Jennifer Gabrysh grew up in Saskatchewan – an active person who loved sports, the outdoors, and spending time with her family and friends. She travelled across the country, first to get her Bachelor’s degree, and then to work at diverse jobs from teaching yoga to planting trees.
In 2007, Jennifer was playing football with some friends and jumped into a swimming pool to catch the ball. She abruptly landed in the shallow end of the pool, injuring her spinal cord.
Though her recovery in hospital and rehabilitation was difficult, Jennifer did not let her accident change her outlook on life. She wanted to remember to focus on the important things in life.
‘Life is precious and unfortunately it takes a tragedy sometimes before people realize the important things in life and what matters the most - friends and family. The small things do not matter as much, and you realize that creating a positive outlook is important for your well-being and for those around you.’
Creating a positive outlook
Jennifer hasn’t let her injury hold her back. She is fiercely independent. She moved out into a place of her own and, several months after her injury, began volunteering and public speaking,
In 2008, she became an Ambassador with the Rick Hansen Foundation. She was inspired by Rick’s legacy from his Man In Motion World Tour and wanted to use her own experiences to further his work. Because Jennifer recognises how much Rick has done to overcome challenges and enhance the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities, she wanted to become a part of this movement and create positive change.
‘I believe I have a story that will provide awareness of disabilities and inspire others to persevere through challenges.’
Not content to simply motivate and educate others with her story through speaking, Jennifer found a passion for public policy and embarked on a Master’s degree in Public Administration at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy in Regina. Jennifer didn’t realize the importance of public policy until her injury. Suddenly, she was accessing vital government programs and support – and learning what different levels of government provided in the process. This was an area where she found she could have real impact on decision-making and create change locally and provincially.
Going back to university as a quadriplegic wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Jennifer has limited use of her hands, so the everyday student experiences of lectures and exams presented extra challenges. Jennifer and her instructors had to figure out different ways of working, to find solutions and overcome barriers. She graduated in 2013, with experience working with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and SaskPower. Jennifer was recently recognized as a notable alumnus and profiled by Johnson Shoyama, where she shared how living with a disability inspired her to study public policy
‘Everyone has different abilities and capabilities. People have challenges in other areas that cannot be seen. My challenges happen to be physical. That’s why awareness is so important.’
Being a Difference Maker
Jennifer was instrumental in organizing events in Regina for the 25th
Anniversary Relay in early February 2012, and was elected Chair of the Regina Committee. For all her work with the Rick Hansen Foundation, both as an Ambassador and for her integral role in the Relay, Jennifer was recognized by Rick and the Foundation as a Difference Maker in her community.
As a Difference Maker, Jennifer used her wealth of experience as an Ambassador, and her passion for speaking up about the potential of people with disabilities, to help train the next generation of Ambassadors in Regina.
Jennifer continues to be a great example of the potential of people with disabilities. She is a participant in spinal cord injury research, ensuring those who become injured in the future can benefit. She is determined to make a positive difference in other people’s lives in her education, public speaking and advocacy for accessibility and inclusion, and her career. Through all her life experiences, Jennifer has kept her adventurous spirit and positive outlook. She has become a leader in the Regina disability community who is working to make life a little better for all of us.
Learn more about the Rick Hansen Foundation's Ambassador Program, or book an Ambassador presentation at your school or community event, at rickhansen.com/ambassadors