My life with MS: Re-establishing Identity

Written by Jeanine Schmitz

Jenny lives in Seattle because of its unique offering of mountains, water, culture, and cool weather. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors. Her passion is travel, which has become a multi-adventure experience since her MS required a transition into a wheelchair.

I am a passionate traveler and avid outdoors fan.  When MS eventually changed from a diagnosis to my reality, I entered a new life as a wheelchair user.  For an active person such as myself, the loss of mobility is accompanied by a loss of identity.  How could I answer the question, "Do I like to backpack?" when, of course, I did, but the plethora of lesions on my spinal cord rendered me physically unable to do so.  

So, I set about the long process of recreating a life and an identity for my new reality.  I figured out what many people with wheelchairs already know: you can do many of the things you once did as an able-bodied person -- just differently.  I started this journey by participating in the adaptive skiing program at Outdoors for All, a local organization offering programs in outdoor activities to people with disabilities.  


From there on, I discovered other Seattle organizations specializing in activities for disabled participants: Footloose (sailing), Little Bit (horse riding), and Pushing Boundaries (exercise).  For hiking, an old manual wheelchair was pressed into service, improved on with the addition of a third wheel, and reborn by a truly off-road mountain bike of a wheelchair, the Freedom Chair by GRIT. 

With the help of an engineering and enterprising spouse, as well as helpful relatives, outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, kayaking, and cycling could all be a part of my life again.  By engaging in a little creative reframing, eschewing vanity and pride, taking advantage of existing resources, designing needed new ones, accepting help from strangers and friends, I rediscovered a purpose, an identity, and a joy.

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The GRIT Freedom Chair is the most versatile chair on the market, designed from the ground up to handle any terrain. From trails to grass to snow, the Freedom Chair is built for you to push yourself. Born out of research at MIT, the Freedom Chair's patented easy-push levers reduce shoulder strain and put you in control of your mobility. Learn more about the GRIT Freedom Chair at