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 her surgery and over two years of rehab, she returned back home and began to adjust to daily life as a quadriplegic. Daily tasks that were once done without a second thought, like brushing teeth and going to the bathroom, became new skills to re-master. With a lot of practice and time, Jen kept moving forward and became acquainted with daily life in a wheelchair.
Being a very goal-oriented person who thrives on a challenge, Jen decided she was ready to tackle something new. Life was going well as Jen settled into her new routine, but she was ready to start thinking about what could be next for her. Since she had 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, and she ended up getting a full scholarship to Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas.
Back to School
Returning to school as an adult in a wheelchair was a whole new challenge to face. She wouldn’t know anyone in her new classes at all, and there were other questions on her mind now too. How would she take notes and tests when she wasn’t able to write? Would the school buildings be accessible for her? Of course, these were perfectly normal concerns to have.
“I think a lot of people are afraid to go back to school after [spinal cord] injuries,” Jen says, “But talk to your local Vocational Rehabilitation Services because they have a lot of resources and information to help get people back to school. And talk to your school’s Disability Resource Center. They really want to help! Even if your injury prevents you from taking notes and typing, there are still ways to be successful in school.”
Jen arranged some meetings with her school’s Disability Resource Center, and she was relieved to find the staff ready and willing to discuss options with her. Together, they worked out what accommodations and 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, such as keypads to open doors, accessible bathrooms near her classes, digital copies of textbooks, and setting her up with classmates who could take lecture notes for her.
Another Dream Come True
Jen worked as diligently as possible at all her courses while still making time to get to know the other law students in her classes. 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, there were a few people who had some opinions on her life and even doubted that Jen could handle all of these responsibilities along with having a child of 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 and working with a weighted doll to find the best techniques for lifting car seats, changing her baby’s clothes, and more, all while an accessible nursery for her baby boy was added on to her home. Spring semester classes went on without a hitch, and 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.
Jen’s lifelong dream of being a mom had finally come true.
Looking to the Future
So what’s next for Jen now that she’s graduated from law school as of May of this year? Right now, Jen is prepping for the bar exam, and after that, she starts a two-year internship working with the legal department of the local children’s hospital, which 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 and 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!”
We’re so excited to see all the ways that Jen will go forward to achieve more dreams as well as positively impact others’ lives during her journey. There were certainly obstacles along the way, but she came out on the other side with a smile, a law degree, and a son of her own. Limitations and setbacks may happen in life, but 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 life, her accident, and her time in rehab.