How Adaptive Athlete Jesi Stracham Is Helping the Disabled Community Gain Independence Through Fitness
The creator of the Wheel With Me Fitness app opens up about her relationship with movement and the value of exercise for wheelchair users and other folks.
Elizabeth Cox Photo; Lee Wallace
Though she currently carries the title of Tough Mudder athlete and adaptive CrossFit coach, Jesi Stracham hasn’t always fit the bill of what some might call a “gym rat.”
In fact, she didn’t open herself up to different fitness modalities until 2017, two years after she sustained a T4 spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident that left her paralyzed from the middle of the chest down. She was falling to the floor two to three times a week due to weak core muscles, but she didn’t have the strength to get herself back into her wheelchair, Stracham tells Shape.
“And so after those first two years of just struggling nonstop, I decided to do something about it.”
Growing a Relationship with Fitness
Even while recovering in the intensive care unit after her injury, Stracham knew she wasn’t going to let her disability define her future. During her stay, she joined support groups on Facebook in hopes of seeing a glimpse of what her life could look like as someone with complete paraplegia (meaning there’s no feeling or motor function below the injured site). “People posted pictures of them doing adaptive sports and all this stuff,” she remembers. “Looking at that, I was like, ‘Alright, life is going to be okay. I’m going to figure this out.”
So roughly nine months after her accident, Stracham signed up for an adaptive adventure program in Charlotte, North Carolina, through which she tried kayaking, white water rafting, ziplining, and traversing through ropes courses. Her passion for fitness quickly snowballed. She connected with a local Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program to test out various adaptive sports, many of which she dominated.
She competed in national water skiing and national wheelchair motocross competitions in 2016, rock climbed in Colorado, road hand cycles both on- and off-road, and was even on the Paralympic development team for wheelchair curling for three years. Regardless of the activity,…