Even as she was falling from the second story of her building, Yara de la Torre (@yaradoeshair) was thinking about protecting her hands and arms. And the first thing she did upon landing, once she realized she was still alive, was to move and test her hands. She was a hairdresser, her hands meant everything. But she couldn’t feel her legs.
“I got locked out and was trying to break into my own window,” de la Torre told us. “I took one step back and fell and broke my back. I was airlifted to Miami and my diagnosis was complete paralysis from the waist down.”
This was on April 28, 2019. Recently, while scrolling through Instagram, searching for beautiful #balayage hair color, we happened on some gorgeous work by de la Torre. Also, on her page were pictures of her in a wheelchair or undergoing physical therapy, accompanied by revealing captions that captured her road back from an accident that has paralyzed her body but not her spirit.
Yara de la Torre always knew she wanted to be a stylist. She had her first job in a salon at 16. Licensed for 10 years, in July 2018, she opened her own studio, Lashes and Curls Studio. Her busy balayage business and her work as a Sunlights Balayage Educator afforded her the means to make the move. “I built it from the ground up,” she shares. “It was an ugly unit with blue walls and checker floors but I used all my savings and put it together."
When her salon was less than a year old, and she had one assistant and one stylist in training, her accident happened. “I remember bracing myself and crossing my arms to protect my hands because I didn’t know what kind of fall I was going to have. The first thing I thought was, I gotta do hair, I need my hands and my arms. But I immediately felt the paralysis.”
For months, her tiny team kept her salon afloat while de la Torre fought to come back. “From the moment of my accident, I was grateful that my hands did work, and I knew if I had that, I could make it. After wrapping my head around what had happened, what I needed to do next was heal myself emotionally and continue with my life. I realized this wasn’t the end; this was part of my journey, in a sense.”
During her long stint in rehab (which is ongoing), she experimented with doing hair on her physical therapist. “I lost a lot of control of my torso,” she explains. “It’s incredible the amount of energy that you need to sit and lift your arms. I’ve built up enough strength to do hair with a couple adaptations.
“Two months after the accident, I tried to do my fiancé’s hair and it was really painful and I couldn’t do much, but I tried to come into the salon every other week, trying to do different lengths of hair and different styles.”
The adaptations she has made include finding a designer to make a custom holster to hold her tools (“I was asking my assistant for everything because I needed my hands free to wheel my chair”) and to allow her to move around her client. “One of the things to come from this accident is I have to find new ways to do everything. I’m always problem solving and trouble-shooting -- kind of like doing hair!”
On Etsy, she discovered Sandra with Salon Armor (@salonarmor). “My goal was to find a tool belt to wear around my waist. I messaged her and told her what I planned on doing and you could tell this is what she lived for. She told me she had just done a chest harness for someone who has Multiple Sclerosis and used a walker. She sent me a picture, asking if I’d like something like it. I said, yes, and that I also need a way to hold a blow-dryer so my hands are free.” The resulting harness holds blow dryer, round brush, shears, clips, combs, and Sandra added a wrist bracelet.
Today, de la Torre sees clients two days a week, two to three clients a day. And she plans to bring that up in December to three days a week. She has hired a new stylist and is putting focus and energy into educating and creating a strong team because she has learned from this experience the importance of support and self-care.
“Before the accident, I was booked about two months in advance, I was educating, I was trying to juggle life as a mother and stylist and I never said no. My love for hair is so grand that I was driving myself to the ground. But one of the things I have learned is that it’s quality over quantity. Today, I want to slow down and appreciate the time with each client and time with my family.
“Coming back to work has not really been work for me, it has become a part of my recovery,” she concludes. “Ever since I have been back, I have been gaining so much—I look better, I sound better. Work is the best therapy I can get.”
@YaraDoesHair. You're damn right she does.