MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Jacqui Kapinowksi, 50
With each challenge that Jacqui Kapinowski’s body presented to her, her determination only grew.
As a rare progressive neurological disorder began to limit her mobility a little more than a decade ago, Kapinowski, an avid marathon runner, decided to keep racing, even if it meant using a walker. When the disorder, stiff-person syndrome, eventually left her using a wheelchair, Kapinowski began doing wheelchair competitions.
“It was hard because it was very different for me to use the equipment, which I didn’t know anything about,” she said.
But Kapinowski would quickly become one of the nation’s top wheelchair competitors.
The Tequesta resident recently added to her growing list of achievements when she represented the United States in September at the ITU Paratriatholon World Championship in London.
She earned a bronze medal.
“To go up against these world-class athletes was such an honor,” Kapinowski aid. “And to be on the podium with them was so surreal.”
Kapinowski, a native of Point Pleasant, N.J. who recently moved to South Florida, said she was an avid runner who competed in 17 marathons prior to her disability.
“I’ve always been a runner,” she said. “It’s just something I did. I loved to run. It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing. I went out every day with my friend, Shelly. Her and I would meet every morning at morning at the same spot and we would run, before work, seven miles. If we had time, we’d do 10 miles.”
But, gradually, as she reached her mid 30s, she started noticing changes in her body, including severe muscle spasms, seizures and balance issues. It took four years for doctors to diagnose the disorder.
“It’s a very painful condition,” Kapinowski said.
But the disease did not stop her from pursuing her love of racing. During the inaugural Palm Beaches Marathon in 2003, Kapinowski used a walker to complete the 26.2-mile race. Months later, with the help of one of that race’s organizers, Kevin Spina, she would make the transition to wheelchair competition.
Kapinowski credits her husband, Harry, with helping her through the adjustment.
“I can’t say enough about him,” she said. “He was just by my side and helped me as much as he could.”
It didn’t take her long to find success as she won her first wheelchair marathon, qualifying for wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in the process.
In 2010, she competed at the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver for the U.S. curling team.
“For me, it’s such an honor to be able to represent our country,” she said. “I do not take it lightly.”
When she’s not competing, Kapinowski said she enjoys helping others through her work with Achilles International, an organization that helps individuals with disabilities get involved with sports.
“I feel so blessed because, even though I am in a wheelchair, I get to help other people who are disabled and mentor them,” she said.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
Earning on a spot on the USA team for three sports (curling, rowing and paratriathlon).
Who is your hero or someone who has inspired you?
My curling coach, Steve Brown. He’s just taught me so many life lessons. Matt Muffelman, my rowing coach. And first and foremost, my family. My husband is my hero.
Who would you like to meet and have dinner with?
Ellen DeGeneres. I love Ellen, I never miss her (show).
What are your hobbies?
I love to kayak. I love to fish and training consumes pretty much my day.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
“The Four Agreements.” It really is very profound.