Editor’s Note: The Woody Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit aiming to increase awareness and raise funds for groups and organizations serving the paralysis community. As the face of The Woody Foundation, James “Woody” Beckham, shares his determination and inspirational words, giving us all great comfort that he will indeed overcome his devastating injury and walk through the rest of his life as a champion.
How I Got Sidelined
My journey began in 2011 while playing rugby in college for Florida Atlantic University. We were playing against the University of Miami in Coral Gables, right down the street from where I grew up, so a lot of my friends and family were there watching. I went in for a tackle, felt my neck twist, and then I couldn’t move my body. I knew immediately I had a spinal cord injury; I don’t know how. I remember telling my Dad when he came down to the field to pour cold water and ice on my neck. It hypothetically reduces swelling in your spinal cord to prevent secondary damage. I was taken straight to the local hospital, Jackson Memorial, and they performed that same treatment. I had heard about the technique before through the Miami Project. (Editor’s note: The Miami Project is a University of Miami program dedicated to researching spinal cord and brain injuries.) I’m a big fan of University of Miami football, and one of their former players was injured while playing professionally for the Buffalo Bills. He had hypothermic treatment done and was actually able to recover.
Kicking-Off The Woody Foundation
While in rehab for 60 days at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, the idea for the Woody Foundation came to me. My family and friends wondered how they could help more individuals and other people in similar situations. The hospital was going through a pretty rough time financially, and though the staff was great, some of the equipment wasn’t as good as it could have been. So, with the help of family and friends, we put together a lionfish spearfishing tournament to raise money for the hospital. The lionfish is an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean, and it’s taking over reefs here in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The tournament was our first fundraiser and how the Woody Foundation began. We continue to hold the event annually. After a day of fishing, we have a big party to eat our catch. Through the tournament, we’ve raised over $120,000 for the purchase of new equipment for the Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital.
Our Team and Events
The Woody Foundation team consists of a lot of family members, and some local business owners and individuals. My cousin, Lucy Foerster, is the Executive Director. She gets things done and puts in a lot of work to make me look good. We’ve been able to make a big impact in a relatively small period of time. We donate to a number of organizations all serving people with paralysis in some way. We have four annual signature events:
- Maine Lobster Feast (February 23, 2017): Helps raise funds and awareness for those living with paralysis. Proceeds are shared with Shake-A-Leg Miami, an adaptive water sports non-profit organization.
- Woody Golf Classic (2017 date TBD): Spring golf tournament. Proceeds are shared with The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
- Lionfish Bash (2017 date TBD): Summer fishing tournament aimed at reducing the number of invasive lionfish taking over the reefs off the Florida coast. Funds are used to purchase new equipment for Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital.
- Woodystock Benefit Concert (2017 date TBD): Fall concert to help finance the Woody Pack project.
Get Your Free Woody Pack!
The Woody Pack is probably the most unique thing anyone is doing related to quadriplegics with limited hand functioning. Basically, we give away a backpack with a variety of assistive devices in it designed for people with limited hand functioning. There’s also a flash drive with various text resources in electronic format. With limited hand functioning, having documents in electronic format is easier than having to hold paper and turn pages.
The idea for the Woody Pack came about through my experiences with everything I bought just after my injury. I felt like 80% of it didn’t work for me. I felt like I was a tech savvy, engineering type that should be able to figure these things out. If I had to go through that struggle, I could help others overcome the battle of getting daily activities accomplished that used to be so simple- drinking out of a cup, eating independently, or picking up a pen. Not being able to feed yourself can be pretty disheartening.
There are a lot of nuances to people’s disabilities. Not everyone with limited hand functioning is the same. One individual’s hand may be straight, while another’s may spasm to a fully closed fist that they can’t open. You get anything along the gamut with people affected by neurological disorders, not solely paralysis or spinal cord injuries. If you have low-tech, adaptable, assistive items, they rarely fail. Something as simple as a zip tie can create a loop on a zipper. I might not have been able to open that zipper before, but if you put a loop on it, it becomes relatively easy for me to open and close just by sticking my non-functioning finger in there and moving it.
Some of the items available in the Woody Pack include:
- Retractable ID holder that hooks onto your wheelchair for convenient access. It holds five to six cards (credit cards, business cards, ID, etc.).
- Cupholder that mounts on your wheelchair with a velcro strap.
- Side bag that fastens onto your wheelchair.
- Phone case that straps onto your hand.
- Adaptive fork that wraps around your hand and is adjustable for different hand sizes.
- Long straws for drinking out of cups or bottles.
- Zip ties to create loops or attach things.
We ship the Woody Packs across the US for free to anyone with limited hand functioning, no matter what your disability.
Woody Talks About the Pack
If a Woody Pack would be beneficial to you, fill out this form online and pick the items you’d like to receive. We ship out the pack free of charge. We try to confirm that everyone requesting a pack has limited hand functioning by asking two questions:
- What type of disability do you have?
- Do you have limited hand functioning?
We get great feedback about the devices in the Woody Pack. People love it and most don’t even know these items exist, especially if they’ve been newly injured.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned in the upcoming months for more on our Wheel:Life Ambassador, Woody Beckham, and his work with the Center for Independent Living and involvement with the Spinal Cord Injury Support Group in Miami.
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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!