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Oct. 26, 2020

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Walking quadriplegic swims, participates in spinal cord injury group Wheel Connect

By , Columbian staff writer
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10 Photos
Christy Quinn uses a cane to walk. She had a career as a dental hygienist, but had to end her career due to the accident.
Christy Quinn uses a cane to walk. She had a career as a dental hygienist, but had to end her career due to the accident. She now jokes: “You wouldn’t want me holding a sharp instrument or giving you an injection and my hand freezes.” (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The water is Christy Quinn’s “saving grace” right now.

Two to three days a week, Quinn swims at the Cascade Athletic Club in Vancouver. Quinn has completed triathlons, half-marathons and marathons. Six years ago while participating in the six-day Tour de Wyoming cycling event, Quinn was severely injured.

She hit some metal debris in her spokes, then flipped headfirst over her bike onto the ground. She experienced a spinal cord injury, and was paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors were unsure if she’d be able to walk again.

“I don’t remember any of it. That’s just what I’ve been told,” said Quinn, a 59-year-old Camas resident.

Quinn eventually rehabilitated her way to walking again — she’s a walking quadriplegic. Now she gets around with the help of a cane, and she can swim. That’s become her main physical activity, and is a nice outlet for her.

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“I can’t balance, but in the water I don’t have to worry about that,” Quinn said. “I feel almost normal. It’s the only place that I pretty much feel that.”

Quinn also has one other key to recovery. She started the Clark County version of Wheel Connect — a group of people with spinal cord injuries that meets from about 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at Grains of Wrath, 230 N.E. Fifth Ave., Camas. The group, which will meet on Jan. 14, can be an outlet to share what it’s like living with a spinal cord injury, or just a fun way to spend time with friends.

“It reduces stress in my life because I can have conversations with people who truly understand what kind of pain I have or what it’s like,” Quinn said. “The challenges are unique, but there’s a lot of challenges. Having people to confide, laugh with, or people who truly understand each other, it’s a unique bond.”

The original Wheel Connect was founded in Portland by West Livaudais, who met Quinn through the Portland group. Livaudais works at Oregon Health & Science University in the office on disability and health.

Livaudais said that when a new person joins the group, everyone will usually share their background and information about their injury. But outside of that, it’s more of an opportunity to enjoy good company. Livaudais joked there’s plenty of “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” talk, although it’s family-friendly.

Livaudais mentioned that sometimes living with a disability can be portrayed in a way that’s supposed to draw pity, and explained that Wheel Connect is special in many ways because it’s simple, but important for those who attend.

“We’re normal people,” Livaudais said. “We don’t want accolades for just showing up and doing what other people would do.”

The first Wheel Connect meeting in Portland had about five to 10 people, Livaudais said. Now 10 to 20 people show up consistently to the group. Vancouver’s Wheel Connect has closer to five to 10 people, in general.

“Having a friend or somebody who understands the challenge of living with a spinal cord injury is one of the primary indicators of a good health outcome,” Livaudais said.

When Quinn showed up to Wheel Connect, she was somewhat worried because she considers herself more introverted and better one-on-one. She quickly realized the group was welcoming, even when she arrived with just a cane.

“The tricky part was going to Wheel Connect and I’m not in a wheelchair,” Quinn said. “It’s not about what device you use, it’s just about connecting with people, and supporting people.”

“We’re normal people,” Livaudais said. “We don’t want accolades for just showing up and doing what other people would do.”

The first Wheel Connect meeting in Portland had about five to ten people, Livaudais said. Now 10 to 20 people show up consistently to the group. Vancouver’s Wheel Connect has closer to five to 10 people, in general.

“Having a friend or somebody who understands the challenge of living with a spinal cord injury is one of the primary indicators of a good health outcome,” Livaudais said.

When Quinn showed up to Wheel Connect, she was somewhat worried because she considers herself more introverted and better one-on-one. She quickly realized the group was welcoming, even when she arrived with just a cane.

“The tricky part was going to Wheel Connect and I’m not in a wheelchair,” Quinn said. “It’s not about what device you use, it’s just about connecting with people, and supporting people.”

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