Brant Beach Native aims to snowboard until Paralympic Games

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SHE PERSISTED: Ackers competes in the Dew Tour in Copper Mountain, Colo., Not far from her current home in Grand Junction. (Photo provided)

Long Beach Island is located close enough to the mountains that as a teenager Jenny Ackers could take day trips from her Brant Beach home to ski resorts a short drive away. Ackers, now 36, started snowboarding as a freshman in high school. It was in her senior year, while riding with friends and family in Mountain Creek, Vernon, that another snowboarder crashed into her, causing a brachial plexus injury – specifically avulsion of the C5-C6 nerve – which has resulted in loss of motor and sensory functions. in his right arm.

Ackers is the fifth of six children, a close-knit group whose parents both taught in the Southern Regional School District. She and her younger sister, Anne Ackers-Cilley, had traveled to Mountain Creek with friends on the first day of winter vacation in December 2003. On the last run before lunch, Ackers stopped to tinker with the ‘one of his bindings, then left. to catch up with the rest of his group.

During a track merger, an uncontrollable snowboarder slammed into her from behind. “All of a sudden I was on my back on the slope looking up,” Ackers said. She didn’t remember the impact. The man who had hit her and a doctor who had passed by stopped to help her.

“I thought I was fine,” Ackers remarked. “Obviously, I passed out and needed to be checked out, and I remember saying my leg was hurting, but I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my arm. I was just a little sore all over.

A ski patrol carried her down the mountain and urged her to go to the nearby hospital. During the ambulance ride, the shock of the incident faded. “By the time we got to the hospital, I was in agony,” Ackers recalls. “They cut my clothes. I was under a thin blanket. I was shaking and losing consciousness. The technician kept yelling at me to move my arm for the x-ray, but I couldn’t. It was like telling me to move my tooth.

The experience in the hospital was a bit of a nightmare, to say the least. Ackers was over 18, so the staff didn’t want to allow a call to his parents (at that time, before cell phones were commonplace) and they wouldn’t give him any pain medication. Ackers-Cilley, however, demanded that she be allowed to use the phone, and when their sister Megan Ackers Smith arrived at the hospital, she made sure Ackers received medication.

There was no doctor at the hospital to read the scans; When her parents arrived, Ackers was released with what staff said was a broken wrist – and a nurse’s warning to just face the pain.

She screamed to her house. When she was finally able to get stronger pain relievers, she started vomiting for two days and was in too much pain to even walk.

Ackers’ parents Beth and Tom took her to Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, where staff stabilized, hydrated and molded her after they identified a cracked vertebra and scapula and severe nerve damage. They also recommended that she see a specialist.

“The whole time that I was in a cast I was thinking, I can’t move my arm,” Ackers said. “When they cut the plaster at the SOMC, my arm just fell off.”

Ackers and his mother then stopped by the office of Dr Richard Goldstein, who was able to secure an appointment for him with a sports doctor. This doctor was the first to mention a brachial plexus injury, but the issue was beyond his expertise. He suggested that she try to see a specialist from the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia.

Ackers must have received special approval for the Shriners, as the facility typically caters to under-18s. There she learned, “What I have cannot be healed, because my nerves were pulled out from inside my spinal cord. The C5 and C6 nerves correspond to these vertebrae. (I also stretched the C7 nerve, but this fixed itself.)

“It’s like unplugging a toaster and all the wiring comes out of the wall,” she continued. “The toaster itself is fine, but electronically it won’t work. … The C5 and C6 nerves could not be pushed back into my spinal cord.

In April 2004, however, Ackers underwent nerve transfer surgery in which the damaged nerves were spliced ​​with some of the other functional nerves. It helped her a bit with her biceps, and now she can, for example, open a door and ‘put my hand to my face, type of, she noted.

His arm from his elbow is the most affected. She cannot carry her two young children – Sam and Cece – with her right arm, and she cannot carry a glass of water to her mouth with that arm. She has some loss of sensitivity in her fingers, but can still write with her right hand; his left hand should just help move the right hand across the paper.

With the timing of his surgery coinciding with the senior’s trip to Southern, Ackers must have ignored it. The injury also meant that she missed her final season of high school lacrosse, a sport she loved, led and hoped to play in college.

