“Back-breaking Work” by Ann Marie Klotz

Isn’t it funny how quickly your life can change in the span of five seconds?

One August day in the summer of 1994 I was 15 years old  and leaving my apartment to go to work. 

As I reached to open the door to go downstairs from our two story duplex, I noticed that it wouldn’t open.  It was stuck.  And so was I—caught between my second story apartment door and the door to go downstairs. 


Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to be late…for anything, but especially for work.  I needed to get out—but how? 

“Hmm.” Well, there was always the balcony.  So I crawled out onto it and considered my options. With the bravery that only comes from youth, I looked down and said “I can totally make this.”  Famous last words.


To make a long story short, I jumped.  25 feet down.  Landed on my feet.  Felt my spine shiver and literally crack.  I crumbled to the grass. 

The next thing I remember I am in the hospital and I can hear my mom tell my family that the doctor said that there was a very slim chance that I would ever walk again.  They would have to go in, operate, determine what might be able to be repaired and then see how my body responded.


After a ten hour surgery, multiple steel rods and pins inserted in my lower back, and about 300 new grey hairs added to my mother who was praying the rosary at a frantic pace, the doctor said they had carefully removed every shattered bone fragment and we would just have to wait to determine the level of permanent damage. 

When I finally woke up and could wiggle my toes, there was a collective sigh in the room.   The doctor told me that it was going to be an intense recovery.  No school till January, physical therapy for months, and a plastic back brace that I had to wear at all times for 6 months in the sweltering Detroit summer heat.


The first thing I told my doctor when he laid out his list of recovery orders was that I would do everything he asked except I had to start school in September because “I am on the sophomore Homecoming planning committee,” I said very seriously. 

The doctor chuckled and said, “That kind of dedication will take you very far, young lady!” 


What has been a defining moment for me personally has honestly been an incredibly important part of who I am today.  That one terrible, misguided mistake taught me more life lessons than I could ever imagine. 

1)      You realize the word “family” means “I will love you no matter what”:

My family made it their mission to always have someone with me at the hospital for the three weeks I was in intensive care.  They made it a priority to keep my spirits up while inwardly they were scared, sad and praying for the best. 

2)      You know who your friends truly are when the going gets tough:

Because my friends were too young to drive, many of them would bike over to the hospital to see me at all hours of the day and night.  Although the visitation hours are pretty strict while you are in intensive care, they managed to sneak in good food, movies, video games, etc.  If it wasn’t for Jason, Stephen, Lisa, Alison and the rest of my support network, I’m not sure if I would have had the internal strength to make it through the long, tough days of physical therapy.


3)      Your success in life is largely determined by your attitude:

I am an optimist by nature, but this event caused me a sense of sadness that I had never experienced before.  The doctor told me that the best chance I had to recover was to believe in myself and to take pride in small victories.  This advice continues to stay with me, 17 years later.


4)      There is nothing more important than being healthy: 

Since recovering, I have made it priority to be healthy.  I don’t put any piece of food in my body without asking myself “will this help or hurt my body?” I am so incredibly lucky to have made a full recovery and I do not take it for granted.


There is a picture of me grinning from ear-to-ear in October of 1994.  It is the night of the Homecoming Dance, and I am wearing a sparkly red dress.  I look incredibly awkward with my white, plastic back brace visibly showing from underneath it.  But the smile is what matters and it says “I can overcome anything.” 

To that 15 year old girl I say, “You are right.”


What obstacle have you overcome that has made you stronger?




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40 responses to ““Back-breaking Work” by Ann Marie Klotz

  1. AMK you are extraordinary in your wisdom, dedication, & generosity. Your doctor had to know you were destined to do great things! You make me laugh (loudly) and touch my heart in the same conversation and I am honored to witness the positive influence you have on so many amazing people. You are truly an inspiration – upping the game of all who are blessed to know you! Lov-T

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thanks Teri! I was a little nervous to write this post (I tend to do better with the work-related pieces) but I think there are so many important lessons that we can take from our personal lives to use to our advantage, professionally!

      Thank you for continuing to lift me (every day and in every way possible!)–so grateful for you!

  2. This was a pleasure to read, AMK. Thank you for sharing your story with us, to show everyone what strength truly is!
    And I’m pretty sure my train of thought would have been identical 🙂

    Thanks for being an inspiration!

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thanks so much for reading! Sometimes we have to use the bad things in life (and the lessons we take from them!) to inform our future outlook, decisions, etc. In this case, this lesson serves as a great reminder to put things in perspective each day!
      Thanks again!

  3. WOW! Love your grit and determination. Thanks for sharing and reminding all of us about what really matters. Health and family. That is all. Looking forward to getting to know you even more as our lives continue to intersect.

