Well Being

That Girl: Meet Wheelchair Athlete, Ashley Cooper-Heath

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Today's “That Girl” comes to us from Ashely Cooper-Heath, an inspiring 28-year-old wheelchair athlete who was paralyzed eight years ago in a drunk driving accident. Ashley is a true inspiration, taking a tragedy and turning it into motivation to become an athlete who can still work hard and compete to win. Here is her story:

I was paralyzed in a car accident due to drinking and driving. The driver was going 120 mph in a 40 mph zone. The driver and I did not have our seat belts on, and we were ejected from the car. The front seat passenger stayed in because she put her seat belt on before the car rolled. The driver hit a tree and was killed instantly. I landed on my head, suffering a frontal lobe head injury, and the car rolled on top of me and broke my back in two places, leaving me paralyzed at the thoracic 4 vertebrae which is at your bra line. The three of us were all beach lifeguards, and we were all under the age of 21.

Going from being a beach lifeguard where swimming, running and exercise were part of my everyday routine to not being able to move my legs was a major shock to my well being. It wasn't until 2007, three years after my accident, that I found a program made just for people like me to be able to get involved with sports.

I met my husband in this program, and he pushed me to get more involved with sports. I started to handcycle with him and found that I really enjoyed it, not to mention I was pretty good at it. Since then, I have been working to get on the National team and one day to make it to the paralympics (even though I have a long way to go).

Recently I have started to participate in triathlons and have made it on Team Inspired through DRC sports. We compete in different triathlons, duathlons and races throughout the country. I may be a person who can't walk, but I can still compete on any playing field.

Ashley shares more about herself here:

Fitness/health accomplishment you are most proud of:
This is tricky for me to say. I am excited about all my races that I have done but I guess one that sticks out more than any other would have to be my first triathlon. It was the first one I have ever competed in, and I did the run portion in my everyday wheelchair instead of a racing wheelchair. At that time, I had never used one.

What inspires you to get fit every day?
Honestly, I work out because it gives me something to do and makes me feel good. With nothing really pulling me away from working out, right now it is my main goal to push myself as hard as I can.

What do you do when you don't feel like working out?
I am usually doing something else like helping out the nonprofit, Guardian Ad Litem, that I am a board member for. Or going to chapter for my sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, that I am the advisor for. If I am not doing this then I am sitting next to my husband in our recliners watching Netflix or playing Bejeweled on the Xbox.

Favorite energizing meal:
I don't really have a favorite–my taste changes all the time. I'm a vegetarian so I like to play around with different recipes, Chinese, Mexican, pizza, etc. I like to plan my meals while I am training on the bike, but the one thing that is always a regular for me is SWEETS.

What's your favorite way to chill post-workout?
I like to take a shower and prop my recliner back so I can watch Netflix with some of my favorite programs. I will re-watch the same series over and over again like Vampire Diaries or Greek. I won't forget to mention that I have the complete Sex and the City box series on disc which I have seen more than I would like to admit and quote very frequently.

What is your top kick-ass workout?
I like to do two to three workouts a day, so I guess I would have to say it would be swimming in the morning and going to our local trail to get at least 30 miles in the afternoon. The combination of the two makes me feel like I did some major work, and then I am ready to crash when I get home.

Where is your favorite/most unique place you've ever exercised?
The most unique place I have ever exercised has go to be the Jekyll Island bridge, I do bridge repeats so I can get hill training in. At the bottom is a toll booth with the same three people usually. They always have the most encouraging words when I come down before I am about to head up again.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned through sports?
Just when you think you are getting better, you need to increase your workout. There is always someone in front of you or someone that is wanting your spot, so you have to work hard to either get there or stay there. At first the transition from a wheelchair person to a wheelchair athlete was slow but once I realized that I had the capability to compete from this level, I jumped on it and have not looked back since. I don't see a disability any more I see an athlete who wants to win and who has to work hard in order to get there.


Photo: courtesy of Ashely Cooper-Heath