Foundation for paralysis victim works to benefit others in need
By Ellena F. Morrison
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The foundation created to help Joey Schlapkohl has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. "You have this number -- $200,000 -- but you can't put a price tag on being able to go to the grocery store or cook your family dinner," she says.

"Stopping was just not an option," says Joey Schlapkohl, who was partially paralyzed in a 1999 accident.

GRAPEVINE - As Joey Schlapkohl sees it, her major accomplishments -- raising two young daughters, getting married last summer and working toward a graduate degree -- are humdrum enough. Why anyone is interested in her life is beyond her.

But friends and co-workers say her feats are inspiring, considering that she accomplished them while relearning to walk after an accident that partly paralyzed her four years ago.

"Stopping was just not an option," said Schlapkohl, 35, shrugging off praise. "I have just settled into life, and I am rolling with it."

Her intensity and drive induced those who know her to create a charity organization in her name that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her and other victims of life-threatening accidents.

Schlapkohl, then named Joey Wilkins, was paralyzed below the waist Sept. 29, 1999. She and her future husband, Dave Schlapkohl, were exploring an old barn in north Grapevine when a second-story hayloft door gave way.

Wilkins fell from the second floor onto a partly open door at ground level. At first she thought she just had the wind knocked out of her; quickly it became apparent the injury was much more grave. The fall broke a vertebra near the middle of her back, crushing her spinal cord.

Six weeks later, she was back at work, thanks in part to the donations of friends and family, who organized the Joey Wilkins Foundation. Foundation volunteers made her house wheelchair-accessible by widening doorways, lowering counters and adding ramps. The foundation also provided her a hand-driven car.

"Everyone who had ever met her wanted to be there to help in any way they could," said Michael Woody, Joey Schlapkohl's supervisor at the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she has worked since 1995. "It is only through those genuine friendships that it all came about the way it did."

Since helping her, the foundation has raised roughly $200,000 in cash and in-kind donations. Last year, board members, who choose recipients based on need, helped Sean Allen of Azle, who was injured in a diving accident. He was provided a van so he could go to his graduation and prom.

"You have this number -- $200,000 -- but you can't put a price tag on being able to go to the grocery store or cook your family dinner," said Schlapkohl, gesturing with arms that have grown more muscular over the past four years. "It's not about me anymore. It's so much more at this point."

The foundation is gearing up for the Fifth Annual Joey Wilkins Foundation Golf Tournament, scheduled for Nov. 24 at Bear Creek Golf Club, 3500 Bear Creek Court in Grapevine. About 200 golfers are expected, foundation officials said.

After golfing, the festivities will move to Delaney Vineyards, 2000 Champagne Blvd. in Grapevine, for dinner and an auction. This year the foundation will help Brent Stringer, 21, of Kemp, who became paralyzed from the shoulders down after a diving accident this summer. His goal is to drive on his own.

"It will be a day to remember -- for a very good cause," said Mark Stanfield, the foundation chairman.

For Schlapkohl, who now has some feeling down to her hip, life rolls on. As the city of Grapevine's webmaster, she wants to update several municipal Web pages this year. Her graduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington will be complete in May. And there are her daughters, Alexis, 9, and Gabbie, 8, to focus on.

"I now have higher expectations for my kids," said Schlapkohl, who can walk short distances using full leg braces. "When you know what's possible, you don't want them to give up on anything."

For her, anything is still possible.

"I'll walk again," she said. "I don't know when, but I'll walk again."

Fifth Annual Joey Wilkins Foundation Golf Tournament

• 12:30 p.m. Nov. 24

• Bear Creek Golf Club, 3500 Bear Creek Court, Grapevine

• $95 per person for tournament, dinner and auction; $25 for auction only

• Information: (817) 410-3185 or joeymw

Ellena F. Morrison, (817) 685-3888

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