The last time the IHRSA show tugged at your emotions in the late afternoon was when ALS battler Augie Nieto spoke at the 2007 show. Last Thursday, Kristina Ripatti and her husband, Tim Pearce, showed similar courage in their presentation.
Ripatti and Pearce are veterans of the Los Angeles Police Department. Their presentation was titled "Transforming Lives: An Extreme Home Makeover." At first glance, the title could be seen as a play on words of the TV show. In reality, Ripatti and Pearce were featured on the show, as ABC provided them with a refurbished home after an on-duty shooting left Ripatti paralyzed from the chest down.
Ripatti and Pearce had been partners on the force, but worked with different partners after they married. They both patrolled the South Central L.A. gang scene. Pearce still does.
One day (June 3, 2006, to be exact), Ripatti chased down a man who had just robbed a gas station. When she tackled him from behind, the man shot her under her left armpit, paralyzing her instantly. She nearly bled to death. Her partner, Joe Meyer, killed the suspect and tended to Ripatti.
Pearce got the call and headed for the emergency room of a nearby hospital. There, eight doctors worked to save Ripatti, but they couldn't get any blood into her. Finally, a vein opened up, and she got six pints of blood that saved her life.
Pearce says that his wife's fitness level made the difference. She was an avid workout-aholic before the accident, and that didn't stop after she was paralyzed. The couple showed video of her working out (basically all upper, upper body with no abdominal support) on a variety of machines made by a variety of manufacturers in the industry (NuStep, Cybex, Life Fitness, Krankcycle by Matrix and TRX).
"I really thought I had lost my identity," Ripatti said of the time immediately after the accident. Then she realized, "I'm still an athlete."
These days, Ripatti participates in handcycle marathons and will embark in a Race Across America event in June. Even more amazing, almost two years after the accident, she gave birth to a baby boy (natural child birth, too). His name is Lucas. He has a big sister, Jordan, who was 15 months old at the time of the accident.
Ripatti's trainer was at the IHRSA presentation, as was her partner and the five S.W.A.T officers who saved her life. No regrets, no excuses was the theme at the end of the day.
"I would have done the same thing 10 out of 10 times," Ripatti said.
Later in the show, I met Ripatti on the show floor. She was genuinely touched by the kind words sent her way about the presentation and about her accomplishments.
By the way, one more note about Augie: The first line of my blog post from 2007 about his presentation was: "The best speaker I saw and heard at the show was a man who might not have much longer to live."
That was in 2007. Augie's still fighting. His spirit and Ripatti's are unrivaled.