Madeline Delp is a car accident survivor turned motivational speaker, disability advocate, and public figure. She is a Ms. Wheelchair USA winner, fear-chaser, and world traveler. She, through her nonprofit Live Boundless, has delivered over 400 wheelchairs to those in need in Asia and South America. Despite her busy schedule of fear-chasing and pageant winning, Madeline sat down with us to answer some questions on everything from dating to staying active in a pandemic.
On Dating with Incontinence
An important lesson that I (eventually) learned was honesty. I dated a guy for FOUR YEARS in my early dating years and never told him about my bladder issues. In my current relationship, I am very open. In fact, if I have an accident, I will flat out tell him that I need to change. He has even had to help me change before! It was truly freeing to be open and honest to my boyfriend and realize that he was completely accepting of me. It made me have even more confidence in myself and in our relationship. I knew that if he could love every part of me, that he was truly a genuine guy!
On Laughing Through Accidents
A couple years ago I was traveling through Yellowstone with my boyfriend. (The same awesome guy I am with now!) We were driving through the gorgeous valleys and rivers when suddenly I had to go to the bathroom. We were at least 30 minutes away from the nearest bathroom and I was desperate. He pulled over the car and came around to my side. After quickly picking me up in his arms, he ran into the woods with me trying to find a good spot for me to use the bathroom on the ground.
While he was looking, my bladder couldn’t hold on anymore and I started having an accident not just all over me, but all over him. I was absolutely horrified. I didn’t know what in the world to say!
Much to my surprise, he started horse-laughing and said “Baby, don’t worry about it! I guess I just had to be your toilet today.” He set me down and rummaged for some clothes in the car. I ended up wearing an extra pair of his pants and we laughed the whole way through the park the rest of the day!
On Finding Self-Confidence
For many years, my incontinence affected the way that I saw myself. I was embarrassed about how my body worked and truly thought that guys wouldn’t be able to like me as much because of it. The lesson I had to learn was that I needed to love myself for who I was first. I had to realize that at the end of the day, it was just pee! Incontinence didn’t define who I was, it was just a small aspect of my life that I had to deal with. With this mentality, I could go into a relationship with confidence and share my story with someone without embarrassment or awkwardness. When you approach the subject with strength and a “this-is-no-big-deal” attitude, then others will follow your lead and look at it the same way.
When approaching this subject with your family and friends, I do recommend sharing it with people who you trust and feel comfortable with. It’s not something that I share with everyone, but all of my close friends know that it is something I deal with and is the reason that I sometimes spend a long time in the bathroom! Your friend’s reactions to your incontinence issues, like the reactions of a romantic partner, show how genuine and understanding they are. You want to have friends that will support you through physical struggles and never make you feel embarrassed about it.
On Fighting the Stigma of Incontinence
Changing stigmas is all about humanizing someone’s perspective. I remember as a little girl, I saw someone with a colostomy bag and was horrified. I was even scared to talk with the man because I was overwhelmed with uneasiness. It wasn’t until I got older that I heard stories about people actually living with colostomy bags. They made jokes, they shared hardships, they told me real life experiences – and it was then that the bag became as normal as someone carrying a purse. If we can portray more stories that depict incontinence in the context of real human experience, people will begin to have an understanding around the topic that erases their discomfort and makes them accept it as the simple bodily function that it is.
On Staying Fit
When I was first injured, I got easily discouraged with my therapy because it seemed like I had mountains to climb, with only the ability to move one inch forward at a time. One of the things I realized over the first few months of recovery was that I had to find a way to document my progress. If I was able to sit up by myself for five seconds, if I was able to do a transfer by myself, if I finally could hold myself on my hands and knees and crawl three feet, even if I had two less accidents that the week before, I would write it down! I had a special journal where I would write all of my fitness accomplishments for each week.
This is an extremely helpful practice for anyone working toward a higher level of ability or fitness, because it helps you see A. that your efforts are working, and B. which activities are helping you more than others. If you realize that you are seeing greater improvements after say, swimming, then you can increase that particular activity. Also, I love setting goals for myself in my fitness programs. This is the great equalizer for people of all abilities. You are only competing against yourself! Don’t let yourself look around at other people as this will immediately make you feel discouraged.
Set a goal every week that is achievable, yet requires you to push a little harder than the week before.
When you always have something specific to work toward, you feel much more motivated than going in the gym with a vague goal of, “I want to get stronger.” Lastly, take a moment to visualize the end goal of your physical fitness before you start working out. This will inspire you to launch yourself into your workout with passion because you are driven by the future you.
On Getting Creative in the Gym as a Wheelchair User
Creativity is king when finding workouts as a wheelchair user! Going to a gym can be extremely intimidating, but there are definitely exercises that are better than others. First, let’s divide them into cardio and strength training.
- Wheeling laps – I personally like to wheel laps around my apartment. My neighbor is a cop and threatened to give me a speeding ticket when I raced down a large hill faster than the car beside me.
- Swimming – even with floats this is a great activity!
- Boxing – I have never had my heart rate get so high as when I started doing boxing.
- Hand Cycles – Whether this is a machine in the gym or the real deal out in the wild, you will definitely get a good workout.
- Crawling/Standing Frame – I fractured my hip two years ago when I went rock climbing (apart of my adventure journey) and was met with the shocking news that I had already reached osteoporosis in my hips. This was a wake-up call for me that I needed to include weight-bearing activities in my workout regimen. This is when I began crawling (something people can be ashamed to do, but it is such a great exercise!) and using a moving standing frame that helped me weight-bear while also getting in some good cardio.
On Exercising with Incontinence
The tricky part about exercising is that your bladder is almost always in a position to be triggered for incontinence. There are definitely some exercises that are worse than others though!
Here is a list of some that I have found to be the worst:
- Any exercise that requires you to squeeze your abs. For example, crunches or activities like rowing.
- Jolting motions that make you go up and down
- Swimming! (But let’s face it, you’re in a pool and nobody will know.)
On Staying Active During a Pandemic
Before the pandemic, I would always work out in my apartment gym. It had everything that I needed and I loved being able to work out with my boyfriend (and use the massage chair it had afterwards). It helped me to establish a consistent routine and was a sense of comfort. When the gym closed , I was devastated!I ended up meeting a girl at my apartment one day while trying to work outside. We began talking about the closed gym, and I lamented that I didn’t have any weights to work out with and all of them were sold out in stores and online. She ended up giving me an extra pair of weights that she had, and little did I know that I would also get a new best friend! During this same time, someone reached out to me at my mom’s church about a stander that they had and wondered if I would be able to use it. The stander ended up being such a blessing for me and is something that is helping me build up my bone density as I mentioned before! This just goes to show that sometimes during bad times good things can happen –in a time of separation, I was able to make incredible new connections. Because I couldn’t do my normal preferred cardio, swimming, I adapted a new method of cardio – going on “runs” around my apartment . I started doing it every other day and began meeting many new neighbors along the way. Now whenever I am outside, I run into people who say I have also motivated them to work out more because they see me outside their window!
After miraculously surviving a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down, Madeline Delp decided that she would refuse to be a victim to her circumstance. She’s a Ms. Wheelchair USA winner, keynote speaker, and fear chaser. She founded her nonprofit organization, Live Boundless, to provide wheelchairs to those in need.
Madeline has also been an Aeroflow Urology Brand Ambassador since 2019. During her time as Brand Ambassador, she has helped spread awareness of the Aeroflow Urology brand and has assisted in tackling the stigma associated with incontinence.