published Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Former Paralympian Chris Waddell finds dreams can change

Tom White, left, senior vice president tof investor relations for Unum, shakes the hand of Chris Waddell. The Siskin Possibilities Luncheon featured Waddell and was held at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Wednesday morning. Waddell, who became a paraplegic in a skiing accident, formerly skied in the Paralympics.
Tom White, left, senior vice president tof investor relations for Unum, shakes the hand of Chris Waddell. The Siskin Possibilities Luncheon featured Waddell and was held at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Wednesday morning. Waddell, who became a paraplegic in a skiing accident, formerly skied in the Paralympics.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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When Chris Waddell entered rehabilitation after a skiing accident left him paralyzed from the waist down at age 20, he had one goal -- to leave walking.

It didn't happen.

In the more than two decades since, Waddell said he learned that a disability is just like so many other difficulties in life.

"Something is going to happen in our lives that cuts us to the bone," Waddell told hundreds of people gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Wednesday. "We have a choice of how to react."

Waddell was the keynote speaker for the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation's Possibilities luncheon, the hospital's annual fundraising event.

After his injury, Waddell went on to compete in the Paralympic Games and was a part of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team for 11 years. He won 12 medals during his career and was inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 2009, he was the first paraplegic to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He has also founded the One Revolution Foundation with the goal to change the way the world sees people with disabilities.

Before the luncheon, Waddell answered questions about retiring from professional sports, climbing Africa's tallest mountain and his goals.

Q: What is the purpose of One Revolution?

A: We all have a struggle, but what's important is looking past the struggle, looking at the individual. I may do something better than you do and you do some things better than I do. The goal is integration into a community and to build a community.

Q: Why Kilimanjaro?

A: It's the highest mountain in Africa. It's also a walkable mountain, which made it a little more doable for me. I wanted to make it to the top of the highest place. But a mountain is also a metaphor for life.

Q: What was it like to retire from professional sports?

A: It was the most difficult thing I've done in my life, more difficult than the accident. I was lost; it had been a part of my image. I wondered if I would ever have something I was passionate about again.

Q: Do you still ski?

A: I've only been able to ski 11 times this year, less than I usually do. It's much harder to make time for it with my busy schedule.

Q: What is next?

A: I'm working on a memoir and two children's books. "There's a Monster in My Closet and I Think It Might Be Me" is about facing your fears; the child goes after the monster with a flashlight. When he opens the closet door, he sees himself in the mirror.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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