Disabled, but not discouraged

When Monica Quimby was in college in 2006, she wanted to get a degree in molecular biology and to become a successful athlete.

Then a skiing accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. She was in the hospital for nearly five months as she recovered and tried to adjust to a newer, more difficult way of life.

After her skiing accident, Monica Quimby got a bachelor's in biology, a master's in teaching, and now teaches an online course for Southern Maine Community College. (Photos courtesy of Monica Quimby)

After her skiing accident, Monica Quimby got a bachelor’s in biology, a master’s in teaching, and now teaches an online course for Southern Maine Community College.
(Photos courtesy of Monica Quimby)

Many people would have adjusted their goals lower. Some might have given up altogether. Instead, Quimby got a degree in molecular biology and became a successful athlete.

“I think the biggest thing is that even though my physical form changed, my personality didn’t,” said Quimby, now 29.

The degree came first.

After the accident, she missed only one semester at the University of New Hampshire, and she was published for discovering maternal ancestors of the strawberry. Quimby received a Bachelor’s of Science in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and a Master’s Degree in Higher Education.

Now, she lives in Wesley Chapel, and she teaches an online Anatomy and Physiology course for Southern Maine Community College.

Those things, in themselves, make for an impressive resume.

But, there’s much more to Quimby’s story.

She competed in her home state’s wheelchair pageant and became Ms. Wheelchair Maine in 2011. She went on to finish third runner-up for Ms. Wheelchair USA.

Still, something was missing.

A natural athlete, she didn’t want her disability to prevent her from playing sports. She tried kayaking and cycling (using hand pedals), but eventually found sledge hockey.

Sledge hockey — also known as sled hockey — is hockey played on a sled, and requires incredible balance and upper body strength. She tried it, and fell. And fell again, more than a dozen times in all. But, she loved it. Soon, Quimby became a talented defender.

And the former Ms. Wheelchair Maine, who once wore a tiara and a sash, discovered that she really liked hitting people while defending the ice.

“It feels so awesome. It’s incredible,” she said. “I’m the one that’s smiling after I hit you.”

Quimby is an adjunct professor, an athlete for the USA Women's Sledge Hockey Team and was Ms. Wheelchair Maine in 2011.

Quimby is an adjunct professor, an athlete for the USA Women’s Sledge Hockey Team and was Ms. Wheelchair Maine in 2011.

In just 18 months, Quimby has immersed herself in the game. She plays in local recreational leagues, as well as the Florida Sled Bandits, the state’s elite sledge hockey team.

And if that was the extent of her athletic accomplishments, it would be an admirable body of work.

But it isn’t.

Quimby also is an integral part of the USA Women’s Sledge Hockey Team, defending champions of both the World Cup and, with Quimby’s help, the World Championships. They’ll also compete at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in 2018.

In just a short time, she’s become a member of the world’s top women’s sledge hockey team, and was part of the championship team that beat Canada earlier this year.

Being part of the USA team and participating in their success has been a highlight for Quimby.

“When you’re on that ice, and they’re playing the national anthem, you’re like ‘Oh my goodness, I’m representing my country. My country.’ That is such an incredible moment. I will never forget that,” she said.

There are also other things she’ll never forget. Like spending 20 minutes trying to get into a pair of jeans after her accident. Like losing a close friend because they couldn’t handle the extra attention and challenges that become commonplace for people with disabilities. And, like battling moments of depression and anger as her life took a path she never expected.

“There was a real dark time that I had that, even though all of these amazing things were going on, it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. It was hard for me to get to the gym,” Quimby said. “Being in a wheelchair is not for the weak. It’s definitely for the strong.”

Others with disabilities can show that strength, Quimby said, if they find something they enjoy and put their energies toward it.

“I really think the big thing that pulls me out of (negative moods) is to find something that you love. Find something that you can get excited about,” she said.

If she's not teaching or on the ice representing her country, Monica Quimby might be enjoying a cappuccino in Wesley Chapel. (Michael Murillo/Staff Photo)

If she’s not teaching or on the ice representing her country, Monica Quimby might be enjoying a cappuccino in Wesley Chapel.
(Michael Murillo/Staff Photo)

For Quimby, it’s athletics. But, it could be photography, making bracelets or anything that interests someone. Regardless of their challenge or disability, if they can find something and throw themselves into it with interest and passion, it can enhance the enjoyment they get out of life.

Quimby has found more paths that interest her, and more goals she wants to pursue. She’s in the process of writing a book and has begun motivational speaking as well.

But, sledge hockey takes up a lot of her time, and that includes fundraising. Her sport is still growing (the USA team donates equipment to teams in other countries to help them get going) and they have to raise a lot of money for ice time, travel and other expenses that aren’t covered. Quimby sells license plates and accepts donations on her website.

She also makes time to appreciate the positive things she has in her life. She has a supportive family and boyfriend, and tries to be grateful for the simple pleasures in life. One day it might be the Florida sunshine, and another it might be the cappuccino at one of her favorite spots, Le Macaron at The Shops at Wiregrass.

And, although her days are still filled with challenges, she meets them with the same outlook that helped her after her accident, helped her obtain her degrees, helped her earn a pageant title and helps her on the ice in international competition.

“I feel like I’ve had some bumps and bruises, and some easy times and some hard times. But, I feel like things fall into place if you let them,” Quimby said. “If you put in the work, if you put in the action, your path will be in front of you. And you just have to accept it and be open to it.”

For more information about the USA Women’s Sledge Hockey Team, visit MonicaQuimby.com.

Published October 7, 2015

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