Attitude to Succeed: Karen Roy turns tragedy into the chance to empower

Karen Roy enjoys the overwhelming support of her family, including her children Joseph, Caroline and Austin. Photo by Collin Richie.

Over the phone, Karen Roy reveals that she is speaking whilst standing upright in a new robotic device, something she does quite often now, whether demonstrating them at conferences for the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana, at home, or for potential Numotion buyers interested in achieving her same level of confidence. And although it isn’t Roy’s brain that took away the use of her legs, her attention to maintaining a mind-body connection remains a crucial part of her lifestyle today, years after a traumatic event threatened to destroy it all.

At age 19, while leaving a bar with her boyfriend in college, Roy was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the back, resulting in paralysis from the waist down. After passing out as people rushed to help, she woke up later in a hospital to the news that she would never walk again. Devastated, but still focused on the life that lay ahead, Roy thought immediately of one important question she needed to ask.

“I asked them if I could still have children,” she says. “When they told me yes, I just thought, ‘Okay, well then, I’ll just have to figure this whole thing out.’”

Now a mother of three, with her youngest graduating from high school this year, Roy says she never saw her wheelchair as something that defined her life or what she could do with it. Always in possession of the same ambitious attitude, having traveled to Europe and spoken in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the United Spinal Association, she quickly realized how a positive outlook on her condition could help others who were struggling, especially during her 20 years as a hospital social worker for other paraplegics, and with her current job in the mobility equipment field.

“I had a lot of great family support and was introduced very early on to products like standing frames and braces and a bicycle that uses electrical stimulation to help the muscles in my legs,” she says. “I want people to be able to see how I take care of myself and realize how important the mind-body relationship is to recovery. I want people to push themselves to get back out there, no matter how scary it is. Whether it’s school or work or a relationship—this injury doesn’t have to stop us.”

This summer, Roy will explore a new platform for her activism at the Ms. Wheelchair America competition, an event she hopes will help replicate her message of strength and confidence beyond the bounds of Louisiana, whether she wins or not.

“I still remember going back to LSU after it all happened, having worked on my body and kept my legs strong, feeling confident enough to have so many people looking at me in my wheelchair,” she says. “In the end, you sometimes just need to tell yourself to work out, put a cute outfit on, and let all those people stare away.”

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