Boldly Represent Yourself as a Wheelchair User
“I just can’t say this enough: make the best of what you’ve got,” Blake Perkins declared. “It may not be beautiful. It may not be poetic. It is what it is and you just have to do your best.” These are words Blake lives by and this positive example is one of the reasons he was honored as a “Hometown Hero” in 2016 by WBKO, An ABC affiliate television station in his hometown of Bowling Green, KY.
Without this optimistic view of life, there’s no way to know what Blake’s life would be today. Following a motorcycle accident in 2011, he was paralyzed from the waist down. At the time he was attending Western Kentucky University (WKU) with the intention of becoming a Physical Therapist. In an interview for WBKO, Blake explained that immediately following the accident he broke down and was emotional for about a day. “After that it was about how do I get better, how do I get back to living life the way I want to?”
The accident and Blake’s injuries didn’t alter his dream of becoming a physical therapist; however, after completing his requirements for a degree in Exercise Science, professors at WKU questioned whether he could meet the demands of the Physical Therapy program since he couldn’t stand or walk. After meeting with Blake and initially working with him, the instructors were convinced he could overcome any obstacle. Blake now plans to return to WKU and graduate with his doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2018. He will also sit for his ATP certification in July of this year.
Blake has produced instructional videos covering subjects such as “Social Boozing with a Spinal Cord Injury” and “Handicapable Fitness” as well as entertaining videos of him singing while accompanying himself on guitar.(https://www.youtube.com/user/bperky31/videos) “I came to Nashville in 2016 because of a clinical rotation with Star Physical Therapy in neighboring Brentwood,” Blake said. “Star was understanding and open minded about my being in a wheelchair.An added bonus of living in this area is being part of the music scene in Nashville. I love writing music and performing.” Blake and his band play in and around Nashville in familiar places such as Opry Mills. “We also play lots of marinas,” Blake said. “Performing is fun and I’d love to do it professionally, but that’s a far-off dream.”
Blake Perkins’ matter-of-fact, optimistic attitude is genuine and that is obvious to those who know him personally, work with him or simply observe him as he interacts with others. The individual who nominated Blake for the Hometown Hero honor is a former athletic coach who noticed Blake at work as a physical trainer at an athletic club. The man explained, “I’ve seen so many people who have had accidents like he had and they just give up. But Blake has a fighting spirit and it really impressed me.”
“When I went back to work after the accident as a personal trainer I had get better at explaining exercises and techniques,” Blake said. “I could no longer show how to do every move. That was very challenging.” However, as in every facet of this 26-year-olds’ life, Blake turned that challenge into a positive. “I believe that, unfortunately, many folks with injuries adopt an attitude of not wanting to be defined by their disability,” Blake said. “I feel I’ve embraced my situation and accept it as part of my identity. I believe that enables me to help, and perhaps inspire, others. Identifying with being a “wheelchair” guy has helped me stay sane and figure out my niche in life. Whatever gives you the edge you need, as long as it is constructive and isn’t detrimental to you or others - use it!” Blake also said that he expects to fail at some things and feels it is essential to also embrace failure and vulnerability. “I realized after the accident that I still had a place as a physical therapist, but I had to figure out what I could offer the world with what I’d been dealt. Actually, I’m still figuring that out.”
Blake doesn’t deny or minimize the difficulty of transitioning from being mobile and self-sufficient to living in circumstances that require occasional dependence on others; however, without question his choices in how to handle his situation are an inspiration to others.
Here’s a summary of Blake’s personal advice to someone who has faced a life-changing disability:
It can take years to get over the initial psychological shock of your injuries. Don’t let yourself become discouraged.
You are still the same person as you were before.
Focus on the ‘why not’ instead of ‘why.’ This is especially true when working with doctors and clinicians regarding your injury.
Focus on the ‘how’ and not the ‘when.’ Focus on rehab, peer support and ask for help. Fully appreciate any support network you may have and if you don’t have one – find one. They are everywhere!
Be patient with your body as your neurological system restarts (spinal shock). Allow yourself time to heal.
Persistence leads to progress, with rehab, career aspirations and independence. Keep working. It will pay off!
“I would add that it is important not to be ashamed to embrace your disability,” Blake said. “Try to view it as portraying your talent to the world through a different lens and a different perspective. Associate with people who respect you and don’t be afraid to boldly represent yourself as a wheelchair user.
Blake currently works a Customer Care Coordinator at Numotion, a national complex rehab technology provider, in a Nashville Metroplex location. He is also a consumer lobbyist and attended his first National CRT Leadership and Advocacy Conference this year. “As a wheelchair user and aspiring clinician, I experience the effects of Medicare’s handling of reimbursement funding and I hope my perspective can be valuable.”
An even more important event for Blake this year will be his marriage to his fiancé’ Tami Bergert. The couple met after Blake moved to Nashville and has set a June 3, 2017 wedding date.Blake and Tami have given serious consideration to their “needs vs. wants” and agree that they don’t have many “needs” but are certain they do want to have a family. The couple realizes that in their circumstance this will require a large financial commitment and have established a fund at www.honeyfund.com/wedding/marryingybestfriend to provide an opportunity for others to help them see this come true.
Blake may be reached at Blake.firstname.lastname@example.org
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