Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Gym Paralympian

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Gym Paralympian

Article excerpt

Jennifer French's ongoing journey from tragedy to mobility benefits from adaptive outdoor gym

Imagine enjoying a sunny day on the slopes, sliding down the side of a mountain on your snowboard. One moment you're feeling free and in control - the next, you've hit a patch of ice and careened into a stand of trees. That's the last thing entrepreneur, paralympian and quadriplegic Jennifer French remembers before waking in a hospital bed to learn she'd suffered a severe spinal-cord injury. "At that point, your life just stops," French says - but only for a time. Today, French is a role model to thousands of people of all ability levels, from her Olympic sailing fans to the folks she trains with at her neighborhood park's adaptive outdoor gym.

In 1998, when French worked for one of the many dot-com startup companies that fed the tech boom, her motto was "work hard, play hard." Her company had just gone public, and to celebrate, "Two dozen of us rented this slope-side house for the weekend to snowboard and have fun," French says. This type of fast-paced recreation was a big part of French's life. She and her then-boyfriend, now her husband, frequently went wind surfing and boating up the coast of New England, where the pair lived at the time. But, after her accident, French's active pursuits were put on hold in favor of mastering tasks she previously took for granted. "You have to relearn everything," she says.

"Brushing your teeth, getting out of bed, driving - there was a big learning curve for all that. At the time [I was going through my physical therapy], I was also introduced to adapted sports and therapeutic recreation through Northeast Passage out of the University of New Hampshire." There, French saw the world of active recreation reopen to her, along with the realization that with work and dedication, she could regain much of the mobility she previously enjoyed.

In 1999, French underwent surgery to implant a Functional Electrical Simulation (FES) neural prosthetic system, which would allow her to stand and even walk short distances. She and her husband moved to Ohio to take part in clinical trials for the implants, and in 2001, they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where they currently reside. Nearby Azalea Park marks a longstanding stop in her journey toward health, fitness and increased mobility. There, an adaptive fitness zone, courtesy of Greenfields Outdoor Fitness, offers an array of high-quality gym equipment that French can use from her wheelchair. "Typically when those of us in wheelchairs go to a traditional gym, there isn't much equipment for us to use," she says. "Mostly all that is available I could have at home - free weights, Thera-Bands, medicine balls. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.