Discovering the Ability in Disablity - The Molly and Jeramy Hale Story
In 1995 Molly Hale was in an automobile accident that left her with a severe spinal cord injury. Specifically her fifth cervical vertebra was fractured with a dislocation between six and seven. We wanted to talk to Molly and her husband, Jeramy to find out what has changed for them during the 20 years since the accident. How does a 67-year-old woman reconcile an aging body with such a disability? How has her husband adjusted to this alternate lifestyle? What has changed for the couple and what stayed the same? Molly and Jeramy both agreed to interviews and provided very honest, meaningful answers to our questions.
As is typical with most individuals in their mid-60s, Molly feels the challenge of an aging body, however, what may not be typical is her exercise regime. “I continue to work out in a warm water pool, continue to ride horses (hippotherapy) and continue to train in martial arts,” she explains. Molly also focuses on effective breathing. “I have participated in Aikido for 11 years ‘on my feet’ and 20 years in a seated position.” Molly believes these physical activities have made aging less of a challenge especially considering her disability. “My recent physical examination blew my doctor away.” Molly has experienced “zero” pressure sores, “my heart is great, no UTIs – I’m just healthy. I know my activities make a difference.”
As much as the couple’s life since the accident has focused on the practicalities of Molly’s care, they have maintained balance with an authentic positive attitude that has served them well and helped many others. At the center of this mindset is their participation in the martial arts form, Aikido. The word “aikido” is translated as “the way of harmonious spirit” or “the way of unifying with life energy.” Those who practice Aikido learn to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.
“We do the best we can to keep an open mind and an open heart as we approach whatever is before us,” explained Jeramy Hale, Molly’s husband of 27 years. Even with this focus Jeramy stresses that dealing with their life’s situation was not always, and at times still isn’t, easy or simple. “After Molly’s accident my meditative approach to body, mind and spirit didn’t seem to help me at first,” Jeramy said. “I was in shock for some time and didn’t even realize it. Our lives had radically changed and it wasn’t about romance anymore. It was about moving forward.” The couple faced severe challenges. “We were faced with serious questions such as: How do we get through this and stay healthy? How do we stay together?” Jeramy said.
Molly explains that although she mourned her loss of movement, she tried to bring the Zen tradition of a “beginner’s mind” to the situation. She reminded herself every morning that, “Today is a new day, and let’s take a look at what’s going to happen,” and made a habit of recognizing the smallest incremental changes. “And, pretty much, every day I got one.” Molly considered any day when she experienced multiple changes “a magical day.” She cultivated the thought pattern “I can’t walk yet, but what can I do if I try?”
“The training and practice of Aikido continues to aid my recovery and attitude tremendously,” Molly said. Both Molly and Jeramy earned their fourth degree black belt in Aikido two years ago and both are Aikido instructors. “Later this year we are teaching at an international conference that will bring together teachers who are both typically abled and who have disabilities,” Molly said. “The purpose of this conference is to broaden use of martial arts and expand teaching knowledge.” The couple often teaches together with Jeramy demonstrating typical situations and Molly teaching an adaptive situation. They enjoy the travel opportunities these experiences often provide. “We’re scheduled to teach in Paris, France, and will go from there to a conference in Great Britain on the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands.” Molly was recently named as a Consulting Instructor for the Adaptive Martial Arts Association representing the art of Aikido and providing the group with her “unique perspective
as both a traditional and adaptive martial artist.”
Molly’s horseback riding continues to be an important part of her therapy. She now rides once a week and supplements this activity with a physio ball at home that provides similar benefits as riding. Molly used county-sponsored free van transportation the first 14 years after her injury to get to and from the pool, the barn and other activities. A modified van donated to the non-profit has her back on the road driving again. This independent, resolute woman appreciates and understands the importance of help from friends and family. “Everyone struggles with asking for and accepting help,” she said. “We all think we need to be independent and take care of ourselves.” Molly admits that on occasion she struggles with taking help especially as she has become more able. “When I couldn’t scratch my nose or pull up my pants, it was easy to ask for help. But as my ability broadened, I had to do my own dance with it being okay to ask for help,” Molly said. “Even though I can dress myself, it takes me three times as long as a typical person. Time-wise everything takes much longer for me.” She explained that she has accepted that four hands make light work and continues to ask for help and to accept it. “If I don’t ask, then I have a ‘No,’ don’t I?”
