Camas resident overcomes great odds to walk again
Christy Quinn has lived her life as an active adult and an athlete participating in multiple sporting events including marathons, bike races, and even the Ironman Triathlon (Wisconsin 2010). She was a member of LaCamas Swim and Sport Club, and has even competed in some Masters Swimming meets. Teammate Stephen Darnell recalls swimming a relay with Christy at the MAC Club swim meet in 2009. Coincidentally, she also happened to be his dental hygienist for sixteen years.
However, in the summer of 2012 her life changed in an instant. She and other riders from Camas participated in the six day Tour de Wyoming cycling event, a 360 mile organized bike ride. Traveling in a pace-line at 27mph on the third day of the ride, she hit some road debris which flew into her front wheel spoke. She was thrown from her bike flipping over the handle bars, stopping the fall first with her head and then her body. The accident left her with a cervical spinal cord injury. “I woke up paralyzed from the sternum down including my arms and hands,” says Christy. “I don’t remember any of it, that is just what I was told.”
Following a few weeks in ICU in Pocatello, Idaho, and then two months at RIO rehab in Portland, she came home adjusting to life as a quadriplegic. “My career was over as a dental hygienist, my competitive spirit and ability as a triathlete was done, and well pretty much everything in my life changed, but I was alive! My faith, my husband, and my family carried me through this tumultuous time in my life. I began to gain some feeling in my toes, then legs, and eventually with a ton of physical therapy and determination I was able to move out of my wheelchair to a walker. I progressed to arm crutches and today, seven years later, I can walk with a cane. The doctors couldn’t say whether I would ever walk again, or what I could expect to regain, but I never gave up. I couldn’t give up. These last years have been a journey, testing my faith, my patience and challenging me to re-focus and find a new identity.”
Through it all, the one place where Christy feels at home is in the water. “I don’t really have to balance in the water. Balance is the most difficult for me because I have about 70% muscle/nerve connection which makes walking difficult. Swimming is so relaxing and is the only activity that gets my heart rate up, unlike any amount of walking. My nerve pain also decreases some in the water. I almost feel normal. It’s pretty much the only place I feel like that.” Quinn swims regularly at Cascade Athletic Club in Vancouver. She uses a snorkel which allows her to swim without turning her neck. Not turning her neck helps her avoid pain and overuse of neck muscles. It is her main source of exercise and she credits it with helping her regain some of her mobility. “A walking quadriplegic, that’s what they call me” says Christy.
Since her injury, Christy returned to college and completed a bachelor’s degree in Leadership and Ministry at Multnomah University. “If I couldn’t use the muscles in my body, I could at least use the muscles in my brain.” She was able to continue work at her previous dental office using administrative skills, and she continues to volunteer at New Heights Dental Clinic. Participating in a spinal cord injury community while learning to live life with a disability also encourages her. “Connecting with others who have disabilities has been instrumental in my healing emotionally and physically. The need to share stories, lean on each other, and learn from each other has been something I have been longing for from the beginning of my injury. One of the biggest lessons for me in all of this is the importance of community, which is a bit of a challenge for an introvert such as myself.”
Although life is more challenging for Christy she notes that there are many joys too. Within the past year she has become a grandparent to two beautiful grand-babies. “I have the privilege of caring for these two precious babies frequently. Grand-parenting isn’t what I had pictured before my accident, as I saw myself taking the kids on bike rides and doing a lot of running and physical activities. I can say now that I’m really good at crawling and they love that “Grammy” is often on the floor playing. It is just a different pace now, and I can’t wait to take them swimming, with some help of course :)”
Writers note: The one thing that always stands out to me about Christy is her smile. It is beautiful and she is always wearing it.