On October 4, 2002, I climbed a tree while on a date in the Malibu hills. One point two seconds later, I was on the ground. I’d fallen 25 feet, broken my back, and become paraplegic.
As a lifelong dancer and outdoor enthusiast, paralysis was especially catastrophic. In an instant, I had lost the things I valued most.
But paralysis didn’t just change my life… It transformed it.
The fall, itself, felt eternal to me. Never had I been so present, so at peace. In a moment of clarity, I understood — “Everything you need to know is happening right now.” My job was clear: Pay attention. Observe my experiences as much as living them.
That shift in mindset – being curious about what was happening, instead of fighting, hiding, or giving up — set the stage for learning to relate to paralysis, rather than react. And the magic started to flow.
I found myself on a new path, one that revealed my purpose, redirected my career, inspired romance, built a family, and catapulted my life far beyond anything I’d imagined before. I was thriving. And I knew it wasn’t despite paralysis. It was because of it.
I had to share.
It began with an informal afternoon of storytelling. I simply meant to educate, entertain and maybe inspire a group of family and friends. But something more powerful happened. I noticed that sharing my story of transformation was transformational for others. The experience that afternoon led me to create a one-woman show, and the show led to invitations from diverse groups to speak.
As I toured the country performing and speaking, I met hundreds of people weighed down by circumstance – illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, financial stress, trauma, depression, chronic dissatisfaction. Many felt at the mercy of their lives, lost in the dark of their own becoming. I knew it could be different but they needed a guide, someone with a lantern who knew the way.
I marveled once to my mother that such a devastating event as paralysis could birth so glorious a life. My mother, a concentration camp survivor, agreed but implored me, “How??” I couldn’t let her question go unanswered. I started then to deconstruct my own experience. When I felt the ache in so many audience members, I took the knowledge and expertise I’d garnered and started coaching.
Today, I do all three – speaking, storytelling, coaching – in an effort to hold the lantern high for those experiencing – or desiring – metamorphosis.
Lyena Strelkoff is a Transformation Coach, Inspirational Speaker, and Storyteller dedicated to elevating the way humans respond to change, challenge, and adversity.
Using her personal metamorphosis after sustaining a paralyzing spinal cord injury, she created The Shero’s Way™, an empowered approach to life that unleashes our ability to soar in any circumstance. She holds a Master’s Degree in Human Development, and is an expert in the mechanics of transformation, coaching individuals nationwide and leading personal development workshops for many groups.
A captivating and unique speaker, Lyena has helped thousands of people across the country get inspired, become more brave, and take bold action. She’s presented for the National Association of Professional Women, UCLA School of Medicine, Denali National Park, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Museum of Woman, University of Southern California, and the Kiwanis Club, to name just a few.
Lyena is also a critically-acclaimed storyteller whose autobiographical one-woman show, “Caterpillar Soup” has enjoyed five national tours and an honor by VSA Arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Most recently, Lyena appeared in a benefit production of The Vagina Monologues at the Broad Theater in Santa Monica, CA with Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei, and Rosario Dawson among others. She’s been heard on National Public Radio, numerous storytelling podcasts, and is a contributing essayist to Dancing at the Shame Prom.
She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, their young son, and her service dog, Reba.