By Sarah Todd Hammer and Jennifer Starzec

Almost every story has two certain elements: a beginning and an end, but for us, this fact wasn’t so simple.  After writing and publishing 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury in 2013, we quickly discovered that there was much more to our stories—what we had written in our book was not enough to truly capture our full Transverse Myelitis journeys.

5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury

Just three months after we, Sarah Todd Hammer (15) and Jen Starzec (19), met, we had already begun writing a book together.  It was no secret that we both shared a strong passion for writing—one that grew even stronger as we composed this work.  We wanted to get our stories out there while also raising awareness for Transverse Myelitis and supporting others going through this horribly life-altering disorder.  Both of us and our families faced so much uncertainty and loneliness when we were first diagnosed, as nobody seemed to know anything about TM, its effects, or its prognosis.  We wanted to find a way to help ease this feeling for the newly-diagnosed and, combined with our passion for writing, a book seemed to be the perfect way to achieve this.  Thus, we created 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury.

Photos: Danielle in Chicago for Flytographer

Writing the Sequel

As we know well, writing can be a long and grueling process and, oftentimes, a lot of hard work doesn’t end up making the final cut.  Determination originated as a completely different type of book: a pamphlet of advice and information for other people with Transverse Myelitis.  Although we understood that this type of text was important, after composing several chapters, we ultimately decided to go a different route with our second published work.

We originally thought that 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury would be a difficult work to follow because all the interesting, action-filled events—such as TM onset and our paths to run and dance again—occurred in that book.  However, once we thought about how busy we’d been since the events written in 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury, we realized that the new novel did not have to be all about large, drastic occurrences directly related to Transverse Myelitis.

One day, when scrolling through old pictures and social media posts in order to combat our writer’s block, we noticed how focused we were on our hobbies between 2012 and 2014 and realized just how much we’d progressed in dancing and running between those years.  Despite all the struggles we faced as we achieved getting back to what we loved most—which are discussed in our first book—we still managed to not only get back to running and dancing, but continue them as time went on.  It was then that we realized that our next book could simply be a continuation of 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury without growing monotonous; we could focus on what happened next in our journeys with our sports, because simply being physically able to run and dance again was just the beginning of our stories.


“Determination” has always been a favorite word of ours.  An ever-so-powerful word, we felt that it described our personalities extremely well, which was the reason we chose to name our second book Determination.  We both feel that one word, no matter what it may be, has the capability of leaving a great impact on one’s attitude and outlook on life, so a different word that motivates us is conveniently placed in-between each chapter of the novel.  As we state in the afterword of Determination, we know it would not have been possible to get through the traumatic events that we did without qualities such as “confidence,” “optimism,” and “determination.”

Unlike its prequel, Determination displays great maturity in terms of growing older and our improved writing styles.  Written similar to a journal, Determination focuses heavily on our thoughts and feelings as we go through life and experience different situations.  Rather than exhibiting negative, pessimistic attitudes about what happened to us, we chose to be positive and optimistic in our writing and daily life.  That isn’t to say that Determination has no obstacles—inevitably, there are plenty of difficult experiences included in the book.  Nevertheless, we pulled through, believing that it is harder to navigate life without some type of ambition.

Photos: Danielle in Chicago for Flytographer

What the Future Brings

Because writing is such a great hobby of ours, we expect to continue with it!  From the very beginning, we knew we wanted 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury to be a part of a trilogy, and we strive to make that happen.  Though we don’t plan to announce the title of our third book quite yet, we cannot wait to get started on it—so many things have happened since the events in Determination that we expect it will be an exciting, detailed story that’s full of ups and downs.

In other words, we couldn’t be happier and prouder of all we have been able to accomplish since getting TM, and we are so thankful to have the opportunity to share our stories with everyone.

*5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury and Determination are available for purchase on Amazon and, or through the girls’ website:*

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