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Image: Paralyzed bride Rachelle Friedman on TODAY
Paralyzed bride Rachelle Friedman on TODAY.
TODAY contributor
updated 3/30/2012 9:48:52 AM ET 2012-03-30T13:48:52

Nearly two years after she was paralyzed in a freak accident at her bachelorette party, Rachelle Chapman looks forward to becoming a mother and continues to show that a woman can be beautiful and confident even in a wheelchair.

TODAY has followed the journey of the 26-year-old from Knightdale, N.C., and her husband, Chris, since her accident on May 23, 2010, through their wedding and honeymoon in July 2011. Since their last appearance on TODAY, Rachelle has learned to drive a specially modified van and has experienced standing and walking with the help of specialized machines at a rehabilitation facility called “Project Walk’’ in Carlsbad, Calif.

Confidence on wheels
She aims to write a book about her experiences to inspire others in similar situations and jokingly told Hoda Kotb on Friday that the working title is “Hot, Sexy, and Rollin’ on 24s.’’

“It's not just the story about my life, my injury and us; it's also the story about (how) you can be sexy and you can be pretty in a wheelchair, and you can have confidence,’’ she said. “We're just normal people, and no matter who you are and what situation you're in, you can have confidence.’’

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Video: Paralyzed bride-to-be ‘doing awesome’ (on this page)

Showing that confidence, Chapman entered the Ms. Wheelchair Pageant in North Carolina last week, where she came up short of the first prize. She also plans on going to schools to read students a children’s book titled “New Opportunities’’ to help kids understand spinal cord injuries.

Chapman also hopes to soon have a child of her own.

Video: Paralyzed bride returns from honeymoon (on this page)

“To be able to start a family would be one of my bigger goals for Rachelle, not only because I know how important it is for her, but I believe she deserves that,’’ her physical therapist, Kimberly Davis, told NBC News. “I know that she and Chris would be wonderful parents.’’

Rachelle Friedman Chapman works at her rehab at Project Walk, a spinal cord injury recovery center in California.

Chapman has radiated confidence since the day she was playfully pushed into a swimming pool at a party in Virginia Beach, Va., by one of her bridesmaids and fractured the C6 vertebra in her neck when her head hit the bottom of the pool. The accident left her paralyzed from the collarbone down.

Story: Playful push into pool leaves bride-to-be paralyzed

Her wedding was postponed for more than a year, but Chris stayed by her side and she was eventually pushed down the aisle by her father to become his wife on July 22, 2011.

After an all-expenses paid honeymoon to Fiji courtesy of 1-800 Registry, which also sponsored the wedding, Rachelle continues to inspire with each milestone she achieves. In January, she took her first trip to the spinal cord injury center at “Project Walk” thanks to the charitable group Walking With Anthony, which is devoted to helping people cast aside their wheelchairs.

Video: Gift for paralyzed bride: Wheelchair accessibility (on this page)

“It’s so hard to explain,’’ she said. “It feels amazing. To have the opportunity to be able to go to a place like that and stand, it's so good for your body.’’

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Getting stronger
Chapman has done extensive work in strengthening her upper body and her core, which has given her more range of motion and helped her push herself up ramps in the couple’s specially modified home. She also has played on a wheelchair rugby team and even gotten a tattoo on the back of her neck with a peace sign and the words “Let it be.’’

“Her attitude is second to none,’’ Davis told NBC News. “If she’s not able to perform an exercise, she never gets frustrated. She only wants to know, ‘What do we need to work on for me to be successful?’’’

Video: Paralyzed bride’s ‘big step to independence’ (on this page)

She also has learned to drive thanks to a surprise wedding gift: Toyota gave her a Sienna Rampvan.

“It is scary at first because you have to drive with your hands and not with your feet, but I was right out on the road,’’ Chapman said.

“I'm a little nervous, but I think it's wonderful,’’ Chris said. “This is a big step toward independence. I've gotten very protective of her, obviously since the accident, but I think it's really exciting.’’

