Tag Archives: independence

Therapeutic Riding Program Gets Cowboy Back In The Saddle

Brad was born in the one-stoplight town of Milington, Michigan.  As a young man, he moved with his family to the Southwest where cattle was big business and where he learned to rope and ride.  He was a cowboy; a rough riding rodeo type who “was always up to something.”  On the Papago Reservation in Arizona, he worked the ranches with his father, training horses and rounding up cattle for the Pacific Livestock Auction.  He was a wrestler in high school and a boxer in the Army.  Slowing down was not in his vocabulary so when he moved back to Michigan, he got a job in construction and continued to ride as a hobby.

On Veteran’s Day three years ago, Brad was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest, down.  Unable to walk and with limited use of his hands, he left his job as project manager in a heating and cooling company and went looking for a place to live that was wheelchair accessible.  He moved to Evergreen Grove in Otter Lake. There he could live independently in a setting that was far from a nursing home, yet get the help he needed.

Brad wanted more than independence, though; he wanted his life back.  He did not want those important parts of his identity to be lost. He missed the outdoors, he missed boxing, and most importantly, he missed horses.  An online search revealed a number of programs out there for individuals with physical challenges.  O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, was a therapeutic horseback-riding program based in Clarkston, not too far away.  He signed up and within weeks his feet were back in the stirrups.

Brad on a horse

In 3 sessions, he was walking a horse in a round pen with volunteers and specialists.  “It took a couple tries for me to find my balance,” says Brad.  “I used a standard western saddle with no back and just a saddle horn so I had to learn different ways to keep upright.”  He found that Velcro straps around his wrists help him pull himself back into position, when the gait of the horse shifted him to the side.  This allowed him to ride 15-20 yards at a time with no assistance.

On the fifth session, his caregiver, Patty Gring of AdvisaCare got to come along. “I was beyond excited I cried. It was so amazing for me to see one of our clients up on a horse after all he has been through and see him work towards his dream. Just brings me so much joy.”

His success in the program opened up other doors for Brad.  Just recently, he acquired a heavy bag and has begun his journey back into boxing.  “Any plans for a career from here?” I asked.  “Yeah, but not in construction.” He plans to train his own horse and to open an adapted gym so that others with disabilities can learn to box.  “It’s great core exercise,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t hit a flea but not I have a pretty good swing!”

Brad is also in the process of writing a book about his life. With a pilot and fire bomber for a father and a childhood working with the Papago Indians in Arizona, as well as his adventures in the Army, his life has taken many interesting paths.  For Brad, each new element becomes just another chapter. He is a proud father and a driven cowboy, hanging his hat on great hopes for the future.

To learn more about O.A.T.S. or any of the other programs mentioned in this article, please visit the links below.


What if you could walk again?

by Ashleigh Justice

What do you say to a person who has just lost everything? Do you tell them that they’ll get used to it? Do you lie and say it will be just as it was before? Will they even listen?

The possibility of walking again was something I painfully accepted would never come. I would never march in the marching band, I would never walk on the beach, I would never dance at prom and would always be stared at for being different. It’s a pain that I choked down several years ago, when surviving meant moving on and trying to live for the day. “I could have died that day (after the car accident) but I didn’t so I am not going to lose my life while I am still living.” That thought became my daily motivator.

In the first couple years after the car accident, I was ashamed of myself and of the disability I couldn’t walk away from. It’s a drowning sorrow, like being held down in a rushing river. To escape it, I gave up everything related to it. I ran from reality and sought to defy everything that reminded me of my spinal cord injury. I took on sports, dated indiscriminately, went wild on occasion. But I mentored others and in that way, I did a service to my heart because I was able to show, more to my self than the person who was in my once broken state, that I was able to get back some sort of life. Even if it meant that I would have to recreate it.

So now, what do you say to someone who has moved on? Someone whose sorrow has lifted and who no longer sees the ghosts of the past? Walking again was something that I packed away with all of the other things that hurt me deeply. I thought I had handled all of those stages of grief that Keubler-Ross described until there grew a whisper- Someone was working, really working, to cure spinal cord injuries. I met that someone, Dr. Wise Young, a couple years ago when he came to Arizona for the Working2Walk conference. I didn’t really think the conference would be all that promising because for years people have been beating the rallying drum of curing paralysis. But something happened that I didn’t expect. I cried.

I cried because of the genuine love for his patients I felt from Dr. Young as he described what research they were doing and why they believe it will at least have a positive impact, if not, be the cure. But they were still a ways off so, again, I put it back into that dark corner of my mind but with a nightlight this time- maybe there was a possibility…

Although I haven’t heard of any groundbreaking cures just yet, here is an article a friend posted on my Facebook wall a couple days ago. It brought back those feelings of disbelief and skepticism but also that warm comfort of hope. Dr. Young is still at it! If there is one person I believe could cure spinal cord injuries, it’s him.


“So, what would you do if you could get back just one day of walking.” My husband once asked me.

I would take the entire day and dance with my son. I would hike with my husband and go drive a Ferrari. I would run with my dog, chase a butterfly, maybe even find some old high school buddies and make a throw together parade, me holding that damn pair of cymbals. If I could walk again, I would live like the next day wouldn’t come. Because, at one time, it almost didn’t.

My question to readers is, What would you do if you could walk again? I know it can be seen as an insensitive question but for me, answering it gave me such feelings of joy. It’s like dreaming of that amazing mansion we would like to own, as we go to work every day. It may be a fantasy, it may be a reality. But what would you do if you could walk again?

