— Nearly two years after she was paralyzed in a freak accident at her bachelorette party, Rachelle Chapman looks forward to becoming a mother and continues to show that a woman can be beautiful and confident even in a wheelchair.
TODAY has followed the journey of the 26-year-old from Knightdale, N.C., and her husband, Chris, since her accident on May 23, 2010, through their wedding and honeymoon in July 2011. Since their last appearance on TODAY, Rachelle has learned to drive a specially modified van and has experienced standing and walking with the help of specialized machines at a rehabilitation facility called “Project Walk’’ in Carlsbad, Calif.
Confidence on wheels
She aims to write a book about her experiences to inspire others in similar situations and jokingly told Hoda Kotb on Friday that the working title is “Hot, Sexy, and Rollin’ on 24s.’’
“It's not just the story about my life, my injury and us; it's also the story about (how) you can be sexy and you can be pretty in a wheelchair, and you can have confidence,’’ she said. “We're just normal people, and no matter who you are and what situation you're in, you can have confidence.’’
Showing that confidence, Chapman entered the Ms. Wheelchair Pageant in North Carolina last week, where she came up short of the first prize. She also plans on going to schools to read students a children’s book titled “New Opportunities’’ to help kids understand spinal cord injuries.
Chapman also hopes to soon have a child of her own.
“To be able to start a family would be one of my bigger goals for Rachelle, not only because I know how important it is for her, but I believe she deserves that,’’ her physical therapist, Kimberly Davis, told NBC News. “I know that she and Chris would be wonderful parents.’’
Chapman has radiated confidence since the day she was playfully pushed into a swimming pool at a party in Virginia Beach, Va., by one of her bridesmaids and fractured the C6 vertebra in her neck when her head hit the bottom of the pool. The accident left her paralyzed from the collarbone down.
Her wedding was postponed for more than a year, but Chris stayed by her side and she was eventually pushed down the aisle by her father to become his wife on July 22, 2011.
After an all-expenses paid honeymoon to Fiji courtesy of 1-800 Registry, which also sponsored the wedding, Rachelle continues to inspire with each milestone she achieves. In January, she took her first trip to the spinal cord injury center at “Project Walk” thanks to the charitable group Walking With Anthony, which is devoted to helping people cast aside their wheelchairs.
“It’s so hard to explain,’’ she said. “It feels amazing. To have the opportunity to be able to go to a place like that and stand, it's so good for your body.’’
Chapman has done extensive work in strengthening her upper body and her core, which has given her more range of motion and helped her push herself up ramps in the couple’s specially modified home. She also has played on a wheelchair rugby team and even gotten a tattoo on the back of her neck with a peace sign and the words “Let it be.’’
“Her attitude is second to none,’’ Davis told NBC News. “If she’s not able to perform an exercise, she never gets frustrated. She only wants to know, ‘What do we need to work on for me to be successful?’’’
She also has learned to drive thanks to a surprise wedding gift: Toyota gave her a Sienna Rampvan.
“It is scary at first because you have to drive with your hands and not with your feet, but I was right out on the road,’’ Chapman said.
“I'm a little nervous, but I think it's wonderful,’’ Chris said. “This is a big step toward independence. I've gotten very protective of her, obviously since the accident, but I think it's really exciting.’’