It could have been the end; instead, one survivor sees the bright side of her new life.
In her journey to recovery, Justine Ager finds her true self in helping others heal.
[This article contains references to domestic violence that may be distressing to some readers.]
Justine Ager is a Colorado native who calls Steamboat Springs home. She is also a survivor. Justine radiates authenticity, and her drive for life is nearly tangible. She describes her furniture refurbishments in detail and excitedly shares her plans to launch a website to sell her handmade jewelry. Before the incident, she enjoyed snowboarding and barrel racing. Now, creativity is her outlet and passion. Her projects are vibrant, full of character and color.
“It’s just a day I’ll never forget.”
Justine was trapped in a verbally and physically abusive relationship for two years. On the night of December 29, 2013, a violent domestic assault changed the trajectory of her life. An hours-long physical argument that lasted into the early morning hours culminated with Justine being choked and pushed from a third-story apartment balcony 43 feet to the ground.
Her neighbor, an EMT, arrived home just as Justine fell and came to her aid. The moment the ambulance arrived, Justine died. She was resuscitated and transported to the hospital, where she was placed in a medically induced coma for two weeks.
According to the doctors, two things saved Justine’s life that night: first, the steel rod she had placed in her spine as a teen to correct her scoliosis, and second, being unconscious before her fall. She suffered more than 20 injuries and spent three months in the hospital. Today, she continues to face physical limitations, including chronic neuropathy and blindness in one eye.
She knows her recovery and new life would be far more difficult without her coverage through Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program) and access to transportation, including through the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence and the town’s paratransit service. Her medications and appointments with doctors and specialists continue to be extensive, so transportation is key to her independence. Her best friend is also in the process of becoming certified as a caregiver, and Justine is relieved she’ll have someone she knows and trusts available to help her with more difficult tasks.
“I really found my true self. I broke down all the barriers and opened all the doors — everything that stopped me from doing what I wanted.”
But through it all, Justine focuses on the silver lining and has moved on from the accident. “I was the victim — but I’m not the victim anymore,” she proudly declares. She’s forgiven her ex for her own sake, has discovered new passions, and has renewed energy for helping others. Justine has built on her foundation of faith and now helps heal others through spiritual avenues — something she feels is her life’s true calling. And she stays active in the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS) program, where she ski bikes during the winter and reconnects to her barrel racing days by horseback riding in the summer. Justine has served as an ambassador of the program, participating in fundraising events and speaking about the program’s impact on her.
“There’s nothing I can’t do — I just have to find a new way to do it,” she says.
And for Justine, that includes trying a new drip paint technique for her upcoming furniture project.
Get free, confidential 24/7 support from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Visit thehotline.org, call 800-799-SAFE (7233), or text “START” to 88788.