Last year, Kristen Yaldor celebrated her thirty-seventh birthday with a day of nature photography in Zimbabwe when the unthinkable happened: she was attacked by a hippopotamus. She was left with serious injuries but her journey towards recovery is exceptional.

A birthday that went terribly wrong

Kristen and her husband had just started snapping photos when one of their guides cautioned them to paddle toward the left bank. Then, things went terribly wrong. Something emerged under Yaldors’ canoe — a broad, rocklike back. She was immediately thrown into the air and fell into the river.

Yaldor managed to get back to the surface of the water pretty fast, and saw her husband Ryan swimming back to shore. She was working her way toward the land as well, and was pretty close, when something clamped down on her right leg and pulled her under the water.

She tried to remain calm and reached for the animal’s jaw hoping to loosen its grip and get back to the shore. At that time, she still had no idea what the animal was!

That’s when she discovered she was bleeding very badly. In the meantime, Ryan got emergency help and was able to call her mom.

“Do you want me to sing you happy birthday?” her mother asked.

“No, mom,” Kristen said. “I got attacked by a hippo.”

She survived the world’s deadliest mammal

Hippos don’t get as much press as sharks, but they are very dangerous with teeth strong enough to break a canoe in half. Their attacks can be deadly and they are much faster than we assume.

Kristen certainly got lucky Though it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. She spent weeks undergoing surgeries for her fractured femur and other injuries. In total, she had 14 procedures.

“I’m here,” she remembered thinking at the time. “I have a leg. It may not look the same, but it’s here.”

The process of returning to her old self

Eventually, she started the process of recovery. She had to learn to take things slowly and stay positive. “I don’t care how many surgeries it takes,” she told her doctors. “There are certain functions in life that I feel are, for lack of a better word, requirements.”

After physical therapy, she was about to stand again, and then to walk. Eventually, she was able to drive again. She acknowledges that the process required a lot of mental work:

It’s really amazing what you see your body go through and how you need to somewhat trick your mind into knowing what to go through.

Kristen Yaldor

She never lost her will to recover

Before her injury, Kristen was incredibly active. She used to run between 3 to 10 miles every day, bike and swim. And the process of recovery is leading her back to her passions.

With her husband, she’s signed on for a Disney charity 5k marathon, which will take place in January. She’ll be raising funds for research on muscular dystrophy.

As she tells the Tampa Bay Times, she expects it to be a “brisk walk,” but a walk she is determined to complete nonetheless. For her 38th birthday, exactly a year after the traumatic attack, she took her new bike out and covered a distance of four miles.

Kristen’s story is evidence of the mind’s power over the body. Despite her severe injury, she never lost the will to push her limits. We all have the capacity to accomplish what we want, despite the obstacles, physical or mental, that surround us.

Sometimes, it only takes a simple shift of mindset in the way we perceive what we think is impossible.

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