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Spinal cord injury victims get support

Published: April 15, 2008  |  Source: sltrib.com

Lena Schoemaker has always been an athlete. She played varsity basketball and softball and ran cross country at West High. A big part of her life was being active.

But a car accident in 2006 nearly took that all away from her. She suffered a lacerated kidney and a collapsed lung and – most life-altering of all – she was left paralyzed from the chest down.

“You have to learn how to live in a totally different way,” Schoemaker, 18, said. “As far as getting exercise, I started doing [bicycle] spinning [classes] right away. TRAILS was encouraging me, almost forcing me to get back in it.”

TRAILS – Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles – helps those who have suffered serious spinal cord injures adjust to life after paralysis and to realize alternative opportunities to stay active.

“Rehab is such an artificial Environment, then you go home and have nothing. What is next? Often- times, they don’t know, and we just try to provide a little bit of a road map,” said Jeff Rosenbluth, the doctor who spearheaded the TRAILS program. “What is next? Oftentimes, they don’t know, and we just try to provide a little bit of a road map.”

“Rehab is such an artificial environment, then you go home and have nothing. What is next? Often- times, they don’t know, and we just try to provide a little bit of a road map,” said Jeff Rosenbluth, the doctor who spearheaded the TRAILS program. “What is next? Oftentimes, they don’t know, and we just try to provide a little bit of a road map.”

Schoemaker started with spinning, or riding a stationary bike. Only in this case, the bikes were retrofitted to be propelled by arms rather than legs. Her training led her to the Salt Lake City Marathon, which will take place Saturday. Seven members from the group will participate in the 26.2-mile handcycling event. For Schoemaker, it’s her biggest athletic challenge since suffering her injury.

“I’m looking to get back in that competitive nature and having that competitive edge,” Schoemaker said. “I’ve done 5Ks before, but a marathon is huge. I can just challenge myself.”

That’s exactly what TRAILS wants its members to do. The group eliminates all excuses from getting in the way of living a healthy, active lifestyle.

If a patient says there is no way to get to training, Rosenbluth said, they’ll find a way to get them there. If it’s too cold, Rosenbluth and his staff will put the handcycles indoors on stationary cycling bikes.

“They get people who think they can’t, get them out there,” said Cody Sperandeo, who is also participating in the handcycle event, “and prove them wrong.”

But, Sperandeo said, that isn’t the most beneficial aspect of TRAILS. Having a support system and meeting other people who have gone through the same things are just as important as the physical aspect of the rehab program, he said.

“It’s improved the quality of my life. That’s the thing with TRAILS. It’s not so much what they’re doing, but they’re just bringing people together,” Sperandeo said.

“The other people give you the encouragement you need. Without this group, I would just be another guy in my wheelchair, sitting in my room vegetating all day.”

Although the marathon is a big goal for the seven members of the TRAILS team, it isn’t the only one.

The team will participate in a 60-mile race through Yellowstone Park in October, and the X-Rides, a 40-mile road bike night ride in Nevada next month.

Said Sperandeo: “This is just the starting point.”

By Maggie Thach – The Salt Lake Tribune

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