Artist Profile: Robert Andy Coombs

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Robert is not able to pick up a camera. He is not able to arrange sets, lighting, or click the shutter, however, the images he captures are astouding. With the help of friends, family, and a staff of caregivers, there aren’t many things that Robert Andy Coombs can’t do. In fact, his biggest challenge is finding time to do it all! He is a college student, an artist, goes out with friends, spends time with family, and still manages to capture amazing images and express himself through photography.

Robert is a student at Kendall College of Art & Design, working toward a degree in Fine Arts & Photography. An athlete and scholar, Robert’s life took a drastic turn 3 years ago when the 21 year-old gymnast landed on his head during a double backflip on the trampoline. He broke his neck at the C4/5 level and would spend the next 6 weeks in rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Ventilator dependent and unable to move anything from chest down, he would have to learn how to do things a bit differently. “When I was newly injured,” he told The QuadFiles, “I couldn’t move anything for 9 months. It was tough because I was not able to do many of the things I used to.” In high school he was a swimmer and had always been a very active person. “I really miss it (swimming),” he admits. “But now I channel my thoughts and feelings through art and photography.”

Robert is a patient with AdvisaCare who overcomes paralysis through the help of family, friends, caregivers and a positive attitude!

Photo courtesy of Robert Andy Coombs

Robert uses a digital camera tethered to a computer and a software program called Phase One, Capture One to take and edit photographs. “I had to figure out the right tools and technology for me. My rehab technician helped me find the equipment that would work best.” Robert uses Dragon Dictate to write papers and work on the computer and an iPhone 4S to text his friends. To get around, he uses a power wheelchair with a Jouse sip-and-puff joystick.

Robert has one more year to go before he finishes his degree. From there he is looking to either get a job in fashion photography or go on to grad school. “Eventually, I would like to be an art designer and creative director for fashion photography; designing the set, location, and lighting of shots professionally while still doing my own stuff on the side.” Robert has begun to build a following using Flickr and Facebook.

AzSCIA = Empowerment

I wanted to take a moment to give a shout out to an organization very near and dear to my heart; the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association. 

When I was first injured my family became involved almost immediately.  My mom sought out resources and brought in a peer mentor from AzSCIA so that I could ask questions and relate to someone.  At the time I was apprehensive about it, but once we started talking and sharing it was a pivotal moment in my life.  I needed someone who understood what I was going through and someone I didn’t need to be brave for.

Soon my parents signed up for family mentorship to help them navigate my new disability status and they found it hugely helpful.  Later that year I began the Empowerment series which not only taught me about spinal cord injuries but introduced me to a group of individuals who served as not only mentors but became friends.  I found real community and their guidance made that first year bearable.  Eventually my mother joined the Board of the Association and several years later I worked there as the Community Resource Specialist.

Moving Forward and Looking Back

Now that I have moved on I can’t help but look back fondly and wonder if my life would have been different had we not sought out the Association.  I would like to think I would still be where I am today, but they sure did make it easier.  So I just wanted to let you guys know about a few of their programs:

  • The Empowerment Class- a twelve week course with dinner and transportation provided, each class is a different topic related to paralysis.
  • Peer Mentoring Program- No matter how far you are past your injury you can always request a peer mentor who can help counsel you through life changes, visit you when you’re sick or just serve as a sounding board.
  • Social and Recreational Activities- Each month there are one or two fun events inspired just to get people out of the house and active.  This also includes getting involved in sports like rugby, fencing, basketball, tennis, power soccer etc.
  • Educational Classes- Check the calendar, there are two educational classes each month and transportation is provided
  • Transportation- low cost accessible transportation 365 days a year
  • Lending Closet- Books, wheelchairs, standing frames whatever you need the association probably has it check their first
  • Information and Referral- Have a question or need a doctor? Call and get up to date information
  • Chair Skill Classes- Twice a year they host a series of four classes that focus on wheelchair maintenance to navigating sidewalks, a great refresher course for rehab.

If you want to check them out go to www.azspinal.org or call 602-507-4209.  The biggest thing I’ve learned since my injury is that you can’t get answers if you don’t ask questions so contact your local Spinal Cord Injury Association today!

Coping with Traumatic Brain Injury

We don’t normally have to think about the brain and how it functions- it just does!  But what happens when that very critical part of your being gets injured and doesn’t work the same as it used to?  It can make life a bit more challenging.  After all, the brain is THE organ responsible for all of our experiences, emotions, expressions- EVERYTHING related to what makes us who we are.

Our brain is essentially our identity and to lose any part of it’s functioning due to an injury, disease, stroke, etc. can be devastating!   It can change our personality, alter our consciousness, and, if the brain is injured just right, render us unable to work or live unassisted.  But there is hope and there are many amazing people who have found ways to cope with their injury.  With the help of non-profits, support groups, and memory specialists as well as the TBI Guide, mentioned in an earlier post, people with TBI are learning that there are more options than ever before! Continue reading

Quality of Life & Independence

For many of us who strive every day to overcome our disabilities, seeking help seems to be the opposite of independence.  We have already lost enough of our abilities, so why would we want to give up control of basic daily activities to a helper?  It makes sense on the surface, however, this article from Craig Hospital makes a good point: when it comes to being self-sufficient, being able to everything does not mean you have to do everything. “Hang on to the activities that really matter to you, and delegate or negotiate away the ones that don’t.”

In other words, getting help with the basic daily activities such as getting dressed, fixing a meal, or keeping up with household chores should not be viewed as a cop-out. Rather, when it comes to doing what you love, ask yourself: Am I spending more time and energy on the unimportant things and less on doing what I want to do?  What is more valuable to you: being able to do live your life the way you want to or trying to do everything on your own?  When it came to being a good parent despite my disability, I had to ask my self this same question. Continue reading