Model: Kerry Gruson
Traumatic Parkinson’s, Quadriplegic

Director, Thumbs Up International

While traveling to Vietnam to cover the end of the war as a 26-year-old journalist, I was strangled and left for dead. I survived, effectively a quadriplegic. My head is also permanently cocked to the right and my voice barely rises above a hoarse whisper. But I never allow my disabilities to define me or deter me. Instead of being extinguished, my zest for life and spirit of adventure are intensified.

I refuse to be angry at the man who murdered my old routine. I see us both as victims of the war. The attack has paved the way for an appreciation of the gift of life and for all of its many challenges. I also sail, race sailboats at world class events, scuba dive and now have found fulfillment in endurance sports, becoming an Ironman triathlete.

Of course, I can’t swim, peddle or run. I do it all with the help of other athletes. I’m completely dependent on other people for everything in my life, from participating in any sport, to getting a glass of water or dressing. But instead of producing feelings of defeat or confinement, the restrictions become a victory and a form of freedom, a way of life with a mission. We are all interdependent. The lesson I draw is that the ability to receive is a powerful gift. Without a recipient, there can be no giving; so I don’t see needing and asking for help as implying weakness. Receiving with grace is as crucial and honorable as giving.

This is a bedrock belief for the foundation I co-founded and co-chair, ThumbsUp International, so named because it is my characteristic gesture, a symbol of my attitude, and a reference to our dream of taking this organization worldwide. Our mission is to expand life’s possibilities by forming teams of athletes with differing abilities to compete in athletic events. Our vision is that we’re stronger together.

The Bold Beauty Project photograph embodies this message and speaks directly to the core tenets of my life. I had to leave the usual comfort of my wheelchair and rely on the help of my fellow ThumbsUp adaptive athlete, Maikol Monsalve. This was also a challenge for Maikol due to his damaged arms and prosthetic leg. The beauty of this shot and of ThumbsUp is that it requires teamwork and trust in action, the basis of all success.


Photographed by Deborah Gray Mitchell