Jen Goodwin’s whole world drastically changed in a single moment after a fun day boating on the lake went terribly wrong, and she sustained a serious spinal cord injury at the C5 and C6 level. After 2 years of rehab, she returned back home.
After that, she began to adjust to daily life as a quadriplegic. Daily tasks that were once done without a second thought became new skills to re-master.
Soon, Jen decided she was ready to tackle something new.
Back to School with an SCI
Since she demonstrated an interest in law before, her mom suggested that she ought to try taking the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). It was a surprise and a joy to find out that she performed even better than expected. She ended up getting a full scholarship to Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas.
Returning to school as an adult in a wheelchair was a whole new challenge. She worried she wouldn’t know anyone. Plus, how would she take notes and tests when she wasn’t able to write? Would the school buildings be accessible for her?
“I think a lot of people are afraid to go back to school after [spinal cord] injuries,” Jen says. “[I recommend talking] to your local Vocational Rehabilitation Services because they have a lot of resources and information to help get people back to school. Also, talk to your school’s Disability Resource Center. They really want to help! Even if your injury prevents you from taking notes and typing, you can still find ways to be successful in school.”
Jen was relieved to find the staff ready and willing to discuss options for accessibility with her. Together, they worked out what adjustments would need to be made in order to ensure that she would have the same opportunities for success as every other able-bodied student at the law school. Some of the accommodations included keypads to open doors, accessible bathrooms near her classes, and digital copies of textbooks. The school even set her up with helpful classmates who could take lecture notes for her.
Another Dream Come True
Jen worked diligently at her schoolwork while still making time to get to know her fellow students. After a year of school, she decided it was time to focus on one of the greatest wishes of her heart: to become a mother.
At the time, a few people had some strong opinions about this choice. Some even doubted Jen could handle having a child on her own, but she didn’t let that hold her back.
Talking to Jen and hearing her story in her own words would certainly make you realize that her tenacity and optimism keeps her moving forward, and there’s no obstacle she’s not willing to work hard to overcome.
With the support of her doctor and her family, she picked an anonymous donor and became pregnant at just the right time during winter break, so she could spend much of the time during her first trimester out of classes. The time off was spent practicing with a weighted doll to find the best techniques for lifting car seats, changing her baby’s clothes, and more.
Spring semester classes went on without a hitch. Then just after school let out in the summer, little Beckham made his early arrival in June.
Today, he has a mother who loves him more than anything in the world and a wonderful support system of close family and friends, especially Jen’s parents and sister.
Looking to the Future
So what’s next for Jen now that she’s graduated from law school as of May of this year? First, Jen is prepping for the bar exam. After that, she starts a two-year internship working with the legal department of the local children’s hospital. We have to agree this seems like the perfect fit for a woman with such a big heart for children. Plus, she can bring her own experiences with the legal system as well as living with a disability.
“I am a firm believer that the right doors open when they’re supposed to,” says Jen. “So we’ll see what happens after that!”
Limitations and setbacks happen in life, and some are more challenging than others. However, Jen is living proof that with optimism and tenacity, nothing can hold you back.
Read Part 1 of our two-part series on Jen’s accident and her time in rehab.