A terrible car accident in 2013 changed Heather Robbins’ life, but she didn’t let it change her outlook on life.
“There’s so much more to life than your disability,” said Robbins, who is serving as Ms. Wheelchair Nebraska and in July will compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA.
It was 3:05 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2013, when Robbins and a friend were driving in Gage County. She was a new student at Southeast Community College’s Beatrice Campus when her friend became distracted while driving, grabbing for a tissue. She then over-corrected her steering and ended up flipping the car. The driver had minor injuries, but Robbins was transported via medical helicopter to a Lincoln hospital. They were both wearing their seatbelts.
She does not remember any of it.
“My mom told me later in the hospital that I was paralyzed,” she said.
Initially she said she took the news pretty well. She spent six days in the Intensive Care Unit, four months at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and more time in outpatient rehab. She had some highs and lows during that time but decided to move forward with her life and not feel sorry for herself.
She eventually got her car equipped with hand controls and decided to go back to school. She initially started at SCC-Beatrice intending to become a dental assistant. She changed her mind and went to a school for hairstyling. That was not a good fit, either.
“I decided against that. I wanted to do something different with my life,” recalled the Huxley, Iowa native. “I went back to SCC, and this time in the Human Services program. I want to work with people with disabilities like me because I’ve gone through it.”
Robbins is in her third quarter at SCC and has done very well academically.
“School has been a priority for me; it’s been really good,” she said. “I’ve made the Dean’s List the last three quarters.”
One day Robbins received a message from someone at Ms. Wheelchair USA asking her to think about competing as Ms. Wheelchair Nebraska. There has never been a candidate from Nebraska. After thinking about it, she realized it would be a good platform for her to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries.
“I never thought I would ever do something like this,” she said about the pageant. “I’ll just give it a try, and it’ll be a good opportunity for me. I’m really humble about it.”
While she wants to spread awareness about spinal cord injuries, she also wants to educate people about adaptive sports. Adaptive sports are competitive sports for people with disabilities, often allowing modifications for people to participate. Robbins has taken part in many of them, including wheelchair tennis, horseback riding, scuba diving, and archery. She even went skydiving twice.
“I choose to take my situation and spread awareness about adaptive sports,” she added.
She has already shared her story with school-aged children about the dangers of distracted driving and would like to help develop a physical education program in the schools for disabled students.
“I want to start something in the schools for kids who aren’t able to do PE (physical education),” she said.
In the meantime, Robbins is preparing for her upcoming trip to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where she will compete for Ms. Wheelchair USA on July 20-22. She has already raised enough money for travel and other expenses. The winner of the competition becomes a spokesperson for the Dane Foundation, which is to provide for the unique needs of individuals with physical and mental disabilities.
“I’m doing this to share my story,” she said. “Everything I’ve been through, I’ve done more than I thought I could. I could have chosen to feel sorry for myself, but I choose to overcome my situation and help others. I want to help people realize their potential.”
Heather and her mother, Julie, will depart for Ohio on July 15. For more on her journey, you can follow her on the Ms. Wheelchair Nebraska USA Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/MsWheelchairNebraskaUSA/