Jenny Smith was 16 when she slipped on wet grass during a roundoff back handspring layout July 11, 1989, and broke her neck and injured her spinal cord. Her life as a Junior Olympian gymnast? Gone. Cheerleader, keyboardist for a Christian band, varsity volleyball player, straight-A student with promise. Also gone.
For a time.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, prayed Smith would walk and run again. That miracle never happened, but what happened in the next 32 years could be described as miracle territory.
After 32 years in a wheelchair, Smith gives the key to facing tough days: “Live the Impossible.” It’s the title of her new book released July 11, the anniversary of her injury.
The book is available at the Southeast Bookstore, Carmichael’s Bookstore and Amazon.com.
It’s not about spinal cord injury, though that’s included. It’s not a glossy picture of what life is like as a quadriplegic. Smith talks raw and real about living beyond boundaries of challenges, doing hard things and saying “yes” to the impossible.
It is for everyone.
“I didn’t think I’d ever compete as an athlete again. I wouldn’t play tennis or rugby, row in a regatta or live on my own. I’ve learned to never say never,” Smith said.
What Smith has done in a chair is enough to make the able-bodied weary. And though she travels by wheelchair, she travels fast and misses little.
Smith graduated early from high school, earned a master’s degree in counseling and psychology at the University of Louisville, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky, modeled for a charity fashion event in New York, served as vice president of a nonprofit and has taken more than a thousand wheelchairs to Afghanistan, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Early Saturday mornings, you’ll find her rowing on the Ohio River. She plays tennis, rugby, climbs rock walls, ziplined in Costa Rica, writes, blogs, is a motivational speaker, content creator on YouTube and works fulltime for a nonprofit.
None of it is easy. All of it is possible.
“God gave me a future and a hope,” Smith said. “I had to learn that living in a wheelchair didn’t limit who I was or what I was capable of doing. I learned to live outside my comfort zone. The impossible rarely happens where it’s safe and comfortable.”
Smith’s story includes hard chapters. She tells the gritty truth about life as a quadriplegic. But she also writes about tangible hope that does not disappoint, learning to take risks and learning from others.
Smith didn’t do it alone. Friends pushed her to hope. One showed her how to put on mascara though her hands didn’t work. Another abandoned her one night to force her to get ready for bed by herself. She learned it was possible to drive, earn degrees, work and live independently in her own home, get a great job, lead and mentor others.
Looking back, Smith is not sure she’d trade what happened after her injury.
“An easier life doesn’t mean a better life,” Smith said. “I’ve learned to say ‘yes’ even when it scares the heck out of me. I’ve learned not to say, ‘That’s impossible’ because life has taken me to places I never dared to imagine.”
She doesn’t like the words “inspiring” or “hero.” But that’s who you’ll find in the pages of her book.
Steve Craig met Smith in Afghanistan.
“Once when Jenny was visiting Kabul, when she was leaving our office, she gently and confidently guided me how to lift, carry and place her in the front seat of a van,” Craig said. “When I read ‘Live the Impossible,’ Jenny did this again and again. She gave me courage as she told how she is uncovering and discovering what she can do, where she can go and who she is. Let’s live the impossible with God, too!”
Learn more about Jenny Smith at www.jennysmithrollson.com.