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Video: Paralyzed bride’s ‘big step to independence’

  1. Closed captioning of: Paralyzed bride’s ‘big step to independence’

    >>> friday morning, on "today's" update, the young woman who was barrelized in an accident at her bachelorette party . we're going to talk to rachelle chapman and her husband in a moment. but first we caught up with rachelle at project walk, a rehab facility in san diego , dedicated to helping people with spinal cord injuries . this is another milestone for rachelle chapman, standing and walking with the help of specialized machines.

    >> i feel a big difference. i'm obviously not walking, but i mean my upper body is infinitely stronger. my core is getting stronger, which helps me so much in my daily life.

    >> reporter: this is rachelle's second visit here. she's already seeing signs of progress.

    >> it certainly doesn't feel like it used to feel. but it brings it back, makes your mind remember when it felt like to stand up.

    >> reporter: it's been nearly two years since rachelle's life was changed forever. it happened at her bachelorette party when one of her friends playfully pushed her into a swimming pool. she ended up with a c-6 spinal cord injury , paralyzed from the collar bone down. since then she's gotten married to her longtime sweetheart. honeymooned in fiji and had her house remodeled to be more wheelchair accessible . but there's still a lot left to accomplish and therapist kimberly davis says rachelle's positive outlook is helping her succeed.

    >> her laugh is infectious. her attitude is second to none. if she's not able to perform an exercise she never gets frustrated. she only works, what do we need to work on for me to be successful.

    >> reporter: davis says while being able to walk is again the ultimate goal, it's not the only one.

    >> you think, okay, you're paralyzed when will you be able to walk again. what about when will you be able to brush your teeth again? when will you be able to get out of the chair on her own and get into bed on her own?

    >> reporter: and just like a lot of young wives, rachelle says she and chris are hoping to add to their family. her therapist and friend says that's what she's working toward, as well.

    >> to be able to start a family would be one of my biggest goals for rachelle. not only because i know how important it is for her, but i believe that she deserves that. and i know that she and chris would be wonderful parents.

    >> rachelle and chris chapman , good morning to both of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> last time we talked to you you were just back from fiji. so you sort of experienced your first year of marriage together. more or less challenging than you thought?

    >> i mean, we've been together for six years. i kind of have the hang of him. so we're good.

    >> how about for you?

    >> it's been wonderful. we had the opportunity to do so many things. we just keep working.

    >> i've got to tell you the part that struck me the most in that tape was you standing upright, with the help again of assistance, being able to sort of put one foot in front of the other. what did that feel like for you?

    >> it's so hard to explain. but i mean, it feels amazing. i would have never even had the opportunity to go there without walking with anthony, which is an organization that sent me there. and i mean, to have the opportunity to be able to go to a place like that, and stand, i mean, it's so good for your body.

    >> you talk about baby steps. what sorts of changes have you seen in terms of improvement for you and how you get your mobility and how you get around things like that?

    >> oh, gosh. i mean, i'm pushing up ramps so much better. just my upper body is a lot better. i don't look weak, i look strong and i'm able to sit up better and do things on my own a lot more.

    >> and driving a car. i mean --

    >> yes.

    >> that was surprising. i said wow, this girl is behind the wheel. tell us about how that came about.

    >> well, it is scary at first because you have to drive with your hands, not with your feet. but i mean, i was right out on the road, and i'm excited to drive my new van that i got. i'm so excited.

    >> how is she at driving?

    >> i'm a little nervous. i'm a little nervous. but i think it 's wonderful . this is a big step towards independence. i've gotten very protective of her, obviously, since the accident but i think it's really exciting. it will be great.

    >> you don't waste a second, rachelle. i can point out. you're always busy. you're talking about writing a book. i love the working title .

    >> with a possible title, i like the idea of calling it hot, sexy and rolling on 24s. it's not just the story of my life , it's my, you know, my injury and us but also a story about you can be sexy and you can pretty in a wheelchair. you can have confidence, you know. we're just normal people, and no matter what -- no matter who you are or what situation you're in you can have confidence.

    >> one of the other things you're doing, you have a children's book basically to show kids, we only have a couple of seconds, but it helps children understand spinal cord injuries and it's called "new opportunities." we want to thank both of you for coming. we're so happy that you're feeling better.

    >> thank you.


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