Quimby: I studied molecular biology, and I was really interested in strawberry research. When I was 13- and 14-years old, I worked on a strawberry farm here in Maine.
Question: How did you become a ski instructor?
Quimby: I had snow-skied all my life. I also skied on the ski and board team at the University of New Hampshire, in addition to being a ski instructor. Skiing gave me the feeling of being free. I liked it, because it was an independent sport that I could do on my own whenever I wanted to ski. I also liked the adrenaline rush I got when I skied down a steep slope over bumps and hills and became airborne. At that moment, I was flying, which was one of the greatest sensations in the world. Skiing, my favorite thing in the world to do, was so exhilarating.
At the time, I had already completed 30-back flips on my skis and enjoyed flying forward, straight ahead and upside down and pushing the envelope. I loved the thrill of challenging myself just to see what I could do. The people I hung out with had that same zest for life as I did. A group of us would get together and just go skiing for fun on the weekends and sometimes during the week.
My favorite trail to ski was a double-diamond trail, the steepest and the most-technical slope at the ski resort. I loved that feeling I got when I came down that slope of, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going so fast I am almost out of control.” I really liked skiing on the edge of my ability as well as skiing on that edge of being in and out of control. I’m not a person who has ever done drugs or alcohol. Skiing was my personal stress release and my vehicle to get high on life. Skiing was in fact my “mountain high,” and I never dreamed it could be taken away from me.
Question: Monica, tell us about the most memorable day of your life.
Quimby: On January 28, 2006, the day started off really strange with temperatures in the warm 50s, which was unusual weather for Maine in January. Although the conditions on the ski slopes were slushy to icy, my friends and I had planned a ski trip. The conditions of the slope didn’t really matter. I’d been skiing all day with a bunch of friends and had had a really-good time. This day was just one of those great days to be alive. We were skiing a mountain.
The last run of the day was at 4:30 pm, and then the ski lift would be shut-off. We were all pretty tired, but we made the decision to go-down the double diamond trail (the steepest and most-technical trail on the mountain). I was the last person in my group to start down the hill. But I went over a jump so fast that I missed my landing pad at a flat plateau on the mountain and overshot the landing by more 20 feet.
I hit the down-sloping side of the mountain. I knew I’d done something wrong when I hit the ground, because I was in intense pain. At first, I thought I’d broken my legs. Although the pain was severe, I still could move my legs. When the rescue-team members arrived, they packed me in snow to try to prevent any swelling of any injury I might have.
I don’t remember who showed up to help me, but about 15-20 minutes after my accident, I was loaded into the back of a sled and pulled down the mountain. We had to stop a few times because the pain was excruciating. However, I was conscious the whole time. When I reached the bottom of the mountain, I was placed in a helicopter and flown to the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Me., where I stayed for 10 days. However, I don’t remember much about my hospital stay.
Question: When did you find out that your back was broken, and that you would be in a wheelchair?
Quimby: I think it was the third week after the accident that I realized I was paralyzed from the waist down. The first thing I can remember is I pulled the sheets back to look down at my legs, which always had been very muscular because of the skiing and other activities in which I had participated. I thought, “Oh, my gosh! My legs are just skin and bones.”
Seeing those bony, skinny legs was the toughest part of the realization that I was paralyzed. I had that initial feeling of, “What’s going to happen to me?” My biggest concern after seeing my legs was, “Who’s going to love somebody in a wheelchair? How am I ever going to find love again?”
Question: What happened next?
Quimby: I flew to Georgia, to the Shepherd Rehabilitation Center, because I learned that Shepherd was one of the best rehabilitation centers in the nation.
Monica Wondered Who Would Love Her Now
Question: Monica, how did you answer your fear of, “Who’s going to love a young woman in a wheelchair?
Quimby: Actually, I’ve had a better and more genuine love life after the accident than I had before the accident. I met some of the best people. I had amazing experiences and dated both disabled and able-bodied men. I really learned a lot about relationships.
Question: Monica, did you think about how you looked in a wheelchair, since you’d always been athletic and had a very-strong body before the accident?
Quimby: I know for most young women the thought of, “How am I going to look in a wheelchair,” can be a real struggle. But you know, when I look in a mirror, I don’t see myself in a wheelchair. I just feel like I’m sitting down and really short. I’ve never selected clothes thinking how they’ll look in a wheelchair. I’ve never gone on a date and thought, “Is my date really going to see me or my wheelchair?” I decided that my dates would have no choice. They were going to meet me before they met my wheelchair.”
Question: Tell us about the process of overcoming the fear of, “Who’s going to love me?”
Quimby: I was in rehab for 3 months. I learned I could walk very-small distances with long leg braces and a walker, but I decided that walking that way wasn’t really practical. The first person I dated was a guy in a wheelchair. Although I had a boyfriend before the accident, we weren’t really more than just friends. I decided I needed to learn about myself before I started considering a real relationship with anyone.
Question: What was going on a date in a wheelchair like the first time?
Quimby: I was just myself, and my date and I had a good time. We talked about things we had in common and everything else. I learned we could be 100% honest with each other. He was a great first transition date after my accident.
Question: How were your experiences of dating people who are not in wheelchairs?
Quimby: Right now, I’m dating my boyfriend Jared, who’s not in a wheelchair, and oh my gosh, he’s fantastic. I’ve learned that whether or not someone I’m dating is in a wheelchair or not doesn’t matter. What matters is the way he treats me, and if he’s a hard worker and willing to help me out. The first quality I look for in a guy is whether he can take care of himself. The second thing is what kind of personality he has. Those are the two qualities that attract me to a guy.
Question: What was your first date like with Jared?
