Maintaining an Active Lifestyle Regardless of (Dis)ability

Jennifer Chaillie | A Lifestyle of Fitness in Spite of (Dis)ability Jennifer Chaillie | A Lifestyle of Fitness in Spite of (Dis)ability

Read the inspiring story of Jennifer Chaillie - a quadriplegic who handcycles, kayaks, and waterskis.

My Passion for Fitness

I had been overweight my entire life when, after high school, I finally had enough.  In the year that followed, I worked out with a trainer, ate healthfully, and lost 90 pounds. At the time, my boss encouraged me to train for a marathon with her. I went from barely being able to run a minute straight to running miles at a time.  Out of this experience my passion for running was born.

Fast forward ten years and working out was a part of my daily routine. My daily workouts weren’t just for the health benefit; working out was my one hour of total "me" time to dive into a high-intensity workout and burn my stress away.

And Then My Life Changed ...But Not My Passion

Then, in May 2011, I broke my neck in a diving accident. As a result, I am now a C6-7 quadriplegic, which means I am paralyzed from my breast bone down and have decreased hand function.

Jennifer Chaillie Quadriplegic Waterski
Jennifer Chaillie | Waterskiing

While in rehab after my accident, I was given information about ways I could still remain active despite being in a wheelchair. I was discharged at the end of August 2011, and by September I enrolled at Arizona Disabled Sports and participated in their handcycling and kayaking programs. When that season ended, I enrolled in a swimming program.

I was fortunate to have been introduced to Rich Hamill, the founder of the Will2Walk Foundation, and was awarded a handcycle through their Grant Program. I also discovered the Virginia G. Piper Sports & Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities which is only the third facility in the nation designed for people with disabilities. The Center has adaptive equipment and classes, and I appreciate that there are resources available that allow people in wheelchairs the opportunity to work out. However, it is still frustrating that each wheelchair sport (rugby, basketball, tennis, etc.) requires a specialized chair that costs between $3,000-$6,000.

Kayaking as a Quadriplegic
Kayaking as a Quadriplegic

Staying Fit as a Quadriplegic

It is harder to stay fit now, but I try to be as active as possible and eat healthy.When the weather is nice here in Arizona, and I have someone to go with me, I try to ride my handcycle twice a week and swim once on the weekends. I also have weights I use at home. My diet consists of three meals and one or two snacks, as well as plenty of water. I also still allow myself a treat when I want! I just need to be even more aware of what I put into my body because I can no longer burn calories like I used to.

Since I am a quadriplegic, I have also lost the ability to sweat, as that system is paralyzed. I still miss that feeling when your heart is pounding and sweat is pouring down your face because then you knew you had a great workout.

I hope in the future to do several long bike races and one day, if I can, complete a marathon using a race chair.

Jennifer Chaillie

Jennifer Chaillie is the Director of Community Outreach for the Will2Walk Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to creating awareness of spinal cord injuries and enhancing quality of life for the injured. She also holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Arizona State University and prior to her accident, was a therapist who specialized in treating children who had been victims of abuse.

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