Category Archives: SCI Superstars

SCI Superstar: Luke Riley

Luke with his parents, and his sister Jillian.

A 10 year old from Grand Forks, North Dakota, Luke Riley is relatively new to living with a spinal cord injury, but he hasn’t let that stop him from being the sticking-out-his-tongue fun loving kid that he is. Whether it’s playing floor hockey or playing with his neighborhood friends, Luke and everyone in his life, from his friends to his family, show the world exactly how children with spinal cord injuries should be included. Read on to see exactly what we mean.

Why He’s Fearless

A fateful day in January of 2015 changed Luke’s life forever. While sledding with his neighborhood friends, he hit a snow fort that he and his friends built and broke his neck at the C5-6 level. After his injury, the entire Grand Forks community came out to raise money for him, raising thousands of dollars.

His mother Maureen is also physical therapist. While she never imagined her son would become a quadriplegic, she was prepared. “Luke is pretty much a textbook C5-6 quad,” she says. “He is strong in his shoulders, has some triceps and very little finger function, except some L thumb,” she adds. “He also uses a powerchair and goes as fast as he can.”

After his injury and returning home, his entire family, including his older sister Jillian, worked hard to help him get back in the swing of things. His neighborhood friends also worked hard, including Aria (who was in the winning photo), to stay in his life.

“My greatest fear following the weeks after his injury was that Luke would be alone and lonely. HA! He is surrounded by friends almost all of the time!” says Luke’s mom. “It’s amazing. I love this group of kids so, so much. We are grateful every day for them, especially Aria and Alex, who are Luke’s two closest friends. They play together every day and it is the best!”

Luke with his neighborhood friends.

What’s Next

Luke has transitioned back to a “normal” life like a champ, too. He says making friends after his injury has been “easy,” and he’s a huge fan of having a fearless attitude. “You have try different things to see if other things work better for you!” he says. “If you can’t do it, ask for help and eventually you will be able to do it yourself.”

Speaking of, Luke just tried a new sport. “He tried tried sled hockey for the first time a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. Hockey is HUGE around here,” says Maureen. “He also did his first 5k this year: Partially in his manual chair and partially in his power chair. It was awesome!”

“Luke has always been really diplomatic and a great observer as well,” she adds. “He often officiates the games at school and really likes that. He plans to be a lawyer and judge one day. He can find a loop-hole in any argument and is a master negotiator.” We love your career goal Luke!

As for advice for other parents with children injured at a young age, Maureen has this to say. “Remember that every child is different and that it is THEIR life, not yours,” she says. “Also, give them choices as you are able and empower them to be their own advocate if possible. And try to find joy in everything. Look for it and you will find it! Luke has taught US so much. He rarely complains and focuses on his strengths instead.”

Luke handcycling at the Spin for Kids fundraiser that raises money for children with special medical needs. Last year Jillian’s team was the top dollar raiser and Luke’s was 3rd.

Luke with his friends and family in a fundraiser run shortly after his injury.

Luke playing with his best friends Aria and Alex, and another friend.

SCI Superstar: Kristin Beale

Not everyone with a SCI is as determined as Kristin Beale was after her injury, but that is what makes Kristin so amazing. When she became paralyzed, she refused to accept the limitations doctors predicted she would face as a result of her “complete” injury, and she was intent on proving them wrong.

These days, you can just call her the Queen of Activity-Based Rehab, because that is what she utilized to gain more function than any medical doctor would have expected. And her accomplishments are impressive, from becoming a prolific hand cyclist to publishing a book.

Why She Shines

Growing up, sports were a huge part of Kristin’s life, with cheerleading and lacrosse as her favorites. But at 14 her life changed when she was involved in an accident on a lake in North Carolina. “I was involved in a jet ski accident in 2005 that resulted from driver inattention and a collision of two jet skis. I now have a T8 spinal cord injury,” she says. Beale also suffered a brain injury leaving her with short-term memory loss.

Following the accident, Kristin was rushed through the mainstream hospital and rehab process, but she was not happy with the traditional rehab experience and wanted something more. “Two weeks out of the hospital,” she recalls, “I flew to California for an intensive rehabilitation gym (four hours daily, five days per week) and came home with the ability to wiggle my toes.”

The gym, Project Walk, is a big proponent of activity-based rehab. But Kristin ended up switching rehab facilities after discovering Awakenings, another California rehab facility, where she learned how to crawl on her first visit. So impressed with the trainers there, Kristin returned to Awakenings seven more times.

She also discovered something else in rehab – adaptive sports. She tried adapted tennis, surfing, lacrosse, and a few others, but she was quickly drawn to hand cycling. She loves how the sport takes the pity out of the equation, instead leaving people impressed by her abilities. She has participated in seven marathons to date. Her first, the New York Marathon, was in 2011; her favorite is the Marine Corps Marathon.

To help pay for her to participate in hand-cycling events, Achilles International, a nonprofit for SCI athletes, has sponsored six of her hand-cycling experiences. Achilles International is an offshoot of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and does great things in the SCI/sports community.

What’s Next

It hasn’t been just gyms and marathoning in Kristin’s life. She fell in love with writing in high school, put it on hold after her injury, but has since picked it up again. She’s been a feature writer for Action Magazine, several newsletters and online blogs, and has also written a book. “My writing allows me to be more candid and honest that I’m ever able to in real life,” she says. “Partly because I’m a well-mannered girl and partly because the opportunity to express myself isn’t constant, a lot of perspective is lost.”

With my writing, I have a chance to express myself and record those perspectives,” she continues. “That’s a big reason why publishing a book is scary: people have privilege to however much of yourself you’re willing to expose which, in the case of my book, was everything.”

At the age of 26 last year, Greater Things was published. It chronicles Kristin’s life since her injury, specifically how sports have changed her life. It also gives a glimpse into her everyday life in hopes of giving the reader a deeper perspective about life with a spinal cord injury.

“I didn’t have the idea to make my writing into a book until recent years,” she says. “Since high school I was writing stories, editing them, and storing them in a folder on my computer for no one’s benefit. A Christmas gift to my family in 2014 was a self-published book of all those stories – organized into chapters and only intended to be a great Christmas gift. After I gave them the books, I had the small idea to make something more succinct. I wrote eight to 10 more stories, worked with a local editor, and developed the dream of a published book.”

After a year of pitching her manuscript, it was picked up by Morgan James Publishing. “My dreams came true in my writing becoming a book and in finding the perfect publisher,” Kristin says. Her book is now available at bookstores nationwide (link below).

Currently living in her first home in Richmond, Virginia, with her trusty dog Achilles by her side, Kristin is proud of how far she has come – and she has big writing dreams. “I would love to never go back to an office job, continue to publish books, and be on the Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she says. “Also, I would love to become a best-selling author and have someone make a movie of my story. Pretty typical dreams of an author.”

Have you written your life story What writing tips do you have for others with SCI who want to tell their life stories?

– Visit her official site: KristinBeale.com

– Buy her book on Amazon: Greater Things

Watch Videos of Kristin

Jet Ski Accident Victim Learns to Walk Again – Kristin Beale

Interview with Kristin Beale on “Overcoming Obstacles”

Motivational speech by Kristin