This fall, for the first time in 24 years, Louisiana member Karen Roy will have her Baton Rouge home all to herself. Her youngest son will be off to college, and his two older siblings have already moved out. With her three little dogs in tow, Roy is unfazed by the prospect of empty nesting. “That’s what you want,” she says, laughing. “I saw something on the news today where the parents of a 30-year-old were taking him to court to evict him, so, I guess it’s a sign you’ve done your job well.”
Roy, a T10 para, won’t lack for things to do with her new freedom. She travels all over the Southeast for her job with Numotion, serves as a board member for the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana, which serves as the state United Spinal Association chapter, and is the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana.
After a 20-plus year career as a hospital social worker, Roy is enjoying the freedom that comes with her new job, even if it means she spends long hours on the road. “I was stuck inside of a hospital for so long, and it was just crisis after crisis. And even if it’s not, it’s fax after fax, and you are in the same place every single day,” she says. “Now, granted, when it’s 110 degrees down here and I’ve gotten in and out of my car with my wheelchair six times, I’m doubting my choices. But for the most part, I like the freedom and the flexibility. I like being able to listen to an audio book or whatever music I want to while I’m on the road.”
Looking back on her career as a social worker, Roy says it was difficult to watch the length of rehab stays for people with spinal cord injuries continually get shortened.
“The length of stay when I got injured in ’87 was like three months,” she says. “It got progressively to the point where you could have a spinal cord injury, and if you were lucky, you’d get four to six weeks, and they may try to kick you out sooner.”
Roy always emphasized how critical mastering the basics of SCI — bowel, bladder and skin care — is when she worked with people with new injuries. She worries that shortened rehab stays are sending many people out of the hospital without the knowledge they need to lead full lives.
That is one of the issues she educates the public about in her role as Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana. The state’s program wasn’t active, so Roy didn’t have any competition, but she saw an opportunity to do more than just wear a crown.
“I decided to volunteer to run the program,” she says. “So that will be my responsibility after my reign, to promote the organization for women with disabilities, and try to get a real pageant organized for the following year, for 2019.”
Roy is enjoying the challenge and taking advantage of speaking opportunities across the state to spread her platform about the importance of standing and exercising after SCI. She uses braces, a TekRMD standing frame and a FES bike to make sure she stays in shape. “I definitely credit that with a lot of my health for the last 30 years,” she says. “I’ve never had a wound, a fracture, contracture — any of that.”
“They say that sitting is the new smoking,” she says. “And for those of us who cannot stand on our own it’s not any less important. I’m just glad to tell people all about it.”
Wearing it Well
The Gift of Garb
Clothes are one of my only vices. I have a gigantic walk-in closet full of clothes. It’s an enormous amount — and slightly embarrassing — but I am a bargain shopper, and definitely not a hoarder.
I love clothes and I think they can be a real confidence booster. I like the idea that people see me and not the chair. That really was my whole point: ‘Yes, I’m in a chair, but I would prefer you see me.’
I remember when I first got hurt and I went back to school at LSU. I was in the center of all these people, parking and getting out, and I vividly remember thinking to myself ‘if everyone wants to stare at me, I’m gonna look good, and I’m having a really cute outfit on. And I’m just gonna pretend like they’re all looking at my outfit.’
Because I do intermittent cathing, I really don’t wear pants. I’m always out and about, so I wear dresses for the ease of using the bathroom. The skirts and the dresses have to be form fitting because even with clothes guards they get in the way of the chair, get dirt rubbed into them and they get ruined.
Can’t Live Without:
My Tek RMD has been life changing. I use it two to three times a week around the house, and my bone density has really improved.
Wheelchair Parenting Tip:
There are times when your kids can get a bit beyond your reach, and I was always able to grab at least a small piece of clothing or a toe to get ‘em back into my control. Hopefully you have a good reach!
Wheelchair Fashion Do’s and Don’ts:
Do: Boots and pencil skirts — they always look cute and they stay on.
Don’t: Bangle bracelets — they get in the way of pushing and make noise.