Remember the tragic story last year of the young Knightdale woman who was playfully pushed into a friend’s shallow pool, the last stop after a bridesmaids’ party just a month before her scheduled June wedding? That push would change Rachelle Friedman’s life forever. It caused the then 24-year-old Virginia Beach native to hit her head on the bottom of the pool, breaking the cervical vertebra and left her paralyzed from the chest down. Formerly employed as a program coordinator at Resources for Seniors in Raleigh, as well as a part-time lifeguard at Raleigh’s Optimist Park pool and a former aerobics and dance instructor, Friedman had to postpone her June marriage to middle school science teacher Chris Chapman. The engaged couple had met years earlier at East Carolina Universtiy where Rachelle majored in recreation management. Chapman has remained her loyal fiancé as well as caregiver.
The rest of the story is really good news. Take Rachelle’s mobility problem. Confined to a wheelchair, the undaunted young woman makes good use of the Braun Ability conversion van generously loaned by Van Products. “All I have to do is roll in using the fold out ramp and lock in,” she explains. In fact, Chris recently used it to drive Rachelle and three friends to a Cory Smith concert where they were special guests. “When we arrived one of the road managers escorted us through the crowd to a hangout room backstage where we were able to meet Cory Smith and hang out and get photos before he went on stage,” Friedman blogs. She will be featured in the April edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.
More glad tidings: After learning Friedman’s story, the NBC “Today Show” and George Oliphant of the network’s home improvement program, “George to the Rescue,” asked the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County for volunteers from its Remodelers Council to work with Oliphant on a renovation of the couple’s two-story Knightdale home. The house will be remodeled to accommodate Rachelle’s physical limitations and make it wheelchair accessible. The remodelers donating their services are John Sperath, Blue Ribbon Residential Construction; Lewis Sadler, Sadler Construction; Steven Lee Hilliard, Hilliard Contracting; Glen White, Complete Construction; Grant Dickens, Rufty Homes; and business partners Deveraux Hamilton and Bill Ahle of Envision Built. Sperath, Sadler and Hilliard hold the CAPS designation (Certified Aging in Place Specialists.) That means they have completed the program that teaches the technical, business management and customer service skills to compete in the aging-in-place market. The other remodelers on the project are in the process of obtaining that certification.
Coincidentally, Friedman and Chapman had hired Envision Built shortly before Rachelle’s accident to make minor changes in their master bedroom. After volunteering for the project, Hamilton and Ahle learned about the tragedy and immediately tore up their contract with the owners; they continued to work on the house.
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Because “The Today Show” program featuring Friedman and Chapman in their newly remodeled home is set to air Feb. 22 at 8 a.m., George to the Rescue’s producers ask that we withhold the details until after they are revealed to the couple. Specifics on the Wake remodelers’ services will be covered on Feb. 25, in this section of The News and Observer.
Meanwhile, Rachelle continues to make progress in her rehabilitation. Even though she can’t use her hands, the natural athlete is able to use her arms and wrists as a defensive player on the Raleigh Sidewinders, a competitive quad rugby team for wheelchair athletes. In fact, she played her first game with them just 13 weeks after the injury. The Sidewinders recently came in second out of 10 teams in the Jacksonville quad rugby tournament. Although Rachelle hopes to eventually return to work, she is focused now on her rehabilitation and trying to obtain funds to pay for the special needs that might not be covered by health insurance. She receives no payments from Medicaid, but has set up a trust fund for donations on her website, www.rachellefriedman.com. Read Rachelle’s progress blogs on her website, watch “The Today Show” Feb. 22, and read next Friday’s Real Estate section for the story on how Wake County remodelers volunteered their time and expertise to make Friedman and Chapman’s home accessible for Rachelle. More good news — the couple hope to marry later this year.