I Guess I Have to Go to College Now
Ochlocknee, Georgia (Senate District 11)
On a hot summer day in July, Jake Ricks dove into a shallow creek. He was 15. It was just two weeks before his 16th birthday, and he already had his car. He felt invincible. “It was just like if you were to dive into the ocean, into the waves. I dove into the creek like I’d done with my buddies many times before. It was just one of them things.”
Jake really has no idea what was different that time, except perhaps the creek was just dryer and therefore shallower that day. Whatever the reason, his life changed forever on July 7, 1996. He shattered the C5 vertebra in his neck and was paralyzed from the chest down. He was learning what that new life would be like in a motorized wheelchair in a seven-week stint at the Shepherd Center for Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Rehabilitation during the 1996 Olympics. Patients got to take a field trip to the opening ceremonies, and he was working through his rehab when he heard the now infamous bomb blast just a few miles away. (Story continues below after slideshow.)
Even though Jake’s accident was in July, he only missed two weeks at the beginning of that school year. “Back to life,” he says. “I got thrown back in the mix. My family has always believed that you play the cards life dealt you. You don’t let anything hold you down. Everybody gets down a little, but I never got mad at the world or depressed. I had too much life left to live.” He was able to quickly get back into what his new life would look like. He had been a member of the marching band, and his band teacher found it really important to keep him involved. “I learned how to play different percussion instruments with my hands, and I would still march with them – but now I just rolled at football games instead of marching,” he says with a chuckle, “and I even did all the parades. You find out who your true friends are when something like that happens ...” Jake says.
“One thing I’ve always had is a great support system as far as in my family, not necessarily financially. That’s what the ICWP (Independent Care Waiver Program) allowed me to do. Have freedom,” Jake says. “Because I had nurses to help me get up. My parents were getting older and stuff. It’s definitely changed my life. I’ve been under the ICWP since 1999.” In fact, Jake’s father has now passed on, and his mother is quite a bit older. His waiver pays for caregivers who come in a couple hours in the morning and at night to help him bathe, dress, cook, and even help to bathe his service dog, Ollie.
Ollie is Jake’s first service dog, and they’ve been in each other’s lives since Ollie was ready to graduate from his training from Paws with a Cause. Ollie can do everything from turn on lights to retrieve a dropped cell phone to help Jake sit back up in his chair straight if he’s having a back spasm. Jake works for a nonprofit organization very appropriately called Lives Without Limits, which “strives to help people with disabilities by providing them with outdoor recreation and specialized medical equipment at little to no cost.”
If we brought an elected official right to his doorstep, though, Jake says he would want to let them know how great a program the Independent Care Waiver Program is. “It’s made me the person I am. Without the ability to get up and go every morning, and the support I do have from it, I don’t know what I’d do. It makes it all possible.
Writer: Shannon Turner, Photographer: Lynsey Weatherspoon