13-Year-Old Girl Radiates Positivity as she Recovers from Skiing Accident That Left Her Paralyzed

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Olivia Benedetto is a self-taught gymnast.

“I’ve always been practicing a backflip,” 13-year-old Olivia said. “I can go back and land straight on my feet. I can do an aerial, a front aerial, back walkovers, front walkovers, you name it.”

Her parents, Nick Benedetto and Colleen Clancy, say they’re amazed by how she can flip and twist.

“She goes out there every day and teaches herself new stuff to do,” Nick said. “We put in a trampoline for her and she films herself.”

But recently Olivia’s world was turned upside down. On Feb. 16, Olivia was in a horrific skiing accident in Pennsylvania. Her dad and older sister witnessed the moment that changed her life.

“They came down the hill three times. The third time she came down the hill, she went up and all I saw was she went back and landed flat on her back,” Nick said as he remembers the video of Olivia’s accident.

“I remember my lower back being in a lot of pain and then my legs felt weird, so I tried to move them and I still could, so I was grateful,” said Olivia.

Olivia suffered a spinal cord injury and had surgery, but hasn’t been able to move her legs since. For the last few months, she’s been living at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla with her parents commuting back and forth every day from Breezy Point, Brooklyn.

Olivia’s handling her injury with grace beyond her years. Even the other children at the hospital are drawn to her and her doctors are in awe of her outlook.

“To see her accept this, hope for the best, but try to become as independent and strong as she can, it’s so motivating,” said Dr. Kathy Silverman, the unit chief of the adolescent and brain injury units at Blythdale Children’s Hospital. “I’ve never been so moved by a patient here at Blythedale than I am with this young girl.”

Her faith in God and in herself is what’s keeping her strong.

“I feel like God is always with me and I pray every night: negativity you’re never going to live your life to the fullest and positivity there’s always going to be something great out there,” she said.

The doctors caring for Olivia have told her she might not recover much more, but the family, who belongs to Blessed Trinity Parish, are clinging to a glimmer of hope.

“My husband and I are just not accepting that,” Colleen said. “We’re not in denial, we’re just waiting for science to catch up to faith.”

Because of her accident, Olivia missed her Confirmation, but her mom Colleen is hoping her new patron saint will intercede for her.

“Father Michael was asking kids to start thinking about names for confirmation,” Colleen said. “She came across this name and it was St. Gemma, so she put it down and then a month later the accident. That night, I looked up who the patron saint of spinal cord injuries was and it’s St. Gemma.”

Up until her accident Olivia was practicing her backflip – she was constantly filming herself and critiquing her technique. She and her family are praying for a miracle.

Olivia loves to watch her gymnastics videos – knowing she’ll be able to do those backflips again.