Jenny Addis is the picture of a normal life turned upside down, but she is coming out better and stronger because of it.
"No one believes tragedy can hit their home. We have this mindset that it happens to other people, not to ourselves, our loved ones or someone we know. I was living a life that seemed perfect and what most people would call 'normal,'" the Muskego native said.
"Until that unimaginable tragedy struck me and my family's lives. I learned very quickly just how real and fragile we really are," Addis added. "How life can change in just the blink of an eye, no matter how 'normal' it is."
The night of March 16, 1997, after hosting a bachelorette party at Kelley's Bleachers 2 in Wind Lake, for her future sister-in-law, Addis' world changed forever.
She was picked up after the party by a designated driver, but on the way home on Racine Avenue, the driver started driving erratically at a high rate of speed and decided to pass another vehicle on the right shoulder. Their truck began to fishtail, and lost traction going up and over a ditch, rolling several times before smashing into a tree. It landed upside down and Addis was ejected out of the vehicle.
She remembers waking up at Froedtert Memorial Hospital in Wauwatosa in the intensive care unit to find out she was paralyzed from the chest down. Her designated driver, "my high school sweetheart and fiancé, walked away unscathed. His blood alcohol content was 0.21, more than two times the legal limit," she explained.
Overcoming a tragedy
Although the suddenness of her fate left her stripped from her "normal" life and independence, Addis, who now lives in Waushara County, said she is now in a much better place in her life.
"It would've been so easy to quit, struggle after struggle; obstacle after obstacle, but I chose to fight the fight instead. Today, I am living life as a thriving C5-C6 quadriplegic. I know this sounds almost impossible, but my life has changed in a positive direction and in many amazing ways," she explained.
Addis was crowned Miss Wheelchair Wisconsin 2000-01, and the experience led her to take on the role of motivational speaker, with the platform of "the consequences of drinking and driving." She also plays an active role and volunteers within the community for such organizations as the Fashion Show for All Abilities, Ice Age Trail Alliance, and the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation (BRPF). She is also an advice columnist for the online magazine, mobileWOMEN.org. Her efforts brought her a earlier this year.
"In my free time, I participate in adaptive water skiing, kayaking, hiking, boating, traveling and like most girls, shopping," she said. "Recently, I attended a shooting sports workshop for women with disabilities and learned how to shoot a rifle and crossbow. My number one role in life is being an auntie to my six nieces and nephews."
Fundraising run set for October
Addis reached out to Patch to help spread the word on her personal crusade against drinking and driving, but also to lend support to a local fundraiser for spinal cord injury. A board member for the BRPF for more than 12 years, she will be a part of the group's annual Run to Cure Paralysis at Carroll University in Waukesha on Oct. 7.
For the past eight years, Carroll University's Health Sciences Department has provided wellness activities for individuals experiencing chronic disease and disability. The run/walk/roll is a combined effort with Carroll University and the BRPF to raise both money and awareness for individuals with paralysis.
"I met Bryon and the Riesch family shortly after Bryon's spinal cord injury. We had an immediate connection and there was no doubt that this friendship was going to last a very long time," she said. "Bryon and I share many commonalities and the biggest being that we do not want to be defined by our so called disability and what we can't do."
Riesch's life was also altered on April 25, 1998 when the Marquette University student was involved in s devastating accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his arms.
"We are perfect examples of how spinal cord injuries do not discriminate. That's the key to our stories...we had everything and within seconds lost something we all need...our health, which is something not sold in stores," Addis said.
Run to Cure Paralysis
When: Sunday, Oct. 7
Registration: 8 a.m.
Run/Walk/Roll Begins: 9 a.m.
Where: Carroll University Schneider Stadium, 240 N. Barstow St., Waukesha
To sign up and for more information, visit www.brpf.org
To learn more about Jenny's story visit www.InspirationSpeaks.me.
To schedule her for your next event or to speak at your school or college: Email Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find Jenny on Facebook: This Is How I Roll or www.facebook.com/jaddis1