In May 2012, Aimee Copeland fell in a river while zip lining and developed necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, that resulted in the eventual amputation of portions of all four limbs. An outdoor enthusiast prior to her accident, Aimee wanted to get back outside so she began kayaking with Team River Runner, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA.
All photos courtesy of Team River Runner Atlanta and Rachel Moses.
On Getting Involved
I did some research on the ACA [American Canoe Association] website. They hosted these conferences where they needed people with injuries to be patient models. I planned on attending one of those, but I got tired of waiting, so I did some more research and found a tiny little link with a list of adaptive instructors and emailed every person on the list. Laura from Team River Runner emailed me back and I began pool session in March.
On Getting Outside
I feel really connected to the water and I always have. I’m not a huge adrenaline junkie. I’m more here for the scenery. Kayaking allows me to be outside and be comfortable outside without fear of overheating. It really events out my challenges, and I can do that same things that other people can.
The biggest thing was learning not to fight [the river], but to let the river carry me. I tend to turn to the left every time, and overtime I realized that I could ‘fix’ that by going with the flow.
Kayaking more than any other sport gave me a sense of community. They were so giving, open and willing to spend their time with you. They scheduled trips just for me. It was amazing to see their support and how they were creative and willing to help anybody.
On Maintaining Independence
I started driving pretty soon after my injury, which kind of freaked [my parents] out. I was 24 years old, I was not about to have a curfew. I think they realized that there’s not really any stopping me. If you live your life in a bubble, you’re not really living.
I finished my Master’s Degree in Psychology and last fall started my second Master’s Degree in Social Work. My goal is to open an accessible nature park with different levels of accessibility to include people of all abilities and all injuries. Before my injury I could point out my window in any direction and see what adventure I could find. I want to know how do you keep the wilderness wild and make that accessible.
I’m trying to take baby steps so I don’t get overwhelmed. I’m looking into cycling and getting a custom bike. I like any sport where I don’t need my wheelchair. I have done a mile walking on two legs, and my goal is to walk a 5K. I want to do whatever I possibly can.
At first it might not look like you have the ability to do something, or that there aren’t resources, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. It might take time and extensive research. Don’t give up on your dreams.