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Barbara Cramer – 75 Years of Defying Stereotypes


barb-cramer-6Editor’s Note:  An earlier version of this post may have left the impression that Barbara Cramer won several medals at the Paralympic Games. Wheel:Life was not able to verify this information, so it has been removed. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. All other information contained in this article is the opinion of Cramer herself.

Editor’s Note: Barbara Ann Roose Cramer was born during World War II in Buffalo, New York. After moving to Colorado at the age of eight, she and her younger brother both contracted infantile paralysis, more commonly known as polio. Though many people with the disease fully recover, including her brother, Cramer was left paralyzed from the neck down. After many years of treatment, she regained the use of her upper extremities but still relies on a wheelchair to get around.

Growing up while attending inaccessible public schools was a struggle, but I managed to graduate high school and complete one year of college in order to become a bookkeeper. I had always been interested in sports, but at that time there weren’t any opportunities for wheelchair users. In the late 1940s when many soldiers returned home from the war as amputees or wheelchair users, accessible sports started gaining traction in North America and Europe. In the 1970s, after having three children, I heard about the Paralympic Games and decided to lose my pregnancy weight and get into shape by eating healthier and pushing my manual wheelchair 100 miles a week through my neighborhood.

Rolling Down the Path to Gold

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I started racing half marathons, and after performing well at various competitions in many states. I was even chosen to be a member of the Colorado Paralympic Team, and then the US Paralympic Team.

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After trying out a variety of other sports, I decided to retire after over 25 years as an athlete.

During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, I was honored to have been chosen to roll through Denver with the Olympic torch.

Ms. Wheelchair Colorado

In the 1990s, I was chosen as Ms. Wheelchair Colorado and finished as the runner-up at the national competition. That year, I did numerous speaking events, and over the following two decades, I served as the Colorado state coordinator, then the national coordinator for the competition. The Ms. Wheelchair America program is quite different than the typical beauty pageant; it does not exploit women in wheelchairs. Instead, a well-spoken, educated woman is chosen to represent and fight for the rights of wheelchair users. She represents the community and educates the public while traveling across the US.

Advocate, Seamstress, Author…Jill of All Trades!

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I’ve always been active in the community and work hard to educate people about being disabled.

barb-cramer-3I’ve participated in various workshops, forums, governor’s committees, and school and church activities, all with the goal of making life better for people living with disabilities. I really enjoy being an advocate and sharing my faith.

Writing has always been a passion of mine, and I have written for various magazines and newspapers over the years. I’ve also published four books, one of which is partially based on my life story: Child of Dreams. In the past, I donated my proceeds to wheelchair sports organizations. Now, I give them to Wilderness on Wheels (WOW), which my husband and I manage. WOW is an outdoor nature site in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver that offers wheelchair accessible camping, hiking, and fishing.

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Editor’s Note: Cramer’s books are available on Amazon.

In case you missed it, check out Wheel:Life’s piece on Wilderness on Wheels here.

Living Life to the Fullest

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The highlight of my husband of 53 years and my lives right now is our family; we have three sons and daughters-in-law, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, and they all live nearby. We also love volunteering at WOW, driving our restored 1968 Corvette, and spending winters in Arizona. I’ve been a wheelchair user for 68 years, but that’s never stopped me from striving to do the things “normal” people do.

I’ve done almost everything on my bucket list; some of them twice.

My motto has always been and always will be, “Live life to the fullest.”

betsy-bailey-headshotAbout the Author

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

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