However, “she had a very strong desire not to let her injury hold her back,” said her brother, Brendan Ackers. “I’m sure she had times when she was depressed, but she didn’t really show it, and she was determined to move on with her life.”

The summer after Jenny’s senior year, she told Brendan and her dad that she wanted to surf with them on an aerial wave day. They expressed some concern and suggested he wait for a smaller board.

“I was in the lineup,” Brendan recalls, “and I’m watching the waves. Then I look back, and there she is. I couldn’t believe she was paddling set after set with one arm.

“I was both impressed and terrified. But she got away with it, “he added.” I knew then: she would be fine. “

Southern Regional Middle School English teacher Scott Cooper had Ackers in class when she was in seventh and eighth grades, years before her injury, and remembers her as “a really hardworking and very creative “. Since then, every class in their class, he noted, has been tasked with reading a hilarious research article Ackers wrote about a mathematician.

Cooper learned of Ackers’ injury from his mother, as they both worked in college, and now he’s using his former student’s as well. real life history in its courses. He shows kids pictures of Acker whitewater rafting, 18 Mile Run races, surfing and skydiving. Then he explains his injury, and he emphasizes, “That doesn’t stop him from doing anything.

And here, students learn this proverbial optimistic phrase: “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” “

When it came to the lemons, Ackers had to change course a bit when the decision time in college came, as the butt was off the table and, she said, “I thought that a smaller school would be easier with my injury. “

His first semester at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, NY has started – and Ackers realized how much he missed team sports. She saw a flyer for the women’s rugby team, and that was it. Ackers ended up being one of the fastest and toughest people on the team, playing on the left wing so he could catch with his left arm.

She played all four years and was the top scorer and captain as a senior when the team placed second in the state. “And the Shriners doctor said I couldn’t hurt my arm more badly,” Ackers said, so she wasn’t worried about the physicality of the sport.

During his stay in Saint-Bonaventure, Ackers also got back to snowboarding. Her balance was a bit off balance at first, and she had to figure out what type of bindings were easiest for her to use, but it didn’t take long for everything to snap into place again. After graduation she moved to Colorado and continued to ride and teach snowboarding.

She took a few years off to start a family with her husband, Mark Verber, and to weather the pandemic. Then last summer she heard on the radio that the category of women’s upper limb impairments would be added for the 2026 Paralympic Games. She contacted the Paralympic Food Program and quickly met at Copper Mountain – no away from home in Grand Junction, Colo .– Paralympic medalist Amy Purdy and her husband, Dan Gale, of Adaptive Action Sports.

Ackers began training with Purdy and Gale, and this past weekend she competed in an adapted competition at the Dew Tour, which was held in Copper. The Dew Tour is not a Paralympic sanctioned event (as it is with skiing and snowboarding in the United States), so it is more of an exhibition, rather than some sort of qualification, to those who participate in adapted competitions.

Ackers wants to keep competing where possible, and eventually make it to the World Cup stage – and then to the Paralympics.

“Jenny has always amazed me with her ability to persevere,” said her sister Amy Schlippert. “I think a lot of people in her position would say, ‘Well, I can’t do that because of my disability,’ but she never let that stop her. Jenny kept surfing, doing climbing and snowboarding, although she only used one fully functional arm. Now add that she is a mother of two young children, preparing for her graduate degree (in occupational therapy) and training for the Paralympic Games; it’s just amazing.

Kelly O’Halloran, whom Ackers met in Saint-Bonaventure, confirmed: “If anyone can do it, it’s Jennifer C. Ackers. The woman never let anything stop or slow her down, and this is especially true when it comes to competition. She is an incredible athlete and competitor that I had the pleasure of witnessing during our time as adaptive snowboard instructors and playing recreational soccer together throughout college.

“Quite simply, she’s a real badass as a human, as a competitor and as a mom. I will support her as always from our home in Texas! “

Katie Ackers-Schrock, the eldest of six Ackers siblings, said she “was not at all surprised when Jennifer said she hoped to join the 2026 Paralympic team. She always did things right. his way. That’s what I love most about her.

“It was probably the scariest day of our lives seeing her injured in the hospital and not knowing what the future would hold. But Jennifer never let her injury define or stop her. I am so proud that she is my sister and I couldn’t be happier for her. I have no doubt that she will succeed.

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