Adventure seeker. Avid snowboarder. Fearless world traveler. Dance party enthusiast. That’s Nayla Tawa in ten words. Her love of life, joy of learning, and untiring enthusiasm is simply contagious. She knows her priorities, always packing bright pink lipstick and sparkly star headbands as she heads to explore the unknown.
So back in 2012, when a friend invited her to shred the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan, she obviously said yes.
She was in school at the time taking a documentary film class. Upon hearing about the trip, her professor immediately said, "Nayla you must make a film while you are there."
Great idea! Except Nayla had never made a film. She didn’t even own a camera. The project seemed daunting, to say the least, but always up for a challenge, she thought, “Why not? What's the worst that can happen?”
When she learned about Hayat Tarikov and his dreams of developing a ski industry in Kyrgyzstan, any hesitation disappeared. She had to make this film.
So she gathered a team, created a Kickstarter campaign, bought a camera, collected donated ski gear and headed to Kyrgyzstan.
Two days after arriving in the country, Nayla and her two friends, Doug and Adam, were on their way to meet the rest of the team when their journey took an unexpected turn. Literally.
Their cab driver hit a patch of ice and flew off the road into trees.
Car accidents are never easy. Car accidents in a third world country are a whole different story.
Doug was trapped in the front seat, screaming for his life, as the car was slowly crushing him. Adam was so severely concussed that he had no idea what was going on. Nayla was able to think clearly, but she could barely breathe and could not move her leg. Only one thing was on her mind: “I have to get help or Doug will die.”
Somehow, she managed to fall out of the car and crawl up the snow bank to wave down a truck.
Instead of paramedics, local villagers brought the group to the nearest “hospital.” The facility was severely ill equipped for serious patient care. Imagine no running water, bed sheets stained with other people’s blood, and the risk of disease transmission through dirty needles.
Now imagine having to wait three days, duct-taped to a snowboard with no pain medication.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Nayla and her friends were med-evacuated out. Sadly, their local driver was left behind -- a fact that still troubles Nayla to this day.
With a broken back, broken sternum and blown-out knee, Nayla’s physical recovery was a grueling yearlong journey, which she undertook with her typical optimism and humor.
As her mother explained, “She never complained, always had a smile on her face, and would get excited by the mere fact that she had moved her knee by 1 centimeter.”
Every day she grew stronger and stronger, until she was stronger than ever. But little did she (or her friends or family) realize, this was just the beginning.
It’s hard work to heal the body after a major trauma, but what follows is often the hardest part. The taboo part that people are afraid to talk about. Yet telling this story without mentioning the terrorizing reality of PTSD would be a lie.
“I found myself in a world I didn’t know existed -- a world where my ability to choose to look at the positive was gone. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was losing weight at a rapid pace. I was having nightmares. And everything looked different: the sky, the mountains, my room, everything. The only path I could see led deeper and deeper into a dark hole with no way out.”
After months of living like this, Nayla embarked on a new journey to recovery, this time focused on healing her mind and spirit.
Now, four years later, it’s clear that recovery is an ongoing journey, but Nayla feels stronger than ever, both physically and mentally.
“Even though these past four years have been the hardest of my life, I have grown in so many ways. I have learned how to slow down and simplify my mind. I have a deeper understanding of what it means to be compassionate, not only to others, but to myself.”
Still, people wonder why she’d ever want to go back to Kyrgyzstan.
The reason is as complicated as it is simple. Call it unfinished business. Call it redemption. Call it resilience. It’s all of these and more.
Nayla is returning to Kyrgyzstan to finish what she started, to meet the man who inspired her very first film, and to bring awareness to his ski program. Despite everything that has happened, she wants to fulfill their common dream of using snow sports for a greater good.
Of course, the story has evolved over the years, and there’s no way to predict how it will end. So we invite you to join us on this adventure to see what happens next.
Stay tuned …