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Former patient, now architect and competitive athlete, encourages kids to pursue their goals

Former patient, now architect and competitive athlete, encourages kids to pursue their goals

Justin Marshall experienced a health emergency as a kid that changed the course of his life. Marshall, who grew up in Illinois, had a rare spinal stroke in seventh grade that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He spent time as a teenager in various hospitals, including the Chicago and Philadelphia Shriners Hospitals for rehabilitation and multiple surgeries. “I remember the kindness of everyone who works there. They are there to help you get better and to get better at what you are already doing,” Marshall said.

The 31-year-old is a focused person who sets measurable goals for himself to achieve his dreams. He encourages others to do the same. In his case, Marshall earned a college degree, then a master’s degree, and pursued a career that allows him to design spaces that improve access for others who use a wheelchair for mobility. “Spending time in multiple hospitals and being in a wheelchair made me realize there are boundaries and obstacles out there. Maybe I can do something to help people with disabilities get around a little easier,” Marshall said. He now designs hospitals for a living with a firm in Madison, Wisconsin. “I keep an eye out for different accessibility needs or areas that actually meet code, but aren’t as functional as I believe they could be.”

Justin on the ice - curlingHe also happened upon an unusual adaptive sport that he pursued with that same focus – one that has given him a chance to compete on the international stage. Outside the office, his passion is curling, a game played on ice where large flat stones are slid towards a mark. Marshall knew little about curling when he found out, four years ago when watching TV, that the coach of the U.S. Paralympic curling team also lived in Madison. He used connections to arrange a meeting at the local curling club. “I went out there and threw a few stones and I was hooked,” he said. Marshall set goals for himself and started practicing regularly after work. He was fortunate to develop skills quickly and earned the right to compete in curling at the national and international level, including the Paralympics.

He encourages other children with disabilities to try adaptive curling because it is simple to start and the special equipment required is minimal. “The wheelchair I use on the ice is the same chair I use every day in my life.” In adaptive curling, players use a long fiberglass pole, known as the delivery stick, with a special handle to push stones towards the mark. It is the only adaptive equipment needed. In able-bodied versions of the sport, players push their feet off a hack, or block, to slide on the ice before releasing a stone.

Participants in our Chicago Shriners Hospital’s Adaptive Sports Camp had the opportunity to learn about the sport in our Patient Activity Mall back in 2015. They enjoyed a chance to learn this fun way to be active with our certified recreational therapists.

Whether they choose curling or some other activity, Marshall encourages kids to figure out their passions and go for it. “Find something you are interested in, that you like to do. Set goals that are achievable. No matter what your goal is, there’s a way to get there.”

February is Recreational Therapy Month. For more information on connecting with adaptive sports in your area, contact our Shriners Hospitals recreational therapy department.

Adaptive Sports Camp at the Chicago Shriners Hospital

Adaptive Sports campers try curling at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, 2015

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