The Will2Walk Foundation recently awarded a $4,000 Life Enhancement Grant to Jen Chaillie of Tempe, Arizona. Her reaction to hearing she had been awarded a grant for a new handcycle? “Blessed and overjoyed!” she recalls.
Jen was 29 years old when she was injured in a diving accident in May 2011, breaking her neck at the C6-7 vertebrae and making her a quadriplegic.
“As a therapist, I helped children cope with their emotions after a traumatic experience, and I think I relied on those skills and tactics to help myself after my injury,” Jen reflected. “Then I just wanted to get up and moving and back to where I was without having anything else holding me back.”
After getting out of the hospital that August, Jen got involved with a training program through Arizona Disabled Sports (ADS), where she was able to explore handcycling, kayaking and swimming throughout the fall. Although Jen had participated in a few bike races before her injury, including a 72-mile journey with her uncle around Lake Tahoe, her passion had always been marathon running.
“Prior to my injury, I loved being active. It made me feel completely connected to the activity, my surroundings, and my body,” Jen shared. “It’s really hard to stay active in a chair, even though your arms are working all the time. It’s important to get out of your chair and get reconnected to an activity so you don’t feel like you’re sitting around all day.”
While participating in the ADS Run, Walk & Roll event in January, Jen learned about the Will2Walk Foundation when she met President Rich Hamill. After submitting a lengthy grant application, she was approved and received her handcyle on August 31, 2012.
So far, Jen is happy to report that the handcycle is working out great. She plans to bike at least twice a week as she trains for future races in Arizona, including the Tour de Tucson 10-mile ride in November. Her goal for next year is a 40-mile race in Tucson. Jen also utilizes SpoFit (Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities) for weight lifting, swimming, and additional physical activities throughout the year.
Jen is still working on challenges such as transferring to and from her wheelchair, but is progressing. She plans to re-enter the therapy field once she can secure a job with an agency and build up her clinical hours.
Jen’s motivation for being active is to live as independently as possible. Up until this month, she relied on family and friends for rides to appointments and outings. She recently completed a three-month driving course to learn how to drive with hand controls, and through assistance from the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living program, had her car modified and is now able to drive herself around. Next step: figuring out how to transport her handcycle by herself.
“Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for organizations like Will2Walk,” said Jen. “Without their financial support, I would not have had this opportunity to stay active and be able to feel that wholeness that exercise provides me.”