Starla Hilliard-Barnes and her daughter Elissiah

Starla Hilliard-Barnes and her daughter Elissiah

If you saw her perched atop a horse or in her four-by-four vehicle, you would never know Starla Hilliard-Barnes was paralyzed.

A T4 paraplegic whose vertebrae from the T2 level to T8 was completely crushed in a hit and run motorcycle accident in 2009, Hilliard-Barnes has only been a wheelchair-user for five years. But if you look at everything she’s done since her injury, you’d think she’s been paralyzed much longer.

Within a year of being paralyzed, Hilliard-Barnes met her future husband, Shannon, and the two married the following year. A year after that, the couple had their first child, a beautiful little girl named Elissiah.

“People like to believe that you have to stop living once you become a wheelchair user, but I want to show the world that this is not the case. You can still do everything you want,” she says, “just a little bit differently.” And so she founded the Moving Forward Foundation after winning Ms. Wheelchair Montana 2014 earlier this year. She hopes her foundation will bring exciting experiences to people with spinal cord injuries in Montana — encouraging them to get outside, moving and feeling alive.

Zip-lining, kayaking, horseback riding and much more, Hilliard-Barnes wants to fling open the doors of the outdoors to people with disabilities. “This is one area I am shocked that still needs work on,” she says.

Hilliard-Barnes’s foundation is also working hard to make playgrounds accessible to kids with disabilities in the Flathead Valley of Montana, currently raising money for its “Playground Project.”

Fierce and energized to help the people just like her, Hilliard-Barnes is an epic example of moving on in a big way after a disabling injury, and we hope her foundation keeps getting bigger and stronger.