Jessica’s Style: Thriving as an Athlete & Advocate in the Quadriplegic Community

JESSICA

Currently, Jessica’s biggest passion is playing rugby.  In fact, she dedicates five days each week to an intense training program for the BC Provincial Wheelchair Rugby team.

  “It’s not just about rugby; it’s about being surrounded by people who are in my situation and doing incredible things with their lives. It shows me that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  An accident may change your physical ability, but it doesn’t have to ‘take’ anything from you.”

When Jessica was 15, she was working for a house painting company as a summer job. While doing some prep work on the second storey of a house, she fainted and fell off a ladder.

“I broke my neck, so I’m a quadriplegic now. After the accident, I was in the hospital for 3 weeks, and went through rehabilitation for 5 months. In the beginning, it was about coming to terms with a new life and learning how to do everything all over again. It was about coming to terms with how I perceived myself, and also how others perceived me.”Jessica recently marked the 8 year anniversary of her injury.

“Over the past few years, I have been finding things that make this life meaningful for me. I had a hard time recognizing that a person in a wheelchair can do all the things that an able-bodied person can do. I thought I was going to have to give up a lot of my passions and a lot of my hobbies…instead, I have found new hobbies and passions that are just as meaningful to me.”

Photo courtesy of Erin Wild Photography
Photo courtesy of Erin Wild Photography

In addition to her impressive athletic achievements, Jessica also just graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. During her spare time, she unleashes her incredible creative talents through cake decorating and writing. She also offers her time to volunteer for organizations such as BC Wheelchair Sports and the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Jessica has also modelled for cosmetic brand Lise Watier as the face of their Something Sweet perfume campaign. As the “first person with quadriplegia to act as a beauty ambassador for Lise Watier,” Jessica shared that this was an opportunity to be an advocate for disability and “tell people that someone in a wheelchair is capable of doing these kinds of things even though it’s not something that you would expect [to see].”

Jessica modelling for Lise Watier's Something Sweet Campaign
Jessica modelling for Lise Watier’s  as the face of their Something Sweet perfume campaign. Photo courtesy of Donat Photography.

When I asked Jessica if she dresses to accommodate to any health challenges, she shared three main changes she has made over the years:

  • Boots: Jessica explained that a key part of her style is wearing boots throughout the year. Swelling in her leg and ankle from a blood clot a few years ago influenced this decision, but now she “loves to wear boots with everything.”
  • Leggings > Jeans: Flexible fabrics are important to Jessica so that she can easily maneuver “getting into and out of clothing in the chair.” For this reason, she prefers to wear leggings. Jeans can feel uncomfortable, especially if they have pockets and buttons.
  • Bundle up in style: During the winter, Jessica wears leather jackets that keep her warm and help to regulate her body temperature. Not only are these jackets fashionable, but they are also durable and tough enough to “drag on [her] wheels.”

 Jessica describes her resulting style as “fun, bright, colourful, and girly,” noting that her favourite pieces (especially dresses!) have come from the Betsey Johnson store in Vancouver.

“Being a wheelchair rugby player,” she explained, “you’re sort of expected to be that rough and tough personality.  I definitely try to be totally opposite to that outside of rugby.”

Her jewelry pieces are also gorgeous, carrying heartwarming significance.

“I go for themed pieces. This starfish necklace is one of my favourites. It’s inspired by the Starfish story, which I find so meaningful.”

 

Jessica’s earrings were thoughtfully made for her by her sister.

“They are made from sea glass, which reminds me that my sister and I grew up on a sailboat together.”

Quick Questions with Jessica:

What is something that others may be surprised to learn about you?

I grew up on a sailboat, and I sailed around the world as a child. That was how I spent four years of my childhood, and I travelled to 37 different countries. Since my accident, I have done a lot of travelling, and that’s something that I take pride in. It’s challenging at times, but I have found ways to make everything work.

 What has helped you emotionally along this journey?

Right after my accident, I was super focused on rehab and proving to everyone else that I was going to be okay. I was so busy and caught up in life.  I definitely believed that I would walk again in the beginning. It was only a couple years after, when I had really settled in to my life and come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be walking again that it actually really hit me. Through that time, it was largely the support of family and friends that helped me. Also, finding things that gave life meaning again was important…finding things I could be passionate about. Rugby was a big part of that. Discovering a community of people that were in similar situations was special.

Where do you find that people stumble with their understanding of quadriplegia and using a wheelchair?

Generally, I think that people assume you’re not capable of a lot of things that you are capable of. I live a completely independent life. There is nothing that I do on a daily basis that I cannot do on my own. Even just getting in and out of my car, people will run up and ask, “Do you need help?” I know that people are being nice. And I say, “No, I’m okay,” but oftentimes people will just grab my chair and pull it away. That actually makes it harder for me [to get into my car] because I have a whole system to do it. It’s like I have to explain: “I do this every day…several times a day,” and I think people have a hard time understanding that I am capable of a lot more than they assume.

Have there been similar misunderstandings in the world of elite wheelchair sports?

People often don’t recognise that there are wheelchair sports at the Paralympic level. It seems to be to the extreme:

Photo courtesy of Erin Wild Photography
Photo courtesy of Erin Wild Photography

It’s either that people think I’m not capable of anything, or they look at people like me who are doing things and they say, “You’re so inspiring.” It’s a word that’s overused. I don’t think it’s inspiring that I get out of bed and leave the house in the morning. When I recently went to go play at a tennis court, I heard things like, “Oh, it’s so great to see you out here!” and “Wow, you’re so inspiring!” And I thought, “Are the people next to us playing tennis also inspiring you? No, not really.”

It’s recognizing that yes- people in wheelchairs are capable of doing things that are inspiring- but, being alive and existing doesn’t make us that way. That word needs to be a bit less used in some circumstances.

 What changes would you like to see in that respect?
I would like to see more awareness around disability, our capabilities, and accessibility in general around the community. It’s important to recognize that there is a need for that so we can live more independently.

What are you most excited about?

I’m excited about life in general. I’m definitely excited to see where ruby will take me. As opportunities come, I try to say yes.  I’m living my life to the fullest while being an advocate for disability and for myself, changing people’s perceptions as I go.

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Jessica’s resilience and determination is truly admirable. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to celebrate her vibrant spirit, her fun style, and her perseverance in continuously leaping outside of her comfort zone to pursue her passions, talents, and hobbies. When I asked her what she is most proud of, she smiled.

“I’ve reached the point where I wouldn’t change my life if I could. I wouldn’t take the accident back.  I’m happy that I’ve taken all the opportunities that have come my way because others may not have chosen to do the same in my situation. The fact that I’ve gotten to this point is something that I’m proud of. And that’s not something I have said before!”