Student carries Olympic flame

On Jan. 22, PSU student Teryl Hoffman-Figgins will carry the Olympic torch eight-tenths of a mile up the I-5 freeway. Hoffman-Figgins is one of 11,500 torchbearers chosen from across America to relay the torch to Salt Lake City.

Only a handful of torchbearers have met the challenges she has; Hoffman-Figgins is quadriplegic.

In 1996, Hoffman-Figgins, a physical therapist, was helping carry a patient when someone in the hospital hallway dropped a tray. Startled, the patient jerked, causing Hoffman-Figgins to fall against a hospital bed.

“The hospital bed basically took the skull off my spine,” she said.

In fact, the injury was so serious, her doctor said she would never be able to breathe on her own again.

But Hoffman-Figgins didn’t allow her circumstances to get in her way. Within 30 days, she returned to work, even though her physical condition was the same as many of her patients’.

Hoffman-Figgins even continued her favorite sport: soon afterwards, she purchased a mono-ski, specially designed for people with paralysis. With only the ability to move her head and fingers, Hoffman-Figgins is now currently the highest injury-level mono-skier.

“There isn’t a thing others can do that I can’t do,” she said.

Hoffman-Figgins also plays basketball, fishes, goes camping, water-skies, plays tennis, rafts and even plays rugby.

“We (paralyzed people) face a lot of different struggles. It doesn’t mean you have to quit, you just have to be a little more creative.”

Hoffman-Figgins is spreading her optimism to others in her same condition. She is the founder of the Oregon chapter of Winners-On-Wheels (WOW), a nonprofit scouting-type organization for four to 15-year-old children in wheelchairs, and has made WOW her life project.

“My goal is to help these kids find what their own strength is, who they can be,” she said. “They have no limitations. They can be anything they want to be, they just have to believe in themselves.”

Hoffman-Figgins’ goal is coming to pass. WOW’s 57 children in Portland are learning to live normal lives.

“It’s great watching the kids come out of their shells,” she said. “They’re talking about becoming athletes, one is modeling in a magazine for adaptive equipment, there’s one who wants to become a school teacher … The kids are realizing they can do anything their peers can do.”

The impact Hoffman-Figgins is having on children in wheelchairs has led her to see the advantages of her disability.

“My injury has been a positive thing,” she said, “because it’s shown (the children) the only thing that limits you is yourself … I don’t regret being in a chair.”

Hoffman-Figgin’s optimism also stems from her religious beliefs.

“God doesn’t plan the accident, but if it happens, God can use it,” she said. “It’s up to the individual to decide: you can either be the victim or the victor.”

Hoffman-Figgins refuses to become the victim.

“I don’t have time to be miserable,” she said. She is too busy helping others recover from their own traumas.

“All I want to do is give people hope.”