Don’t Underestimate this Poker Face

by Wendy Crawford
Jillian Orrick
When one thinks of a experienced poker player, one doesn’t think of a young 27-year-old woman using a power wheelchair. It’s precisely that preconceived notion that Jillian Orrick banks on when she pulls up to the poker table.

Jillian sustained a C2 spinal cord injury from a car accident when she 19 months old, leaving her a quadriplegic.  Growing up in Middletown, NJ, she started playing poker when she was only in the single digits. Jillian’s nurse taught her how to play blackjack and “5 card” poker to get her mind off of how sick she was during the day. When she went away to college, her physical therapist taught her how to play “Texas Hold’em.”  During the rest of her college years, Jillian played for fun at least once a month at different people’s houses, all the while learning many poker skills. Jillian graduated from the University of Miami with a BBA, majoring in marketing and management, with an undying passion for poker!

Jillian Orrick interviews Jillian:

MW:  For those unfamiliar with the C2 level of the spine, could you please explain your injury level? What can you do independently? What do you need help with?
JO: A C2 level means that I have no feeling from the neck down. I can feel pressure/pain in my stomach and my back. I can move my head and have full brain function. Everything else in my daily life I need assistance with, from my 24-hour RN’s, family, and friends. The rare aspect of my injury is that I can breathe on my own without the assistance of a respirator.  It’s very difficult to sleep without a respirator, though, so I am on a Bi-pap machine, which gives me minimal help.

MW: You were injured at 19 months old and therefore grew up with a disability. Do you think that is different than acquiring a disability later in life?
JO: Definitely. I know people from both sides of this situation. I don’t remember what I lost. My friends who remember what it is to walk always tell me how fortunate I am that I don’t remember what it was like because they would prefer not to remember. 

MW:  What is a typical day like for you?
JO: My nurse wakes me up in the morning for my meds and my breathing treatment. I’m not a morning person, so I sleep into the early afternoon, but my nurse repositions me on my side every two hours so I don’t get any pressure marks or sores. When I wake up, I have a bath or shower, and then I get dressed.  My nurse disconnects my Bi-pap from my trach and I begin breathing on my own for the day. Then, I get transferred into my motorized wheelchair which allows me to drive through a sip and puff system.  My nurse brushes my hair, and then I decide how I want to style it. I brush my teeth and my nurse changes my trach sponge so I do not get any infections. During the later part of the afternoon or early evening, I wait for my physical therapist to come and exercise for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Before or after that, I do what everyone else does during a normal day. I watch TV, apply for jobs, do errands, pay bills, and complete the tasks of the day. Throughout the evening my nurses do range of motion to my upper and lower extremities.  Next I decide what I want to have for dinner and either tell the nurse how to make it or just nuke it like everyone else. At 8pm I get in bed for a few minutes to release pressure and get circulation flowing, and then I get back into the chair.  Around 11 o’clock, I get back into bed for the night.  I am a night owl, so I go to sleep between 2-3am, and that concludes my day.

MW: What do you do for fun, other than poker?
JO: I do pretty much what everyone else does, with some variation of course. I love going to sporting events, concerts, beach, bars, clubs, reading, sun/taning, going to the park, playing video games, painting, using the computer, watching TV, shopingp, amusement parks/rides, and baking/cooking.

MW:  Why do you like playing poker?  
JO: I love math and am able to do majority of calculations in my head.  Since I never wrote with my hands, my other senses are heightened, which allows me to read my competition very well. I love the excitement of going “all in” when you feel that you have the best hand.  I love to people-watch, so seeing everybody’s quirks and game playing techniques is very interesting to me.

Jillian with friend Jonathan Kane at poker tournament
 MW:   How often do you play?
JO: I play for free most of the time, whether it is on a video game, computer, or with friends. When I play for money, it’s usually once every 2-3 months, depending upon the antes.
MW:   When you attend poker events, are you the only woman with a disability?
JO: Usually, yes, which I love because they totally underestimate the skills I have, making it easier to pick off each competitor.

