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East Carolina University alumna Rachelle Friedman Chapman spoke on campus June 5, sharing the lessons she has learned following an accident that left her paralyzed. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


ECU alumna shares lessons learned after paralyzing injury

By Justin Boulmay

for ECU News Services

Rachelle Friedman Chapman’s wheelchair is a reminder not to take any day for granted, and it’s a message that the internationally recognized motivational speaker sought to impress on East Carolina University students and staff members during a visit to campus this month.

In 2010, Chapman suffered a paralyzing injury during her bachelorette party after she was playfully pushed into a pool and hit her head on the bottom. On June 5, the ECU alumna shared her story—and the lessons that she’s taken from it—during a presentation titled “The Glass is Half Full.”

It’s the same story that she has shared on the “Today Show” and “Inside Edition,” a story that has Chapman considering a book and possibly a movie deal.

Chapman said she looks back on the day of her accident and feels grateful that she was doing certain things she could enjoy while she still could do them.

“I’m very, very lucky that I had all these happy things about my day that I can look back on,” she said.

The accident happened on the night of her bachelorette party. Chapman had spent the day visiting family, trying on her wedding dress (for the last time before her wedding) and looking for a new pair of shoes for that night’s party. Later that evening, she and her friends decided to go for a swim in the pool. One of them playfully pushed her into the pool, and her head hit the bottom where the pool shifts from the shallow to deep end.

“I seriously think if I had been one foot the other way, it might have gone differently,” she said.

She spent two and a half months in the hospital and went through rehabilitation. She’s been through various difficulties since then, such as struggling with not being able to do things independently and getting around in public. It takes much longer to get dressed, and Chapman had to teach her mom how to style her hair for her.

“Not one thing in my life was ever going to be the same, and it’s something that you kind of have to realize very, very quickly,” Chapman said.

Various equipment and donations by generous groups has helped make that change easier, such as a donated van that otherwise would have cost $80,000. Chapman uses a hand cycle so she can join her husband, Chris, when he wants to ride his bike. She also got an adaptive surfboard and plays wheelchair rugby.

Chapman took questions from the audience, inquiries that included whether or not she can still have children—she is able and is hoping to do so in the near future—and whether she’s forgiven the friend who had pushed her into the pool during that fateful bachelorette party. (They’re still friends, and that girl was a part of Chapman’s wedding in July 2011.)

Chapman shared lessons that she’s learned, such as taking the time to slow down; not complaining about small things that won’t matter in a couple of days; setting personal goals; being grateful; and not waiting to make important changes.

“Something tragic shouldn’t happen to make you realize that you need to make a change or that you need to start going toward goals faster, that you need to start appreciating life, or that you need to do start doing whatever,” she said. “Something bad shouldn’t have to happen for you to learn a lesson.”

Chapman's campus presentations were sponsored by the ECU Division of Student Affairs.



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