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Niagara Advance | Student hopes to work with disabled

Christine Advocates For The DisabledFrom the time Christine Rougoor emerged from a coma on Christmas Day, 2008, and began her long recovery from a devastating motocross accident, her goal was to return to Brock University in September so she could complete her education degree.

Although the odds were against her after the extensive, debilitating injuries incurred while on holiday in Florida, she did return to Brock, completed her fourth year and has begun her fifth and final year.

When she finishes, she will be qualified to teach high school French and art.

But so much has happened to her in the last 18 months, her life course has changed.

Going back to Brock, a familiar, comfortable environment, wasn’t as as easy as the very upbeat and energetic young woman anticipated.

She was so determined to get back to her old life, she hadn’t realized how much more difficult it would be to return to school in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down from a severed spinal cord.

She was also physically drained from the rehabilitation that followed, including extensive surgeries and a complete facial reconstruction from having every bone in her face broken.

Rougoor, a beautiful, strong young woman learning how to live in a wheelchair in a “two-legged world,” was surprised by how overwhelmed she felt just getting through each day at Brock.

“I’ve had to learn everything from a new perspective,” she says.

“It is very different, not being able to do whatever you could do before. I was used to a certain routine, going certain places. I loved school. But it’s been a huge, huge adjustment. I can’t get to places as quickly or as easily as I used to,” says the 23-year-old.

“And when I went back, thinking ‘I can do this,’ I had no idea how exhausting just sitting in a classroom for three hours could be. If it hadn’t been for the help and support of my family, friends and Brock itself, I don’t think I could have stayed in school.”

Last year, just a couple of months out of the hospital, Rougoor became an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, and participated in the Wheels in Motion Event at Brock University.

This year the event takes place again at the university June 13. It gives Niagara Region residents an opportunity to help improve the quality of life for people living with spinal cord injury, or any disability, by registering a team in the event designed to provide participants with a better understanding of what it is like to navigate through life in a wheelchair.

Teams race against the clock through an obstacle course and test their dexterity, maneuvering techniques, and wheelchair sports skills.

Funds raised by the event will support the development of a wheelchair accessible exercise training facility at Brock University-there is currently no exercise facility of this kind in the area.

Rougoor says she has been helped enormously by the Student Development Centre at Brock.

“They bend over backwards for me. They do what they can to accommodate every single person with a disability. Whatever you need to go to Brock, they will try the hardest to help. They want you to be able to go to Brock and do all the things you want to do.”

She has also been helped by Dave Ditor, a Brock kinesieologist at who works with people with spinal cord injuries, she says.

“He was really enthusiastic about working with me, helping me with everything that could make my life easier and helping me stay healthy.”

The difficulties Rougoor has encountered, and the support she has received to overcome them, have changed her focus on life.

“Now that I’ve seen things from a disabled point of view, it has become my passion to help other people with disabilities.”

She has already begun to do that, through participating in fundraising events such as Wheels in Motion and speaking in public about her experience, which she will do at that event.

View the Niagara Advance article here.