MW: Do you have assistance in order to play? Do you have any devices/props that you use to help maneuver the cards?
JO: My nurse or a friend holds my cards for me. I like to play just like everyone else.

MW:  Would you recommend playing poker for other disabled women? 
JO: I would recommend playing poker to all women. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t compete in poker. Sometimes it actually gives you an advantage against the men because we keep track of patterns and trends of each competitor and use the information that we acquired sporadically throughout the competition.

MW:  Do you have any poker tips for people just getting into the game?
JO: Yes, read books on how to play poker so you get insights on various techniques that you can use or modify to your own game. If you’re good at numbers, try learning how to calculate pot odds. Always go with your gut even if you have read something contradictory to what you want to play.

MW:  What are your dreams and hopes for the future? 
JO: I would love to work for a sports organization in their marketing department and then move on to doing commercials for various companies, especially for the Superbowl.  My other dream is that the scientists find a cure for paralysis, not just for me, but it will help cure other neurological and immune-compromised diseases.

MW:  What drives you to stay motivated and positive?
JO: My family has taught me to be positive as much as possible because you send out positive energy to everyone around you. I am fortunate enough to have a great support system that keeps me this way because I have met many people who unfortunately do not have the luxuries that I do. My friends show me that it’s okay to be disabled because most of the time I keep up with them with whatever aspect we are doing and sometimes I beat them! I’m not always motivated and positive because life throws you curve balls and depending upon how you swing at them you might not get the desired outcome.

MW: Anything else you would like to share with other mobileWOMEN?
JO: If you are able to get out and have some fun, do it! Even if it is just for a few minutes once in a while, you will see wonders on your mind, body, and soul.

Ethan Ruby and Poker4Life

Although most times Jillian plays for fun, she also competes in tournaments, which is how she become involved with the charity poker tournament, Poker4Life. There Jillian met world-class poker player, Ethan Ruby.

Ethan, a paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury, co-founded the innovative, fundraising concept, Poker4Life in 2005. After hosting many charity poker tournaments, Ethan realized how much of an impact poker can have in the world of charitable giving. Poker4Life was formed to harness “The Positive Power of Poker” by hosting charity poker tournaments to benefit all non-profit organizations. Their mission is to provide a forum for professional, celebrity and everyday poker players to come together and support causes they believe in while playing a game they enjoy. Poker4Life chose the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis as a beneficiary and it became the ideal event for Jillian. Not only can she play the game that she loves, but at the same time, she’s working towards fulfilling her ultimate dream by raising money to find a cure for paralysis! interviews Ethan Ruby:

MW: Are there many women with disabilities playing poker?
ER:  There are not many women playing poker period. This is unfortunate because, in my opinion and experience, a woman who understands the game of poker is much more dangerous than a man with the same skill set.  And a woman who understands men and poker will clean out a table most nights of the week!

Ethan Ruby and Jillian Orrick at Poker4Life event
MW:  What qualities does Jillian have that you admire?
ER: Jillian is a resilient, determined and energetic person.  She leads by example, a concept I have always tried to live my life around...Positive Energy. I have never seen her in a bad mood and she is always looking to get more involved in whatever new project or activity comes her way.  Living with a disability is tough on the body and the mind.  Jillian's mind is beautifully strong and genuinely kind....the first makes her a great poker player, the second makes her a great person.

MW: Would you recommend poker to other people with disabilities, especially women?
ER:  I recommend people with disabilities find something, anything that gives them time stopping experiences.  Psychologists call it "flow" and this concept has been proven to be one of the key components to living "a happy life." In addition, poker provides an equal playing field for all competitors and, in the disabled world, that reality is rare to participate in.  Poker is a great game that transcends culture, race, gender and physical ability.  It brings friends together for social games and provides income for the professional player. As long as you know where you stand and never risk more then you are comfortable losing, poker can be a wonderful outlet for our community.  I would definitely recommend poker to women as long as they found it fun and enjoyable.  Patience and discipline are two of the most important long term poker traits one must learn....and in that area, women certainly have an advantage over men.

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  1. Very inspirational story. Hope she could be a grand champion someday!


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