Life After Wheelchair Rugby With Quadriplegic Ashleigh Justice

Editor’s Note: As a 15-year-old new driver, Ashleigh Justice of Phoenix, Arizona, was driving her family vehicle when tragedy struck and changed her life forever. Part 5 of a 5 part series.

Ashleigh did information referral at ASCIA.

Ashleigh provided information referrals at ASCIA.

The main reason I stopped playing wheelchair rugby was because I was really getting involved with my school.  I was attending a community college and got my associate degree in physiology. I continued on to receive my bachelor’s degree and had a minor in organizational studies.

During that time, I was offered a job by the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association, doing information referral. I had already done some volunteer work with them and had been mentored there. So, I accepted the position, thinking I could go to school full time and work for the association full time. But, I was so disorganized at that time that I couldn’t keep up with both responsibilities, so I dropped out of school and continued to work with the Spinal Cord Injury Association.

The day I met my husband, Joel, I was shopping for bedroom furniture. He worked at this furniture store and we talked for 4 hours.  Joel was one of the easiest people to talk to. Over the next couple of weeks, we both found excuses to call each other. We’ve been together ever since.

Joel was really fascinated that I was in a wheelchair. Typically, people want to know about my injury, but they’re not sure how to ask questions about it because they don’t want to pry. But Joel just asked in a mater of fact way, “So, what happened to you? Why are you in a chair?” After I explained my injury to him, I learned later that he went home and learned all he could about spinal cord injuries.  Joel was really interested in how my injury affected me and my body, and the amazing thing was he wasn’t intimidated or turned off by my problems. He’s one of those rare people who believe life is what it is, and you just accept it and move on from there. Joel always tells me that tomorrow’s coming, and we’ll get through today.

Ashleigh and her supportive husband, Joel.

Ashleigh and her supportive husband, Joel.

Today, Joel and I have been married 2 years, and I had our son last year in February. Fortunately, I had a very easy pregnancy. The only problem I had was that I had low blood pressure. When I told my doctor I wanted to have a baby, she said, “Go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back.”  I was a high risk pregnancy and had placenta previa. Because I was high risk, my obstetrician decided that the best thing was for me to have a Cesarean section. I had to stay in the hospital a month before the delivery to be monitored every hour before I went into labor. I had to be delivered quickly. When I first saw my little guy, I realized that having him was one of the most beautiful experiences ever. The feelings I had when I first held my Evan were beyond description – what a wonderful moment.

Ashleigh treasures the first moments with her son, Evan.

Ashleigh treasures the first moments with her son, Evan.

Evan is doing great now. Joel is the manager for the furniture store, and I work for AdvisaCare as the media manager. I handle their Facebook and Twitter posts, newsletters and website program. I also write their blogs. This company has opened several doors for me.

When I worked at the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association in the peer mentoring program, I’d meet with people with spinal cord injuries and help them see what life could be like outside of the hospital. I showed them how I drove my car, and how I could get around and go almost anywhere I wanted to go. I was a paid part time employee.

Ashleigh participated in peer mentor programs to show others with spinal cord injuries how she lived her day to day life.

Ashleigh participated in peer mentor programs to show others with spinal cord injuries how she lived her day to day life.

With the information referral service, I’d find information about programs, assistance and advice that people with spinal cord injuries needed to know. I’d get them information on how to find a van with hand controlsand doctors who worked with spinal cord injury patients. I’d also show them the programs available for them, as well as other resources that could help their families. I worked at this job about 3 years.

When the CEO of AdvisaCare learned about what all I’d done at my former job, he asked me to start writing blogs for them and provide the information I’d learned. The good news was that I could do it all from home.  I basically taught myself how to build a webpage and how to move items around. I’m sort of feeling my way through social media. After building the blog and beginning to write it, I’ve continued to learn.

In the future, we may have another child. I’d really love to have a little girl. Don’t get me wrong. I love my little boy. In the future, I want to be healthier and participate in endurance races.

I’m the vice president of my local chapter of  myTeam Triumph, an organization that puts able bodied runners with disabled runners. We often have people with severe cerebral palsy and other major medical problems who run road races teamed with an able bodied athlete. They cross the finish line together.

I coordinate these events, and I hope soon to be participating in 5K races, either with a hand cycleor just hand pushing my wheelchair.

Ashleigh has a bright future for herself and others with spinal cord injuries.

Ashleigh has a bright future for herself and others with spinal cord injuries.

I’ve learned that the living of life isn’t about surviving a spinal cord injury; it’s about how you live with it. I want to try and show people all the things they can do. In the future, I hope to create a more useful and popular blog to help others. I want the blog to be fun, and I want to give the readers of the blog reasons to come back every day. In so doing, I’ll have an identity.

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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