Non-profit offers events for mobility challenged

Posted 6/22/23

“Imagine that you are strapped into a chair, unable to move. Then, suddenly, the straps dissolve and not only can you walk around but you can float through the air….”

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Non-profit offers events for mobility challenged


“Imagine that you are strapped into a chair, unable to move. Then, suddenly, the straps dissolve and not only can you walk around but you can float through the air….”

This is how Hainesville resident Laura Jeanne describes the experience of being paralyzed and exploring the dimensions around her on a SCUBA-diving outing.

She recounted that there are proven physiological benefits from immersion in water – such as improved circulation – but the real pay-off was the psychological freedom it imparts on the divers.

“Imagine suddenly having all of your mobility back and more,” she stated. She described the experience as complete joy.

Jeanne is one of the founding members of the non-profit organization Adapt-Able, which provides such an experience to those who have lost their mobility. 

One wouldn’t necessarily expect that such an organization would be found down a county road southeast of Hainesville. 

Family brought Jeanne to Wood County. A long-time resident of Decatur, Jeanne relocated to Hainesville after the passing of her mother. She wanted to be close to her daughter and grandson. 

The small holding in rural Wood County seemed a great fit. Jeanne lives in a customized home a stone’s throw from her daughter.

The journey to founding Adapt-Able was far from straightforward or as easy as relocating to East Texas. Jeanne is paralyzed from her chest down.   

The cause of her paralysis was being thrown from a horse.

“The horse was green and I was trying to help break him,” she recounted.

It was Memorial Day weekend 2009, and Jeanne ended up lying in the pasture for three hours with five broken vertebrae, four broken ribs and a broken elbow.

“It was hot and as I couldn’t get up,” she said. “I remember trying to throw grass over myself to try to stop the sun from burning me.”

One comes away with a singular quality after sitting and speaking with Laura Jeanne. She is a strong woman. 

The most remarkable example of that strength is what she recounted about the change in her life after the accident. She explained that many people, when they have a catastrophic accident, struggle. In time they must decide whether to accept their situation and continue to live or to give in to the circumstances. 

“I never had to face that decision,” she stated without a hint of egotism. “I just recognized that my life changed, OK, so let’s get on with it…it is just the way I’ve always been.”

So that is exactly what she did. She continued to keep horses and became a participant in a variety of events tailored for folks who have lost their mobility. 

Those events included the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, quadriplegic track and field events, archery, an adaptive sailing program and recreational therapy at the VA clinic.   

It’s not the first time that Jeanne has had to deal with traumatic injury. While undergoing flight training in the U.S. Army’s flight program at Fort Rucker, years earlier, she suffered an unrelated broken back in a skydiving incident. She had to deploy her reserve parachute during a recreational jump on base and ended up impacting some trees. 

She recovered, went on to obtain her flight wings and flew missions as a Blackhawk pilot in the first Gulf War. 

Taking advantage of separation packages offered by the armed services during the massive drawdown following the Gulf War, she returned to Texas. In addition to keeping horses and raising her daughter, she enjoyed a long career as a police dispatcher in DeSoto and Decatur.  

During one of those events designed for mobility-challenged people, she met Kari-Ann Melendez and Dale Davis. She assisted the two Navy veterans in founding Adapt-Able in 2018. 

The moniker is an abbreviation for bringing “adaptive” and “able-bodied” people together to provide a SCUBA experience. The initial sessions were pool outings, but the group very quickly found a huge need and rapidly expanded. Dive trips to date have been taken to Cozumel, the Florida Keys, Grand Cayman, Panama City and Pearl Harbor.   

The program has been so successful, that the only limitation (beyond funding, of course) is having enough trained dive buddies for the adaptive clientele. 

A huge step forward was achieved for the organization as Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth offered their pool as a regular training base. The university also recently approved a course which would certify students as adaptive dive buddies.

Jeanne expects to make two dives this year. “Part of the mental benefit of Adapt-Able is watching others experiencing it,” she shared.

On a Wednesday night in mid-June, Jeanne represented Adapt-Able as the Texas Rangers hosted the California Angels. Jeanne had been selected to represent Adapt-Able and throw out the first pitch. 

Adapt-Able had been selected as one of six Evan Williams American-made Heroes Foundation award winners for 2023. The distillery also donated a $5,000 grant to Adapt-Able. A special bourbon was distilled for the selectees, and the names of the six selectees were etched into the bottles. 

The first-pitch experience provided excellent exposure for the group and was a cooperative effort of Evan Williams distillery and the Texas Rangers.   

A day before the event, Jeanne’s only concern about it was making a good pitch. One can expect that it would be on target.  

The Rangers won that night, 6-3, by recording five runs late in the game.

With organizations such as Adapt-Able – Texas wins.