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thanks so much, Monica! You, of all people, can totally understand the importance of being strong through health-related obstacles. I am so inspired by you and your commitment to changing your corner of the world 🙂

  4. jenesha


    I have known you for so many years and did not know this story…but it doesn’t surprise me one bit…that you jumped–or that you persevered.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You should share non-work stories more often 😉


  5. Jenny Jacobson (@JennyMJacobson)

    AMK — I’m really glad you choose to share this story. Ever since you told it to me in grad school I’ve known it was key in defining who and how you are about so many things! I think it’s great you took the risk to put it out there for others to get to know you better. As always you found a way to take the lessons and make them applicable to so many things! Great writing my friend! 🙂

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thanks Jenny! Since coming back from the Women’s Leadership Institute I have been thinking more about how my personal life has shaped who I am professionally. While my close circle of friends (like you!) may know this story, it can provide some insight as to who I am and what I value. Thanks for reading and for your friendship!! Miss you!

  6. I am so grateful for the opportunity to read and know your story, and I very much agree and love the life lessons learned .I’m with Amma, I probably would’ve had the same train of thought – “But, I’m on the committee!”

    Thank you for writing, as always!

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

      Ha ha, this was probably the start of my love for Stduent Affairs when I think about it (but I have a meeting! LOL!) Have a great day!

  7. Schnell Reed Garrett (Olan's wife - LOL)

    AMK – thank you for sharing this story. Sometimes we need a reminder about the important things in life and remembering that we can overcome. I have been struggling with an injury that I obtained in 2005. While it can’t compare to your injury, it has been life changing. Thank you again! You are an inspiration!

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Schnell–Isn’t it amazing what a strain on your physical health can mean for the rest of your world? I hear ya. It teaches us strength, compassion and (I’m still working on this one) patience.

      Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

  8. This was an amazing read Ann Marie. I giggled when I read “I am on the sophomore Homecoming planning committee” because I can totally hear you in my mind saying that despite laying in a hospital bed. Thanks for the wonderful words and wisdom.

  9. Ann Marie, thanks for sharing this story. What an incredible tale of perseverance and strength! Your optimism is infectious and inspiring and I am so grateful to be in the presence of it.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing journey. Just in time to help me pick myself up off the floor and dust myself off. You are an inspiration.!

  11. Brian

    Oh Klotzy…as always, such a great story! Well done friend.

  12. Love that you wrote this post and shared so much of yourself in it. It’s my new favorite post on the WISA site. So very vulnerable and full of massive amounts of insight. It’s not about how we fall, it’s about how we get up.

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Oh Stoller!
      You are so right. Because this happened when I was fairly young it has subsequently framed how I approach all of life’s obstacles. Thanks for reading–can’t wait to see you next month! 😉 -AMK

  13. Wow, what an awesome story. Many times when we met new people, we see them for who they are, at that present moment. But it is not until we converse, interact, and share our personal struggles do we know the past trials they had to overcome to make them the strong individual they are today. Thanks for being brave enough to share such a personal story of triumph.

  14. Ann Marie Klotz

    Thanks so much for reading–I appreciate it! I totally agree that there are so many things we can learn from others when we dig a little deeper. It is a good lesson for all of us to remember 🙂 -AMK

  15. AMK- You, my friend, are amazing! Thank you for sharing this with us. Your determination continues to take you to wonderful places.

  16. Melissa Robertson

    I am just beyond thrilled you shared this – thank you for putting yourself out there! If anything, its a great reminder about what is most important in life and that everything we do has a result of some sort – so doing things with purpose is ever so important.

  17. What an amazing story! You can tell from how you tell it that you truly are an optimist by nature, and I think the lessons you took away from this experience are inspirational. I myself have had several obstacles, and when people try to say “I’m sorry you went through that” I always ask why? It all has made me who I am today, and I am better for the challenges they presented. I think your story shows how our obstacles are what we learn from, they are what keeps us humble, and they remind us of our inner strength. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thank you for reading! It sounds like you are an optimist, too! It helps so much when dealing with difficult challenges, that’s for sure. Stay positive!

  18. Kate Capion

    I have heard you tell this story before but I never realized the extent of your injury. Your words inspire me and your message and format will be shared with my young writing students. Our family has been blessed by you. We’re looking forward to seeing you at Christmas. Kate C

    • Ann Marie Klotz

      Thank you Kate! I am so grateful to be a part of your family. 🙂 Can’t wait to see you very soon! Love, Ann Marie

  19. Amber

    A little late, but this was very inspiring and made me reflect so much on my own experiences. Thanks for sharing, it is very brave!

  20. Amber, thanks so much for reading and for commenting. I just love that this blog allows us the hear about the experiences of women and how it impacts their journey! -AMK

  21. Angela Layne

    Ann Marie,

    This story is truly inspirational, and encourages us to have the courage to tell our own story as well. Thank you for sharing, thank you for your energy and passion, and thank you for being yourself.


  22. Ann Marie Klotz

    Thanks so much for reading! I am grateful for your friendship, spirit and support. 🙂 Happy New Year!

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