Jeramy and Molly have been very mindful of ways they can adapt their life together since Molly’s accident. The couple has engineered their outdoor space so they can enjoy gardening together. “We have two long, raised beds that are approximately twelve feet long and three-and-a-half feet wide, Molly said. “I can plant, pick, compost and do everything from a seated position. Now I want some chickens!” Jeramy is responsible for the fruit tree pruning. “We’ve done a particular form of planting where we keep the trees short – semi-dwarf – so we can prune and pick from the ground and we don’t have to use ladders.” Molly encourages gardening activity for anyone who isn’t typically able. “Keep in mind there are many things that are easy to grow in pots such as strawberries and herbs. Even if you aren’t growing food, there is something remarkable for the soul to see a pot of flowers you have grown.” Always looking forward, Molly explained that her hippotherapy experience provides her with the possibility of going backpacking again. “I can take a pony out into the woods and that is something my husband and I used to do together…this gives us another possibility of engaging each other.”
The couple enjoys hanging out with friends and having meals together, however the time it would take Molly to prepare a meal for a crowd would make this very difficult. “So now on a Friday night we’ll have up to a dozen people come to the house and we all cook together. I provide all the salad makings and we have this herd of people taking care of everything else,” Molly said. “We can have a lovely evening together with amazing food.”
A strong desire to share their experience and knowledge was the motivation behind the creation of “Ability Production,” a non-profit founded in 2004 by Molly and Jeramy. Their website, www.abilityproduction.org offers a wide range of free resources that can be helpful to their target audience of people with spinal cord injuries and for others who experience temporary or permanent physical disability. “The seed for the non-profit was my injury, but the content of our website and our presentations is far broader,” Molly said. The website also offers a variety of short videos that provide information on the various aspects of dealing with quadriplegia. An insightful documentary, Moment by Moment: The Healing Journey of Molly Hale can be viewed on the website.
“Through our website Molly has mentored and encouraged many people from all over the world,” Jeramy said. “We don’t charge any money. We just want to get the information out there and we have experienced a great deal of satisfaction in sharing what we’ve learned. And every day we learn something new!”
Molly has been featured in a series produced by The Huffington Post that highlights the contributions of individuals who redefine success. In that interview, Molly explained, “All of the skills that I brought to this healing are learnable. It’s not rocket science – it’s clear, definable, available information that anybody can pick up. But if you don’t know that the information exists, you don’t pick it up.” Molly and Jeramy Hale continue to “discover the ability in disability” and use this as their guide. “What remains stable is my attitude and my gratitude,” Molly said. “Jeramy and I hope we can just point the way and touch someone or help alleviate fear.”
“Our life may be a bit more complex than some other couples,” Jeramy said. “But there is nothing special about us. Who in my situation has been trained to be a caregiver, yet it became the most important thing I could do. I had my own life, my own goals and as a couple we had goals in our partnership.” Jeramy admits that if he had been faced with this situation as a younger man, he probably would not have had the maturity and depth to stay in his relationship with Molly. “Either of us could leave tomorrow just like any normal couple might. Every day we choose to stay together. It has been over 20 years and I don’t think either of us is going anywhere.” The admiration and love this husband feels for his wife is obvious. “I recognize that Molly carries a light and a care for people around her that is quite unique. She has never been bitter or resentful.”
“Caregiving is very hard for me but it is also most rewarding. It just takes a long time for the rewards to surface,” Jeramy continued. “Molly approached the changes in her physicality and what lay before her with an amazingly positive and optimistic spirit of adventure and work. So it made it much easier for me to stay with her.” The couple decided they were in “this” together. “In my bad moments I hate that I get snippy and maybe I’m not the nice guy everyone thinks I am. When this happens I have to review my attitude and do the best I can to continue to grow as a person. It impacts both of us and we grow together. Even though I wasn’t trained for this life, it has turned out to be the most rewarding thing that has happened to me.
Molly and Jeramy Hale possess a thoughtful approach to life and to Molly’s physical needs that has successfully merged. From their early years together filled with vigorous outdoor activities to the adaptive life they now lead, the couple has chosen the high road of a positive spirit and constant discovery to enthusiastically help others.
Molly may be at email@example.com or Jeramy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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