“Something so simple can change your life so much.”

Claire Senita was faced with a tough version of that lesson as an eighth grader, but she is now using the knowledge she gained on her own journey to give others a chance at hope.

A dive roll in a gymnastics class in 2006 broke Senita’s neck and left her paralyzed. It was a devastating injury that came with an even more devastating prognosis.

“Initially, I was paralyzed from the neck down. We did all the health care and all the rehab in Pittsburgh, Pa., and they were like ‘You know, we’re not sure if there is anything else we can do,’ and my parents and I were like ‘What?’

Whenever you picture your future, you never picture a wheelchair.” Senita eventually regained feeling in her arms and began to research rehabilitation centers that could help her more. She and her family discovered Journey Forward, a non-profit organization located in Boston, Mass., dedicated to bettering the lives of those who have suffered spinal cord injuries through intense exercise.

From the first time she went to the center, it was obvious to Senita it was where she needed to be.

“They took me out of my wheelchair, and they had me standing on my feet the entire two hours. They were moving my body in ways that it did before the injury. They had me up taking steps, doing squats, and I was like, ‘this is awesome’!”

“So I knew I had to be there. But they were in Boston, and I was in Pittsburgh. So after I graduated from high school in 2010, I learned to take care of myself as much as I could and how to direct my care…and I moved to Boston. While I was there, I studied business management and finance at Curry College, and I went to Journey Forward.

While I was there I was able to stand on my own, I started moving my foot again, pedaling a bike, crawling, things that they said would never happen again.”

Senita not only regained movement but a new purpose in life. She would take everything she learned in college and therapy and open a version of Journey Forward in Pittsburgh. Surprisingly, a rehabilitation center like this did not exist in the city.

“Initially, we need $350,000 to open the center. We have been working and collaborating with [the University of Pittsburgh] and we might use one of their gyms to get started. There is nothing like this in the area, which is mind-blowing. We have been talking to the head of Physical Medicine and Rehab, who thinks this is a great idea. And it’s really crazy because when you think about it, this all just makes sense.”

Location is important to Senita as well. She insists that the new Journey Forward be on the outskirts of the city directly on a bus line, as many disabled individuals rely on public transportation for independence.

While she has assembled a team to assist in looking into corporate donations, fundraising efforts are underway to help make her dream a reality, as well as to help many in the Pittsburgh area with spinal cord injuries recover movement that may not otherwise be possible.

“The whole idea behind paralysis recovery is repetition. So if you keep doing the same thing, your body will find a new way around the injury, and it will start to function how it did.”

For more information on how you can help fund the effort to bring Journey Forward to Pittsburgh, please go to either one of these sites:

  • m.facebook .com/jofopitt/
  • pittsburghfoundation.org/node/38638