On July 11, 2014, the 25th anniversary of the spinal cord injury that left her a paraplegic, Jenny Smith plans a celebration. After all, she‘s come this far by faith. And though she travels by wheelchair, she travels fast and misses little.

A summary of what she’s done in the last 25 years makes weary many who are able-bodied.

At age 16, Smith was so skilled in gymnastics that she was chosen to compete in the Junior Olympics. She was a cheerleader, a keyboardist for a Christian band, a varsity volleyball player and an all-A student whose life overflowed with promise. A simple slip on a flip that she’d done a thousand times broke her neck in July 1989, causing permanent paralysis.

As she lay in the dew-tipped grass that morning, unable to move, Smith suspected she had a serious spinal cord injury. After two weeks in the hospital and 2 ½ months in rehabilitation, she set out to build a life on what she had left.

“There was a two- to three-year period of accepting my injury and moving on, but I soon refocused on doing everything in the chair,” Smith said.

Friends made the transition easier.

Smith’s room at the hospital was always full. Once she was home, friends stopped by to pick her up, threw her chair in the car and took her everywhere, sometimes carrying her up flights of stairs.

Building a life meant Smith kept saying yes.

“God’s done some pretty amazing things in the last 25 years,” she said. “And I believe the future will be just as good.”

Smith graduated early from high school, earned a master’s degree in counseling and psychology at the University of Louisville, was crowned Miss Wheelchair Kentucky, took to the runway 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, El Salvador and other places that cannot be named because they are dangerous for believers.  

She plays wheelchair tennis, played rugby for four years and has been rowing for 10 years to keep her upper body strong.

For the last five years, she has used her counseling skills at a local nonprofit to ensure workers stay emotionally and spiritually healthy as they serve around the world.

For a long time, she spent about 10 weeks a year in some rugged places around the world. Though she hasn’t traveled that much in the last couple of years, she continues to collect used wheelchairs for distribution in developing countries and hopes to take some mission trips soon.

She trusts God for the future, saving for retirement, yet knowing that it will be difficult.

“I guess my retirement plan is Jesus coming back,” she said.

Jenny Smith’s Top 10 moments in the past 25 years

  1. Beginning to drive again three years after my injury. (1992)
  2. Representing Kentucky in the Miss Wheelchair America pageant. (1998)
  3. Being invited to play tennis by Judy Petty and playing a sport for the first time after my injury. (2000)
  4. Going zip-lining in Costa Rica through the rainforest with my then-82-year-old grandma, Betty Carter. (2006)
  5. Experiencing Afghanistan: the people, the culture. It’s a love/hate relationship due to the difficulty of being there.
  6. Buying my own condo and living independently. (2007)
  7. Being a “roll model” during Fashion Week in NYC. (2007)
  8. Becoming Aunt Jenny. (2008)
  9. On a 24-hour layover in Paris, having a picnic dinner on the Seine River with a view of Notre Dame with Southeast-supported missionary Kaki Ussury. (2012)
  10. Accomplishing a goal of rowing to the Louisville Water Tower (a four-mile-row). (2013)