In 2015, Craig Hospital commissioned Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bear Gutierrez to shoot portraits of SCI/D survivors who had gone through its rehabilitation programs. The series he produced is striking for its creativity and its illustration of our community’s strength and diversity.

We’re excited to share a few of our favorites, along with updates on what the people in the photos have been up to. Whether they’re further along on their path toward recovery or embracing new adventures, one common theme emerged: They are all grateful for the support received throughout their initial recovery and are dedicated to paying it forward. See the complete original Redefining Possible project at redefiningpossible.org.

Dave Denniston
Swimming Through Life

Dave Denniston

Dave Denniston, an NCAA champion and Olympic hopeful before a 2005 snow sledding accident that resulted in his T10-11 SCI, had reestablished himself as an elite swimmer by the time he posed for Gutierrez in 2015. After competing at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, he became a coach at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training center in Colorado Springs, where the photo was taken.

Dave DennistonDenniston, 41, is now head swimming coach at the University of Wyoming. The difference between his students and elite Paralympians is that, “swimming isn’t everything to them,” he says. “Athletes in college are transitioning into being adults and productive members of society, and helping them through that process is pretty rewarding.”

Even as he mentors a younger generation, Denniston still finds new passions. “I was up last night in the mountains, out in the middle of a lake, in a rowboat fishing, and I was rowing the boat,” he says. The experience was miles away from his competitive pursuits, but similarly valuable. Whatever your age or circumstance, he says, “You’re still defining who you are and what is possible.”

Jesse Alberi
The Call of the Wild

Jesse Alberi

The rifle Jesse Alberi holds in the original photo is the same one he took on the hunting trip when he rolled his truck and came away with a T10 SCI. For Alberi, redefining possible was about figuring out how to get back to life in his new body. He adapted a crib for his young daughter so he could roll under it and safely get to her, and then he and his wife had a second child. With the help of friends, he relearned favorite outdoor activities like shooting and floating on Montana’s rivers.

Jesse Alberi Today, at 42, Alberi is still passionate about his family, friends and the outdoors, though he’s added a new endeavor: helping others develop the confidence and skills to live with a disability. He cofounded a nonprofit, Access Unlimited, which partners with Craig Hospital and the High Fives Foundation, to take small groups of disabled adventurers on multi-day hunting and fishing trips.

Many newly-injured participants start off with some fear since they haven’t gone into the wild since their accident, but being with peers in a remote setting often helps push them further than they would go on their own. “It’s like, ‘All right, they’re doing it, I’m going to do it,’” says Alberi. The camp is all about being in the outdoors, “but then they can take what they learn home and apply it to their own life, asking themselves, ‘What do I like to do, and how can I shake the fear out of that and get back into living again?’”

David Ortiz
From Pilot to Politics

David Ortiz

David Ortiz was an Army warrant officer and helicopter pilot when he was paralyzed at T10 in an active-duty crash. He says the Redefining Possible photo depicts, “how critical and empowering it was to have my younger brother help me in my recovery and regain my independence.” When Ortiz needed it, his brother had his back.

David OrtizSince his medical discharge from the Army in 2015, Ortiz has dedicated himself to supporting others. He’s directed the programs of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1, worked with disability-support nonprofits, and helped get veteran-support legislation passed at the state level. Now 36 years old, he just secured a landslide victory in the Democratic primary for Colorado’s state legislature and looks to unseat the Republican incumbent in the general election. His platform, he says, is simple: “Your ZIP code and socioeconomic level should not dictate the access to opportunities that you have.”

Running his first political campaign during a pandemic may not seem like ideal circumstances, but Ortiz says the time he spent stuck in a hospital bed after his injury forced him to “get really good at communicating with people via phone, FaceTime, text messages and social media. I feel aspects of my life and my injury kind of prepared me for what it’s like to run in a time of COVID.”

Mary Collechi
The Rewards and Exhaustion of Advocacy

Mary Collechi

Mary Collechi, 34, who uses a wheelchair due to a brain injury from a stroke, kept having problems with her personal assistance agency. “They weren’t sending good staff, or they would call and say, ‘We don’t have anybody.’ And then they’d mark it down as me denying services,” she says.

Mary CollechiColorado’s CDASS program allows some Medicaid recipients to hire their own attendants, but people with brain injuries weren’t eligible. So Collechi lobbied the state legislature and won, allowing her and other Coloradans with brain injuries to take control over their long-term supports.

The win was exciting, but the grind of advocacy took a toll. “I was burned out,” Collechi says. She took a step back to focus on wellness, gardening and adaptive sports, and then got a job as a cashier at a local golf course — something that never would have been possible before she was able to manage her own PCAs.

Having taken a moment to breathe, Collechi says she feels rejuvenated. She recently testified at the state legislature for the expansion of Medicaid access to services like acupuncture, massage and physical therapy, and also lobbied her national representatives to make sure people with disabilities aren’t forgotten in pandemic stimulus legislation. “I’m just watching out for everybody,” she says.

Jason Regier
Retirement Opens Up a New Path

Jason Regier

Jason Regier, 45 and a C5 quad, had already won two Paralympic medals in wheelchair rugby and in 2015 was gearing up for one last run before calling it a career. Then he and the U.S. team lost a heartbreaking final at Rio 2016 to finish with a silver medal, and while Regier stayed true to his plan to retire from playing, he found it hard to leave elite sports altogether. “It becomes a little bit of a drug,” he says. “It gives you structure. It’s the one thing that you shape most other things around.”

Jason RegierHe coached his local team in Denver for years, and shortly after Rio, he accepted the head coaching position for Denmark’s wheelchair rugby team with a commitment through Tokyo 2020. He loved using all the knowledge he built up over the decades to form connections with the players and help them play their best.

Around the same time, a chance encounter with an old friend led him to a different kind of coaching: consulting with business managers and executives to guide them through important life and business decisions. The timing couldn’t have been better, since shortly after he completed a rigorous certification process and started working for an agency, the pandemic brought the rugby side of his work to a crashing halt.

Regier is still committed to seeing the Danish team through Tokyo, but has no idea how or when that may happen. Until then, pandemic life isn’t too bad. He gets to spend more time with his wife and two young children, and his executive coaching — now conducted over video calls — helps ease the shakes of being away from rugby. “It’s connecting with people at a deeper level. It’s having real conversations,” he says about his new gig. “You get in a spot where you’re able to help them through some meaningful change.”

Stephanie Martinez
It’s OK to Ask for Help

Stephanie Martinez

Stephanie Martinez, 31, and her son, Derek, were dealt a unique situation — having to learn about their new worlds at the same time. In 2009, while pregnant, she met with her ex-boyfriend to talk. Instead they argued and he pulled her car’s steering wheel away from her … which was the last thing she remembered before the accident that resulted in her T7-8 SCI.

Stephanie MartinezThe rest of her pregnancy was spent in the hospital, as she recovered from her injuries and figured out how to care for herself. That process was by no means complete when Derek was born and she had to learn how to take care of him, too.

She credits her family and friends for getting her through. “At first, I had a hard time asking for help,” she says. “But I learned that you do what you can with what you have, and if you need help, it’s perfectly OK to get it.” With Derek now 10 and in elementary school, Martinez is back in school herself. She completed her high school diploma and an associate’s degree, and is now pursuing a degree in psychology and counseling.

Martinez hopes to use her education and experience to help others in similar situations. Whether someone is dealing with domestic violence, traumatic injury or single parenthood, she wants to connect them with support systems and let them know there is no shame in using that assistance as a stepping stone to the life they want to live.