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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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The Beat Goes On

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By: Dara Lynn Rice

Name: Jason Gerling
Injury: C6/C7 vertebrae incomplete quadriplegia
Mechanism of injury: car accident
Date of injury: 3/27/1994

At 23, Jason Gerling was an aspiring drummer with a promising future. Drumming professionally since he was sixteen, success seemed no more than a beat a way. For Gerling, music was not just his passion, but his identity. With plans to move to one of the epicenters of American music, New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles, it seemed nothing could thwart his dreams.

On March 27, 1994, while driving home from a late-night performance, Gerling fell asleep at the wheel of his Ford Escort, the course of his life changed immediately upon impact. Although he remembers nothing from the accident, there was plenty of evidence left to remind him. Along with a decompressed skull fracture, a concussion, and short-term memory loss, Gerling became a C6/C7 incomplete quadriplegic.

What good am I?
"It was like a nuclear bomb was dropped on my life when I found out," say Gerling. "Doctors said I would never walk again, much less play the drums. It shattered my dreams, everything. I didn't even want to live. I was literally suicidal for a while, thinking, 'What good am I? What good am I?'"

From working in the gym to experimenting with electrode therapy, Gerling tried everything to stimulate movement, but it wasn't until entering the swimming pool that his nerves had reawakened. Within a year, Gerling was walking in the shallow end of the pool. "I mean, it was painful, it was painful stuff, but once I was in there, I thought, "Man, if planet earth were just like a swimming pool, I could be free."

He returned to college in a wheelchair to study computer graphics. He excelled in his courses, but as hard as he tried, he couldn't forget his previous life. Because of his hard work in therapy, Gerling had gained great function back in his hands, his counselors discussed the possibility returning to the drum set. Gerling thought the idea impossible. "I had the car accident, and I was going to sell those drums, but my dad said, 'Don't, because you may need some them day.'"

Back in to drumming
That day came sooner than expected. When some college colleagues learned about his musical past, they approached him to do a concert, and despite his reservations, he did. Gerling picked up his drumsticks by the end of 1995, only one year after the accident. "It was like freedom, just the sense of accomplishment to just be able to hold a drumstick again. Because when I was in the hospital I couldn't even pick up a checker when I was trying to play a game of Connect Four."

Jason Gerling

Jason Gerling

From that moment on, he knew drumming had to be part of his life, somehow. "Whether it was just a hobby or whatever," remembers Gerling, "but the seed was planted and I had to continue with this art because it was such a part of my life, my identity. Everything about me had to do with the drums."

He combined his interest in music with his computer graphics background and began writing music for a few of his college friends. "I was so nervous, but I talked to my family and friends and they said, 'Jason, this could be your second chance back into music. Maybe you won't be drumming, but at least you can write music.' That's the big pivoting turn in my career and I said, Okay, I've got to figure out how to play drums again."

Reinventing the drum kit
He did. Gerling invented an entirely new way of playing the drums that does not require him to use his feet. "The drum set is incredible. I'm doing drum clinics and I do performances and everybody is coming up and looking at my drum set and they are just amazed. It works so great. I mean it's just awesome."

By 2004, Gerling was once again a professional drummer, but he was starting to realize his unique position as a disabled drummer, and the opportunity it presented him. It allows him to do something much more powerful than just play music, he could inspire others. "My business was starting to do pretty well," he says. "That's when I started to think, Man, other people need to see that a guy in a wheelchair, a person with a disability, can return to his dream of playing the drums."

Jason Gerling

Jason Gerling

Jason's new dream
From that moment on, Jason Gerling was on a mission of encouragement. Through playing and speaking engagements, he has tried to use his own success story to encourage the success of others. "So far, I haven't met too many drummers in wheelchairs. This is kind of my quest," he says with a smile. "I'm out to look for these people. I want to encourage them to return to their drumming and show them how my technique works for me. It may not work for them, but at least I can sit down with them and maybe get something started where they could start their journey of getting back to the drums."

Gerling's dreams of inspiration go far beyond playing in concerts and speaking for audiences. He hopes to one day play with Seal, John Mayor, Sting, or Peter Gabriel to raise money for spinal cord research. And while those aspirations might seem impractical for most of us, for a guy who was told he could never do something he has always done, who is going to tell him he can't?

Between the Wheels Between the Wheels - The debut DVD from drummer Jason Gerling, a mini-documentary detailing his resilient journey back to the drums after a paralyzing catastrophe put him in a wheelchair. With with an inspiring message, heartening pictures and nearly thirty rejuvenating song clips written & performed live behind his revolutionary drums, Between the Wheels is a must-see testament sure to inspire and empower! Encourage someone tomorrow with Between the Wheels today! 15% of sales will be donated to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to help find cures for paralysis. View clips & purchase DVD for $9.99.

Get more information about Arts and Creativity.

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A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Arts and Creativity (PDF)

Art Therapy StudioProvides therapeutic art programs in a variety of settings so people can benefit from the healing power of art.

Art Promote: Disabled ArtistsExplore thousands of art galleries, museums and artists from around the world. Browse by subject, medium, movement, nationality and more.

Axis Dance CompanyPrepare to leave all your preconceptions at the door — AXIS Dance Company, one of the world's most acclaimed and innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities, will change the way you think about the possibilities of the human body forever.

Association of Foot and Mouth Painting ArtistsOffers financial support to develop talents of painters who are accepted.

Disabled Online: Arts & EntertainmentArts and Entertainment Web links are sites that offer ways for individuals with disabilities to display their artistic talents. These clubs and organizations provide opportunities using all kinds of creative and cultural tools to allow individuals to express their artistic side.

Open Door Art StudioColumbus Center for Human Services, Inc. prioritizes health, safety, personal goals, and promotes positive community roles for individuals with disabilities.

VSACreates learning opportunities through the arts for people with disabilities.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.