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Wednesday
Apr072010

Beyond the Headlines: Kristina Ripatti

My name is Patricia Glynn, and I’m CBI’s Associate Editor. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Kristina Ripatti, who was a featured presenter at the 2010 IHRSA Convention in San Diego (Transforming Lives: An ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ Success Story) and our cover story in the March issue of CBI.

One of the first things you’re likely to notice about Kristina is her wheelchair. It’s ever-present and hard to ignore. However, once you hear her speak, once you learn her story, you quickly realize that, even though she’s disabled, this is a woman who is, in many ways, very able. In fact, she’s someone who consistently surpasses expectations.

It’s been more than three years since Kristina’s life was forever altered: during a routine patrol of the streets of Los Angeles in her role as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), she was shot twice by an assailant. Despite having worn a protective vest, the bullets penetrated her body. She was left paralyzed from the chest down. 

Her story made headlines. Eventually, executives at the ABC television network learned of the senseless tragedy, thanks to an outpouring of letters pleading for help for this woman who’d risked her life protecting her community. Kristina soon caught the nation’s attention when she was featured in an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the popular weekly series in which a team of designers and builders rewards a deserving individual with a remarkably upgraded dwelling. In Kristina’s case, the Extreme Makeover team transformed her formerly obstruction-riddled house into a fully accessible haven. At last, she could move freely throughout her Redondo Beach, California, home. She no longer had to sleep in her living room because she was unable, in her wheelchair, to fit through doorways. And she could better care for her young daughter who, until that point, had fearfully rejected the new version of her mother.

When I first spoke to Kristina—one of two thought-provoking and inspirational conversations—she discussed many of the challenges she faces. There are, for instance, the multiple obstacles of daily life. The simple sidewalk curb, which many of us would just step right over without a thought, stops her cold: “It’s crazy! A six-inch curb is for me, in my chair, like Mount Everest for somebody else. As small as it seems, there’s no way I’m getting over it by myself.” It was a seemingly minor detail, yet it forced me to think. It clearly demonstrated how very unwelcoming and unwieldy the world can be when your mobility is limited.

And then I listened to her detail her experiences with our own industry. For years, Kristina had been an avid fitness enthusiast. Before the shooting, she’d run several miles to her local Gold’s Gym, where she’d engage in a formidable strength-training workout. Fitness, to her, was essential and enjoyable. It was even a prime reason why she survived the shooting. “The doctor said that my fitness level was one of the key factors that saved my life.” She also recognized that returning to the gym would be crucial to her recovery, both physically and emotionally. “I had to get my upper body strong quick, so I could move myself around, transfer myself. I value exercise for the mental aspects, too. I use it for stress relief. ” Unfortunately, despite her enthusiasm, she encountered yet more obstacles. “It’s kind of funny—there will be a ramp going into the gym to cover the ADA accessibility issues, but there won’t necessarily be any workout equipment inside the gym that’s accommodating to people in wheelchairs. A lot of gyms just don’t have accessible equipment.”

Kristina is lucky in that she has a trainer who hands her equipment and helps her transfer from her chair. Also, as part of Extreme Makeover, she received a NuStep recumbent stepper directly from the company, an IHRSA associate member. The gift is one she cherishes—so much so that she signed on as a spokesperson for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based NuStep. But she acknowledges that her situation isn’t the reality for most. “I’m fortunate; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this at all.” She did note some bright spots: gyms that include options for the disabled, manufacturers offering better choices. However, in most cases, there’s so much more that clubs could be doing. And it would, as she pointed out, benefit not only those in wheelchairs, but also the elderly and individuals with injuries, whether temporary or long-term.

My chat with Kristina opened my eyes to the need for change. But speaking to this amazing woman did far more than that. As I became aware of all that she’s achieved, all she does, all she plans to do, I couldn’t help but rethink my own attitude. You see, there are some days when I find myself thinking what is perhaps one of the most self-defeating phrases: “I can’t.” It’s actually a rather normal human tendency. We all have those moments when circumstances appear impossibly overwhelming and we feel incapable of moving forward. Yet now, when those sorts of thoughts creep into my head, I consider Kristina.

I think of this woman who has done more from a wheelchair than most people, completely able-bodied, ever do in a lifetime. I think of her surfing, completing the 2009 Boston Marathon, working out at the gym consistently, five days a week, volunteering to aid inner-city youth, having a second child, and studying to enter law school so that she might someday advocate for the disabled. She’s done all of this, and more, without the use of her legs.

Another important point Kristina brought up is that we all, in spite of any limitations we might face, have a choice: we can let life pass us by, or we can strive to live it fully and give it our very best. Kristina makes the conscious decision, every day, to achieve and strive for more. “I want to experience and enjoy all the good stuff that’s still left out there in life. So, I stay motivated…and I push myself every single day. Someone in my circumstances could just decide to give up and wait to die. A lot of people might think that once you’re disabled, that’s it. Life is done, especially as active things go. You can’t let that happen. It comes down to this: you either press onward, or you quit and give up. Even before the injury, I lived my life not letting other people set limits on me. I wouldn’t let people tell me what I could or couldn’t do. I’m passionate about that. I refuse to let this injury, or anything, put boundaries on me.”

So, just when I begin to hear the whisper of the word “can’t,” I reflect on Kristina’s accomplishments and on her outlook. It’s then that I realize that I, and in fact all of us, actually “can.”

To read Patricia’s interview with Kristina Ripatti, please click here.

Reader Comments (3)

Kristina is an inspiration! Thanks for the extended cut, Patricia!

April 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMia

I was very honored to have the opportunity to speak at IHRSA this year. This was a forum and audience that I was extremely excited to reach out to and share my message of inclusive fitness with. I was encouraged by the willingness of the people I met in the industry to want to make a change and think outside of the current box as it relates to inclusive fitness equipment.

I really enjoyed doing the interview with Patricia and thought the article turned out great! I want to thank Steve Sarns at Nustep and Marc Gagnon at IHRSA for helping to make all of this possible.

For anyone that wants to check out my workout and how I have adapted it with my trainer, (Lou Sidella at Body 1 Fitness) you can go to my website at kristinaripatti.com

Thank you!

April 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Ripatti

Kristina is the proverbial inspiration. Thank you Kristina.

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNeil

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