By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
Six years ago, the future seemed bright for Jake French of Beaverton, Oregon. He had just finished a University of Idaho degree and was pursuing a government forestry career. One night back then after partying with friends, he stopped at a local gas station, where he ran into an old friend.
Said 29-year-old French, “So we talked for about a minute. Then when I turned my back on him, and he thought he would be funny and put me in a full-nelson headlock. He was just goofing around. We both had been drinking. We fell forward and hit the pavement with his body on top of me. I broke my neck at the sixth vertebra.”
He initially spent three months in a hospital, where he was unable at first to move anything except his head. Today, French has paralysis from the collarbone down, can use about half his arm muscles, and can drive a vehicle with some assistance. He said he has full use of his shoulders and can use his hands “a little.”
“Having an amazingly supportive family is what got me through,” he said. “I grew up around pragmatic people, such as loggers and farmers. Right off the bat, my family and I had this 'it is what it is' approach.”
In terms of work, French post-accident still wanted a productive career. Naturally, he thought of doing something in the natural resources field until about a year post-injury when he developed chronic nerve pain—pain that would have made a 9-5 desk job impossible to tolerate. His uncle urged him on to a career as a motivational speaker, for which French authored the book, “Life Happens, Live It!”
Today, his future is still bright. He said, “The message I've been spreading (as a motivational speaker) is for people (going through difficulties) to begin changing their life story. What I mean by that personally is my wheelchair used to be the reason I gave for not doing what I loved, such as hunting, fishing, and camping. We all can get addicted to what we can't do. But now I look at my wheelchair as the reason for being able to hunt, fish, and camp. I do those things now, but have to do them differently. I no longer look at the wheelchair as the reason I can't do them, but the reason I can.”
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