She was born in September 1989, which makes her 30 in calendar years but it’s really the date of her rebirth that matters now.
So much of what Christa Cairus once was ended in a moment, June 27, 2010 – the morning her then-boyfriend’s Ducati motorcycle crashed at more than 40 miles per hour into a parked fire engine along Route 66 near Albuquerque.
The impact should have killed her. Instead it crushed Cairus’ spinal cord at the C-5 vertebrae. Her head denting the fire truck left Cairus an incomplete quadriplegic, unable to move her legs or her hands, though she can still move her arms.
It’s tempting to describe Cairus as “confined to a wheelchair,” though little about the Goodyear resident suggests confinement.
Cairus is lifting weights as we chat, working on her triceps and shoulders. Her workout will take two hours. Then she’ll drive to pick up her three young kids from daycare and spend the balance of Monday caring for them and her husband, Eric, a Phoenix police officer.
It’s a light day because Cairus, a special education teacher and Special Olympics coach, has the day off from her full-time gig at La Joya High School in Avondale. Tonight, maybe she’ll find time to work on her second Master’s degree, this one in special education.
One thing Cairus won’t find time for? Pity.
“It’s obvious I have a disability, but I don’t refer to myself as disabled,” she explains. “I can essentially do everything I want to do. I just can’t do leg day with you at the gym.”
If a day in Cairus’ life sounds exhausting, understand her whirlwind schedule is world’s better than life before the crash.
She has recently published a memoir detailing the old Christa. Beautiful Survivor: Escaping the Statistics has little to do with her accident.
Instead, it focuses on Cairus’ escape from an abusive relationship that included her boyfriend forcing her to have sex with other men for money. His is a name she rarely speaks now, except as a profanity.
The boyfriend escaped the motorcycle crash with road rash and one maimed finger. Cairus escaped him back home to Iowa in 2012.
Two years later, Christa, at the time a single and paralyzed mother of one, met the Army soldier she would marry in November 2014. The two moved to Arizona in 2016.
Despite her paralysis, she has had two children with Eric Cairus, though the pregnancies – like so much else she has faced – were anything but easy. Cohen, her second child, came five weeks early amid preeclampsia and life-threatening blood clots in Cairus’ legs.
“I don’t know how pregnancy didn’t kill me,” she says. “Sitting in this position all the time was awful. It’s like sitting here having a watermelon in your lap. I had these pains in my legs, blood clots, urinary tract infections.”
Carter, her firstborn, will be 10 in March. Son Cohen is 4. Cora, the couple’s daughter, turns two in a few weeks. Cairus is working on a second book. She has dreams of becoming a motivational speaker and one day playing wheelchair basketball.
In between being a wife, a mother, a teacher, a coach, a weightlifter and a writer, she’s also found time to amass 13 tattoos.
Some are self-explanatory, like “I Refuse To Sink” inked on her right shoulder. She has her kids’ footprints in tribute and a rollercoaster to symbolize her life.
Then there’s a quote from Proverbs 31:25:
“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.”
Laugh Christa Cairus does. It is a joyful noise and the soundtrack to her new life.