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Jesi Stracham: breaking barriers and paving the way
By Pauline Mackenzie

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I think my favourite thing about being a paralyzed athlete is that I’m breaking barriers and paving the way in sports, showing people with disabilities that it can be done and then reaching out to the non-disabled community to say, hey, you can come help us do this.”

She’s not your average athlete, nor is she content with merely inspiring others. Jesi Stracham is on a mission to motivate, empower and break down barriers in the most extraordinary way possible. Hers is a remarkable spirit that finds its greatest joy in shattering barriers and illuminating the path for those who may doubt their capabilities. In 2015, her life took an unexpected turn when an accident left her paralyzed. Instead of succumbing to despair, she embraced a life of activity and purpose.

Discovering the power of community

Even before her life-altering accident, Jesi understood the therapeutic value of exercise, a sanctuary for her mental well-being and a source of unyielding strength. However, it was in the world of adaptive sports that she uncovered something even more profound—community. Jesi passionately emphasizes the power of embracing communities. Camaraderie develops, bonds that transcend physical limitations and resources are at your fingertips. “The community,” she says, “offers resources and support beyond imagination, reminding us that we need each other more than we realize.”

In February 2017, a fall in a hotel room prompted Jesi to share her story on YouTube. The response was overwhelming, leading her to leverage the power of the closely connected digital world and the communities that reside there, to inspire hope in others—motivating individuals to find opportunities in every obstacle even after life’s most daunting challenges.

Adaptive sports and fitness

After her accident, Jesi had to approach fitness and sports differently, but her love for them never waned. Instead, her fervor was renewed as she passionately embraced adaptive sports. She has participated in water skiing, wheelchair motocross championships, rock climbing, road hand cycling, wheelchair curling, weightlifting, adaptive CrossFit coaching, and more. About her once favourite Tough Mudder, she says, “I can no longer participate in Tough Mudder events due to repeatedly breaking my spinal fusion. I’ve undergone multiple revision surgeries, and while Tough Mudder used to be my favourite activity, I currently find powerlifting and weightlifting to be more enjoyable.” Jesi takes pleasure in pushing her strength limits. “Now, I’m able to lift my suitcase into the car with ease,” she says. One of the exercises she loves to focus on involves lifting a barbell from the ground to her lap. “I can perform these tasks effortlessly now, including grabbing items from the table and placing them back. Strength training has become essential for me as it directly impacts my independence. The stronger I become, the more I can accomplish in my daily life.” And the more she can help others to improve theirs, which she does through coaching.

Wheel With Me Adapt Fit revolution

Through the Wheel With Me Foundation, which she founded, Jesi boldly declares her mission to empower wheelchair users, promote independence and help them to be reintegrated into society. The Foundation hosts empowering events, encouraging wheelchair users to unlock their full potential including mindset calls on Zoom to showcase what’s out there, remind them about what they can accomplish.  “We’ve had a variety of presentations, from actors to advocates, tips on how to build a resume, how to get a job, how to become a sexual being again,” she says. “We literally dive into the ins and outs of being an independent wheelchair user—independent as someone with full-functioning ability. The ultimate goal is to encourage people to get out in society, into the community, be able to live their life and not have their disability hold them back more than it has to.”

But Jesi goes further. She believes collaboration is the key to creating lasting change. “If you want to see change, you got to be the change and it’s easier to do that as a group than individually,”  said Stracham, so she partnered with Nikki Walsh on the recently launched Wheel With Me Adapt Fit app, (a remake of her initial Wheel With Me Fitness app), taking a monumental step towards promoting fitness and strength among wheelchair users with fun, seated exercises.

Nikki and Jesi also run a Wheel with Me Adapt Fit Facebook group doing weekly workouts and they organize in-person events in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We have something called Fit With Friends where we partner with local personal trainers and occupational therapists for inclusive fitness at a gym in Charlotte. We host that once a month.” In-person community building continues quarterly at a brewery in Charlotte where wheelchair users just hang out, sing karaoke and have a good time. Jesi explained, “Community made me realize what I was capable of and how much I sold myself short.  It made me stop making excuses because of my disability and this opened up my mind to how powerful I truly am and how powerful we are, together.”

Travel

In the past eight years, Jesi has embarked on numerous flights and her wheelchair sustained damage on three separate occasions. She believes this figure is low, especially when compared to some of the alarming stories recently heard in news reports. While acknowledging that airlines have room for improvement in handling wheelchairs, she emphasizes the importance of not allowing the fear of wheelchair damage to deter anyone from travelling and living their life to the fullest. Hotels, however, present a distinct set of challenges. She has found that accessible hotel rooms frequently fall short in terms of true accessibility, particularly with regard to shower facilities. She recently addressed this issue in a video, highlighting the impractical placement of shower controls. She acknowledges the inevitability of encountering barriers and attributes this to the fact that the world was not originally designed with people with disabilities in mind. However, Jesi remains optimistic that by speaking out and raising awareness of what’s lacking, universal design principles can become the norm. She had the opportunity to deliver a keynote speech in Sweden earlier this year and commends them for being at the forefront of progress in this regard. Their regulations ensure that any newly built home in the country must meet accessibility standards.

Unleashing the potential within

Jesi’s unwavering commitment to fitness and her tireless advocacy efforts are closely intertwined with her dedication to self-empowerment and the cultivation of mindful nutrition habits. She views these pursuits as vitally important and pursues them with relentless determination. Instead of seeking external validation, Jesi has shifted her focus towards granting herself the permission to dream and accomplish her aspirations. Central to her transformative journey are the personal development books she avidly consumes, with Jesi firmly believing in the transformative power of reading just ten pages a day for profound personal growth.

Her unwavering faith in a larger mission serves as her guiding light, allowing her to stay resolute in pursuing her goals even during the most challenging days. Her driving force stems from her profound desire to positively impact the lives of others. Rather than fixating on the elusive quest for balance, Jesi encourages us to adapt to life’s constant fluctuations and navigate its challenges with grace. By embracing the natural ebb and flow of life, she firmly believes that we can maintain a positive self-image and avoid the feelings of inadequacy that often accompany the relentless pursuit of balance.

Shattering barriers and achieving goals within the world of adaptive sports, fitness, nutrition and self-empowerment—this is the path Jesi pursues while passionately nurturing a community of those who share her aspirations.

wheelwithmeadaptfit.com

jesistracham.com

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