Having lived through a spinal cord injury, rehabilitation and reintegration into society, San Antonio’s Chris Salas is well aware of how difficult the transition from patient to person can be.
“A lot of people have no resources and no direction,” says Salas, a C5 incomplete quad. “They’re kind of lost.”
Since he was paralyzed in a car accident 19 years ago, Salas has devoted himself to helping others find their way out of this difficult spot after sustaining spinal cord injuries. He started off as a peer mentor, worked as the recruitment director for a regional adaptive athletic program and even set his career goal — becoming a psychologist — around helping others with disabilities.
But his proudest accomplishment is Rolling Inspiration, a San Antonio-based non-profit he founded that now doubles as United Spinal’s San Antonio chapter. Rolling Inspiration got its start as a simple support group at a local community center in 2010.
“I just wanted to provide a forum for people who needed additional help,” he says. “A lot of the social workers don’t know a lot of the information we do from experience. I see people who get discharged from hospitals and get assigned outpatient physical therapy and occupational therapy, but usually no kind of mental therapy is suggested or prescribed on discharge.”
The first meeting drew only four attendees, but nowadays meetings, held twice a month at a local rehab hospital, average 10-15 wheelchair users and at least that many family and friends. As the group has grown, so too have the organization’s peer mentoring efforts. With three major rehab hospitals in the area there is always demand, and now Rolling Inspiration has a diverse roster of mentors that allow it to adjust to mentees’ needs.
“Whether it’s someone who is newly injured, a brother, a sister, a husband, or a wife, or whether they had a baby pre-injury or post-injury, we have such a wide variety of mentors, that no matter what your situation is we have it covered,” says Salas.
In addition to the support groups and peer mentoring, Rolling Inspiration offers what it calls “community reintegration activities.” These events have ranged from waterskiing and surfing, to visiting a rodeo or amusement park. Salas says the events are about more than just getting out.
“I want to get people to go out and do things … to actually live a productive life and enjoy it despite being in a chair,” he explains. “I don’t want them to just go through the motions. Our goal is to help build that confidence and let people know they can do things they didn’t think they’d be able to do in a chair.”
Salas hopes to expand the number of community reintegration activities Rolling Inspiration offers as the organization grows. He would also like to eventually build or set up an independence center if he can find the money and staffing. But for right now, he is happy with how far the group has come.
“The proudest thing for me is getting the feedback from the people who have known