American leg of her tour.  The tour was in support of Estefan’s eleventh album, “Cuts Both Ways”.  The album was memorable in a variety of different ways.  It was Estefan’s first album where she was credited as a solo artist.  Prior to the album’s release, she was credited alongside the Miami Sound Machine, the band that she had joined way back in 1977.  With the Miami Sound Machine, Estefan thrived, and as a result, the band had a slew of hit singles, including “Words Get In The Way”, “Bad Boys”, “Conga”, and “Anything For You”.

“Cuts Both Ways” was released in the middle of 1989, and immediately, the album’s first single, “Don’t Wanna Lose You” reached the top of the Billboard Charts.  It ended up becoming Gloria’s most successful albums, selling more than ten million copies worldwide.  Because the album contained songs that were recorded in English and Spanish, it became very popular in the Latino community as well (not that she needed it, as she had been a favourite of the Latino community before she hit it big anyway). 

The album’s popularity spawned the “Get On Your Feet” world tour in early 1990, and Gloria was anxious to thank her fans for all of their support.  Tagging along for the ride were Gloria’s husband, Emilio (who was a member of the Miami Sound Machine), as well as her then nine-year-old son, Nayib.  The tour, her family, her life...everything was perfect for Gloria Estefan.

Perhaps too perfect.

In an interview that she did with Mail Online (which you can read here if you like), Gloria recounted the events of March 20, 1990.  At the time, their tour bus was in the vicinity of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Although it was snowing at the time, nobody was worried about the snow.  But Gloria had a nagging feeling that something terrible was about to happen.  She couldn’t quite explain what it was.  She just had the feeling that she had wanted her life to ‘freeze’ at the moment.

Within moments, Gloria tucked her son into bed on the tour bus, and Gloria soon fell asleep as well...only to be woken up by a terrible crash, and searing pain.

A truck had crashed directly into the tour bus, and the impact knocked Gloria onto the floor of the bus.  Upon impact, Gloria was in serious agony, and had known that she had broken her back.  What she didn’t realize was just how serious the accident really was.

Immediately after the accident, Gloria Estefan was brought to the Intensive Care Unit of Community Medical Center before being flown by helicopter to New York City, where she had two titanium rods implanted inside of her to stabilize her vertebral column.

The surgery was a rough and painful one, but it could have been a lot worse.  When the accident happened, Gloria was frantically screaming for her husband.  Emilio Estefan was trying to tell Gloria not to make any sudden movements at all until the ambulances came.  Gloria took heed of his words, which likely saved her from becoming permanently paralysed.

For the next six months, Gloria endured a painful rehabilitation.  She did everything she could to be able to walk again, and she did everything that her doctors advised her to do.  But Gloria revealed in Mail Online that her husband and son both blamed themselves for the accident.  Just before the accident, her husband had encouraged her to take a detour to New York to attend a business dinner, and the accident happened the night of the function.  As for her son, he had been playing a game just before the accident occurred.  The day that the accident happened, Nayib Estefan was jumping along the pavement, chanting the nursery rhyme “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”, making sure to step on as many cracks as he could.  Of course, he had no way of knowing exactly what was going to happen that day, but Gloria said that he kept it secret for months afterwards, and felt terrible about it.

The aftermath of the accident also caused a lot of emotional stress to Gloria in addition to the physical trauma that she sustained.  She recalled the horror she felt when she saw the surgical scars for the first time since the accident, and she immediately broke down.  She worked so hard to create an image for her music.  She was the young, vibrant, sensuous Latina singer who lived for fun, dancing, and excitement.  It took a long time for Gloria to accept that it had happened.  While she was grateful that she was able to walk again, it took a long time for her to feel comfortable with herself again.

It was a long road to recovery, and certainly Gloria endured an incredibly rough year filled with rehabilitation.  With a little luck, and a lot of determination, along with the love and support of her family, friends, and fans, Gloria made a triumphant return to the stage on January 28, 1991...when she performed at the American Music Awards.  There’s a clip of the performance below which is dubbed in Spanish, but if you click HERE, you can watch the English version as well.

Wasn’t that something?  You could just see the joy in Gloria’s eyes as she took to the stage just ten months after an accident almost cost Gloria the ability to walk again.  Not many people end up getting a standing ovation BEFORE performing at an awards show, but Gloria earned every clap.  Her story of bouncing back from serious injury was nothing short of remarkable.

These days, Gloria is still recording music and touring again, and with each concert she performs, I imagine she never takes walking for granted again.  And in 1994, Gloria gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Emily.  The pregnancy was such that Gloria wasn’t sure if it would even happen at all.  The tour bus accident had caused one of her Fallopian tubes to shift, which prevented Gloria from getting pregnant.  But after undergoing surgery to correct the problem (as well as a series of fertility injections), Gloria fell pregnant after the second attempt.

The story of Gloria Estefan and her rise from the ashes of the tour bus accident is nothing short of fantastic.  Her sheer determination alone is something that should be celebrated.  And ultimately, Gloria ended up learning a very valuable life lesson from the that I am going to share below.

“But in spite of the accident, I felt an odd relief that it had happened so that I could learn not to take anything for granted.  I also discovered that I had a lot of discipline and patience that I didn’t know I had.”
          - Gloria Estefan, Mail Online, September 4, 2008

I can definitely relate to this.  Well, okay, maybe I still need a bit of work with the virtue of patience...but everything else seems to be something that I could use with my situation as well.  When I underwent my own surgery, the aftermath that I had was a lot like Gloria’s.  In some weird way, I’m glad that my health problems happened too because it allowed me to realize that life can change in an instant.  We always have to be prepared to face the worst, and we always have to treat every day as if it could be our last.  Gloria Estefan certainly lived, and currently lives this philosophy every day, and in the end, it has made her one of the world’s most beloved musical artists.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get on your feet!  Get up and take some action!

1 comment:

  1. I have always loved Gloria Estafan, and her "coming out of the dark" which came after the accident is a very inspirational song. She is a fighter and survivor.