Quimby: We had a really fun date. We went to play Trivia with his friends, so the date was more or less a kind of group date. We had a dinner date before we went to play Trivia. I thought it was a big deal to meet Jared’s friends on our first date. I’ve learned that being confident in who I am and being outgoing means that people don’t put me in a box and label me as something I’m not.
Monica Quimby Tells Why She Doesn’t See Herself in a Wheelchair
Question: Did you have any depression after your accident?
Quimby: Not really, because I don’t see myself in a wheelchair. I see myself as up and walking. I can drive, I can go to work, and I can do anything I want to do.
The biggest problem I’ve had since the accident was when I came home from the hospital. My whole world had turned upside-down. When I arrived at home, there was a ramp at the front door, and my bedroom, which had been upstairs, was now downstairs.
Although I didn’t get upset because I was paralyzed, I did get irritated with all the changes that had taken place after I became paralyzed.
I decided not to sweat the small stuff, since all the changes were to make my life easier. I finally realized, “Ok, I have all these different adaptations, so I can still be a productive member of society.”
Question: How did you get your life back together after the accident?
Quimby: The big thing was I went back to college. I’d only missed one semester due to the accident. I got my life back by getting back in college, hanging with my friends and being around people who knew me before the accident and were willing to help and support my getting on with my life.
I didn’t really see myself sitting at home and not doing anything. I was doing my physical therapy and my course work in school. I didn’t see any other choice. I knew that going back to school was what I wanted to do and what I had to do to get on with my life.
I wanted to get a college degree, and I wanted to have a career. I became very focused after my accident and told myself, “Getting back into school and getting back into life is what you need to do, and what you have to do.”
Question: What kind of career did you want?
Quimby: I did research before and after my accident and had gotten my research published. I didn’t want to give-up my research. I also became a teaching assistant in biology and enjoyed that because I got to work with a lot of other people.
After I got my master’s degree, I was on a break from being an adjunct biology teacher at Southern Maine Community College. I had 6-weeks off from school, so I wanted to find something to do. I typed-in wheelchair activities, and I saw the information for Ms. Wheelchair America. I laughed and finally said to myself “Ok, I’m going to see what this is about.”
I found the competition for Ms. Wheelchair Maine was a part of the Ms. Wheelchair America competition and discovered that this contest was as much about your inner beauty as your outer beauty.
In the contest, I was 100% honest. My platform was providing higher education and teaching goal setting for people with disabilities. I entered the contest and won.
That win has given me a mission to try to encourage, inspire and promote more education and opportunities for people with some kind of disability.
Part 4: Monica Flies with Her Wheels Down
Monica Quimby’s enthusiasm for flying hasn’t changed since her accident. Now she flies through life in her wheelchair, taking chances and going into uncharted waters with the same reckless abandon and enthusiasm that she once used to ski double-diamond courses.
Question: Monica, what are you doing now?
Quimby: I just got a new job and am the director of education at Northeast Technical Institute. I’m really, really excited about this job. I will be implementing continuing-education programs for them.
I also am in charge of making sure that the school maintains its accreditation. And I’ll help develop programs to improve student learning and will conduct workshops while providing information for the faculty.
Maine‘s Sun Journal newspaper recently posted the following video that shows Monica’s passion for teaching:
Question: How did you get from researching strawberries in your undergraduate studies to directing the continuing education component for the faculty and staff of Northeast Technical Institute?
Quimby: I got my bachelor’s degree in microbiology and published my strawberry research. Then I earned my master’s degree in science and higher education, and that’s how I got the job of being an adjunct professor of biology.
As an adjunct professor, I didn’t have any benefits like health insurance, so I started poking around on the Internet and found the job of director of education listed. So, I applied for the job. There were 20 other applicants besides me. They evaluated my education and work experience, and after the interview, I got the job.
Question: What advice would you give to someone like you who is job hunting?
Quimby: I think one of the reasons that people in wheelchairs often don’t get their dream jobs is perhaps because they don’t apply for them. Another reason is they don’t know what info they don’t have to give out to be considered for various jobs. Lastly, they may not go into their interviews with much confidence that they can do the jobs. I think a lot of that goes back to the way you perceive yourself.
If you only see yourself as a person in a wheelchair, that’s how others will see you. If you see yourself as more than that and as having more to offer a job than the other applicants do, then that’s how your potential employers will view you.
Question: Where do you want to go from here?
Quimby: I’m just going to continue to explore more opportunities. I also want to be the coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair Maine Program. I not only want to really develop the competition and the pageant, but I also want get more scholarships and career opportunities for ladies in wheelchairs.
Question: What do you want to have done 5-10 years from now?
Quimby: I definitely want to stay involved as an educator and change people’s attitudes about disabilities. Overall, I want to do more to teach people, with and without disabilities, about what disabled people can do, instead of them only knowing what we can’t do.
Question: Have you thought about your love life in the future?
Quimby: I definitely see myself someday getting married, and doing all that lovely stuff, with Jared the guy I am dating now.
Question: What about having children?
Quimby: I don’t know; maybe someday. I think people with disabilities who have children are totally amazing.
So, children may be in my future. For now, I just want to keep going and doing as much as I can.
This story is part of the Hometown Heroes series created by UroMed and is reprinted with their permission. Headquartered in Suwanee, GA [a suburb of Atlanta], UroMed is one of the nation’s leading providers of single-use catheters, urological and disposable medical supplies, and continence care products. UroMed was founded by Bert Burns, a former Paralympian and C6-7 quadriplegic. 20% of UroMed's customer care representatives are users of the very same products that they provide. For more information, please visit http://www.uromed.com or call 1-800-841-1233.