Aug. 5, 2011
WyomingAthletics.com's third installment of "Where Are They Now" shares the inspirational story of former Cowgirl basketball student-athlete Nichole Rider. We caught up with Rider to see how her life has changed since being paralyzed during her senior season and what she's up to now.
Rider came to the University of Wyoming in the fall of 1991 on a women's basketball scholarship with her twin sister, Jennifer. The Douglas, Wyo., native was in what was supposed to be her senior year during the 1995-96 season when tragedy struck. In November of 1995, she was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed.
Despite all of the obstacles, Rider graduated with a degree in social science in 1998. She still lives in Laramie and currently works for Insurance Unlimited. She recently picked up a passion for what most would find odd in a landlocked state, sailing. With her new hobby, she has traveled around the country, competed in several events and even has her own website.
Being from Wyoming, talk about playing for the Cowgirls and in your home state of Wyoming.
Nichole: Being a native of Wyoming and playing for the home state university was a great experience. Growing up in Wyoming I made many contacts over the years in my sporting endeavors so it was nice to stay in state where there was so much support and encouragement!
Your twin sister was also a member of the squad, what was it like to play with her?
Nichole: It was great playing ball with my twin sister. I really would not know any other way. We played, practiced and competed with and against each other our whole lives. It was so nice to always have someone more driven and dedicated pushing me to be the best I could be!
Nichole: It was actually my senior year. My boyfriend at the time and I were driving home from Ft Collins Nov. 25, 1995 and he fell asleep at the wheel and the truck rolled one and a half times, leaving me suspended upside down from my seatbelt with my neck at a 90 degree angle over my left shoulder. I broke my neck at the C-5 level. The initial prognosis was very bleak with a 50 percent chance of surviving the night and a 5 percent chance of ever having movement below my shoulders let alone ever walking again. Being an athlete my whole life, I knew I could make a much better recovery than the doctor's prognosis. With a lot of faith, determination and hard work I regained the use of my arms and legs and am able to walk with the assistance of two canes. I do use my chair the majority of the time to get around for efficiency but I continue to work out daily to keep fit and to keep my strength in my arms and legs.
Talk about the challenges you faced in your recovery and now if any.
Nichole: It took some getting used to. Going from running and working out every day and being so very active to barely being able to move but just my right arm. It took a lot of patience and hard work. It was like getting a whole new body and trying to figure out how to make it move most efficiently. Being in sports my whole life was a saving grace, I looked at therapy like a camp. Just giving my all every day and trying to improve something every day.
My greatest asset was and is my attitude. Ninety percent of anything in life is mental. Having a positive attitude and not seeing obstacles in front of you but rather opportunities for growth and self-improvement can take a person a long way. After the accident, it put life into a whole new perspective. It's amazing how much we take for granted and how great life really is if we just see it for what it is worth and live life to the fullest each and every day! I would not trade my accident for anything. The lessons I have learned, the person I have become, the people I have met and the amazing experiences I have had, I never would have had otherwise. I am and always have been a "doer." I was never one to sit on the sidelines of life....I wanted to be in the middle of the action. Yes, I may be differently abled now...but I can do anything I choose to do! Since my accident I have become active in the sports arena, this time as an adaptive athlete. I handcycle, kayak, have played wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, have tried the alpine and Nordic sit skis and my newest passion is sailing and racing sail boats!
How did having your sister with you following the accident help you?
Nichole: She was a God send. I could never have made it without her. She was the only one who saw me for the person I was and did not see my brokenness and treat me different just because my body was physically different now. People don't realize that we are still the same inside after a tragic accident....with the same thoughts, feelings, hopes and desires as any other human being!
What is your current occupation, how long you have been there and describe what you do?
Nichole: I am a licensed insurance agent specializing in property/casualty insurance. I work for Insurance Unlimited in Laramie. We are an independent insurance agency. I have been here for five years now and love the interaction I have with people!
You've picked up a new interest in sailing, talk about how you got involved in that?
Nichole: I had never sailed before I went to Miami, Fla., for vacation in April 2010. While in Miami, I had the great pleasure of connecting with Shake-A-Leg Miami, which is an adaptive water sports program and meeting Kerry Gruson, Juan Carlos Gil (also disabled sailors) and their friend John Muir who took me sailing on the Sonar owned by Kerry and I was hooked from the first time I took the helm, thus finding my passion in life!
Over the course of the summer, I exploded into the sailing world, racing in 6 regattas. I raced in all but one regatta in a 17 foot ODay Day Sailer and the other regatta I raced in an E Scow. The other boats I have sailed include a Sonar, Wavelength 24, Atlantic 30, J/22, J/24, Catalina 25, an Ideal 18, a Hobie 16 and a Hobie 20 and an Access 303 Wide Dinghy.
What races have you been involved in and places that you have visited?
Nichole: My first regatta ever was the 2010 Wyoming Governor's Cup at Alcova Reservoir near Casper, Wyo. I raced in the 2010 Day Sailer North American Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The other regattas include the Annual Aspen Regatta in Aspen, Colo., the 2010 Colorado Governor's Cup at Cherry Creek Reservoir in Denver, the Union Regatta at Union Reservoir in Longmont, Colo., the 2011 Leukemia Cup at Chatfield Reservoir in Denver, the 2011 Robie Pierce One Design Regatta in Rye, N.Y., and the 2011 Wyoming Governor's Cup.
What is your next events will you be involved in?
Nichole: My next regatta will be the 2011 Annual Aspen Regatta in mid- July, a Hobie Regatta at Boyd Lake in Loveland, Colo., the third week of July and the Dillon Open Regatta in Dillon, Colo., the end of July. And may I add, I just sailed on a Hobie Cat for the first time two weeks ago and absolutely fell in love with the boat! A friend of mine is loaning his Hobie 16 to me for the remainder of the summer to race and sail in! The last week of August I will be traveling to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to race in the 2011 Rotary Mobility Cup in a Martin 16. In October I hope to race in the J/22 World Championships in New Orleans! It does take money to travel to these events so if anyone is interested in donating to my sailing campaign they can go to my webpage at www.cleverpig.org/NicholeRider and get the information for the non-profit Active Disabled Americans that I am involved with and make a donation in my name. All donations are tax deductible.
Describe what it's like when you are in the boat and sailing.
Nichole: Complete freedom. The feeling is almost indescribable. I feel so at home on the water!
What advice would you give to anyone with a tough challenge in front of them?
Nichole: I say just go for it! You have nothing to lose and only everything to gain! The best advice is to live a life without limits! And remember that your attitude determines your altitude in life!