Alumni Profiles

Aiming Higher
After a skiing accident, Monica Quimby '09 set new goals

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Perry Smith/UNH Photographic Services

It was the UNH ski club's last run of the day, the final tour down the triple diamond trail. The girl who loved to ski fast and hard saw a flash out of the corner of her eye. Swerving to avoid the snowboarder, Monica Quimby '09 struck the top of a ski jump sideways and flew through the air, spinning out of control. Falling 20 feet, she crashed on her right side. Pain radiated from her back.

She had always relished a challenge, but on that January afternoon in 2006, Quimby was about to facethe biggest obstacle of her life: Her spinal cord had been severed, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

When doctors told her the news a few days later, Quimby was heavily medicated and in denial. She thought she had just broken her legs. Less than two weeks after her accident, she lay in a bed at a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, fighting to sit up. She had been a competitor in softball, basketball and skiing, and she was determined to walk again. Move, move, move! she willed her legs. Yet her legs remained atrophied, even after several months of grueling physical therapy. "I knew then," she says, "that I had to accept my fate and start setting new goals."

In fall 2006, Quimby returned to UNH in a wheelchair, determined to get her bachelor's degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. Despite struggling to navigate the snow-covered campus walkways, she refused to wallow in pity or seethe in anger. She concentrated instead on the lesson her accident had taught her: "My injury forced me to think about what I wanted in life."

"Monica was a wild and crazy sophomore in college," says Quimby's mother, Nadia Elliott, explaining that the accident forced her to grow up and change a lot.

Now the young woman who once had a greater desire to ski than study has finished a master's degree and teaches biology at Southern Maine Community College. According to her students and colleagues, Quimby inspires others with her energy, positive attitude and the belief that anything is possible.

In March, Quimby entered and won the Ms. Wheelchair Maine contest, which is based on participants' achievements and how well they advocate for the disabled. Her message centers on the importance of higher education. College students with disabilities are much more likely to drop out of school than their nondisabled peers, she says. "I want to motivate people to get a degree, to drive a car, to get a job and live as independently as they can," she says. "People with disabilities can still achieve; they can be professors, lawyers, doctors."

Quimby drives, kayaks, fishes with her father and adaptive water-skis. She plans to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience. Not bad achievements and aspirations, says her father, Scott Quimby, "for a kid who wanted to be a ski bum."

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