Profiles in Courage: Jocelyn Judd
By Domenica Berman
On the morning of April 19th, 2014, Jocelyn Judd donned her fat suit and hit the slopes.
“Yeah, I think I bought the fat suit for Halloween the year before and never ended up wearing it, so I don’t know, I thought it would be funny to wear it skiing.”
It was closing weekend of the season at Grand Targhee, Wyoming and everyone was goofing around.
“My friend was videoing because I thought it would be funny to see what happened with the fat suit and my hair when I did a backflip,” Jocelyn chuckled. “I thought you know, I’ve been doing back flips since I was like 12, no big deal and then I just picked up way too much speed.”
She over rotated the backflip and landed on her neck. She was paralyzed from the neck down and told she would never walk again. She was 26 years old.
When I asked Jocelyn if she believed the doctor when he said she’d never walk again she didn’t hesitate to answer; “No, when he said that my first thought was ‘well my spinal cord isn’t severed so you don’t know that for sure.’”
Jocelyn’s family drove over to Pocatello, Idaho, where she was living at the time, as soon as they heard the news. The whole community of Pocatello came together and ended up raising $25,000. Jocelyn and her family knew she needed to go to Craig Hospital, a specialty rehab center in Colorado for patients with spinal cord and brain injuries, but her health insurance would only cover so much. One of her friends had read about the High Fives Foundation so Jocelyn reached out to them. After talking to Roy Tuscany, the High Fives Foundation matched Pocatello’s $25,000 and Roy talked Craig Hospital into admitting Jocelyn with $50,000 up front.
“We said we’d come up with the rest as needed but luckily I recovered really fast and we didn’t end up needing any more than that,” said Jocelyn.
After six weeks at Craig Hospital she started walking with a walker and after two months she started walking without even a cane. “I started walking with the walker and then the crutches and then the cane and finally I ditched it all.”
“Initially I had nothing from the neck down, like zero, and then on the fifth day my left big toe started to wiggle a little bit and then just day by day different muscle groups would start to work bit by bit.”
One of her friends who had had a spinal cord injury a couple of years before gave her some advice that resonated with her throughout her recovery; “He said “even the smallest things can be adventures” meaning like, “oh, look I can move my big toe today, that’s cool,” and then the next day maybe you start to move your leg.”
After only eight months she had regained enough strength and control to return to skiing. Her continued rehab includes rowing, swimming, lifting and doing yoga to keep building strength and gaining mobility.
She started surfing over the past year and a half with the help of the High Fives Foundation and has noticed a whole other group of core and arm muscles that have been reactivated.
“For a while there I was just in denial, I thought I needed to get 100% better, I just thought I needed to rehab and get to the point where I could do everything how I used to before but you know, everything’s different now. But it’s still awesome, I’m still happy. I’m still able to do things I want to do, I might have to find different ways to do them but I’m still able.”
She’s skied three times already this year. “I went last Sunday and it was a really fluffy powder day, those are the best because my reflexes are hyperactive and way over exaggerated so when I hit a bump skiing it’s really tough.”
She struggles with frustration at not being as good at skiing as she was before the accident. She had been skiing for over half of her life, honing her skills and they were basically gone in an instant.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve learned, skiing was like my absolute favorite thing to do before the accident and it’s a little bit frustrating now because I’m not nearly as good as I used to be. I see something I think I should be able to do and then I can’t…and it’s frustrating! But learning something new like surfing has been awesome because I never tried that before so I don’t have anything to compare to.”
Jocelyn talked about how good of a workout surfing is for her arms, which are still one of the weaker parts of her body, and core. “It’s super physical so it’s amazing rehab for my body. It’s an amazing experience and every time I go on a surf trip I feel so much stronger when I’m done.”
Not to mention the therapeutic effects of the water and the ocean; “Getting in the water and surfing, it’s just such a peaceful and powerful experience.”
Jocelyn went back to working as a physician’s assistant part time and has now returned to full time. She is looking forward to her next surf trip, maybe to California this winter. She continues to rebuild her strength and continues to be unrelentingly hopeful.
“When people have injuries like this they just really need to stay positive and hopeful that things are going to get better, I think. With nerves and the brain and stuff we don’t really know exactly how all that works. I don’t know but there’s definitely some kind of connection there with your mind, brain and body and maybe that’s why some people are able to recover.”
Jocelyn and the other adaptive athletes I’ve met so far have this inherent strength in common that can only come from the power of positive thinking. All individuals, with or without any physical or mental restrictions, could benefit from this kind of courageous thinking in the face of hardship or even everyday struggles.
Jocelyn is fortunate to have supportive family, friends and community and to now have the help and friendship of the High Fives Foundation which can only bolster her powerful, positive outlook on life.
Domenica Berman is a recent Cal Poly SLO graduate and is taking some time to travel and explore her interests. She moved back to her hometown of Encinitas, California and writes this column for Adventure Sports Journal. Her biggest interests other than the ocean, are yoga, traveling and cooking.
Profiles in Courage is dedicated to sharing and honoring the stories of people who have suffered injuries and are regaining their strength physically, mentally and spiritually through surfing.