“Even though I went through the normal grief cycle, I doubt the sting ever really goes away, because the disability is just always there,” says Jason Regier, a C5-6 quad. Between serving as the head coach of Denver’s wheelchair rugby team and his work as a professional speaker and consultant, the 44-year-old, three-time Paralympian medal winner has come a long way since he was injured 22 years ago.
“My first year was monumental. I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he says. “The next few years gave me some glimmers of good — mastering a task, a good talk with a friend. By five years, the disability was my new normal. I think we’re always trying to figure out who we are.”
His early struggles coping with the sting included a bit of denial and acting. “I might have talked a good game, telling friends, family and myself that things were good and I was making progress, but I realized I was depressed and my situation sucked.” His saving grace was curiosity: “Despite my situation, it was still an amazing world to live in, and I knew I’d be foolish not to be part of it.
“I was fortunate to have so many positives in my life. My family was very supportive and I lived in Denver, where I did my rehab. I had lots of friends here. I had things to hold onto.”
Following injury, rugby became his focus. “Rugby really expanded my world. I got to travel internationally and gain a broader perspective. I recognized how privileged I was as a white male in this country. I realized my situation wasn’t terrible and that work was possible. Without that something,” he says, “the injury can eat at you.”
Seeing the world while traveling for rugby also had a profound impact. “Travel opened my eyes to racism and places where people with disabilities aren’t even fourth-class citizens. Disability is always humbling, but I realized I was better off in a chair than most nondisabled people in the world. It all helped me focus on the positives.”
He knows his persistence has helped him come a long way, but the sting still creeps in. “Back in rehab even small steps like brushing my teeth could provide some forward traction. Now bad days seem to happen when I’m alone, dealing with the same stuff over and over. That’s when I have to get something positive going to not get too far down.”’
Image credit: Photo by Author