Disabled Utah woman readies for Jan. 29 marathon
Bountiful • Rebecca Goeckeritz won't be limited by her disability.
Paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 15 months when she was run over by a car, the 31-year-old Bountiful native is training for a Jan. 29 marathon. She will compete in the 26.2-mile handcycle race at the ING Miami Marathon in Florida.
Goeckeritz knows the race will be a difficult test. She's been working out at the gym and takes long rides with her husband, Isaac, on a handcycle designed for competition. A fitness coach and a nutrition coach help guide her training.
But the outgoing motivational speaker and accomplished violinist is no stranger to such trials.
"We all come in different packages and have different challenges," she said. "But we can all use those challenges to make it a better world."
Even though she was unable to use her legs from a very early age, Goeckeritz, whose maiden name is Bierwolf, grew up much like her four siblings. Along with her brother and three sisters, she did chores around the house and attended public schools in Bountiful.
In 2003, she graduated from Weber State University with a degree in music.
"I give a lot of credit to my parents. They allowed me to be creative with my life," she said. "They never told me I couldn't do something, only that they'd help me find a way."
One thing her mother strongly pushed was that she learn the violin because, Goeckeritz said, it only requires hands and arms. She now plays for the Orchestra on Temple Square which, among other things, accompanies the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. That is where she met her husband, whose mother also plays for the orchestra.
Isaac Goeckeritz said he was immediately taken by Rebecca's demeanor and smile.
"I was just surprised by how happy she is," he recalled about their meeting. "She's just an inspiration."
The pair married on July 10, 2009.
In 2010, Isaac gave Rebecca a handcycle for Christmas, which she immediately embraced as a fun challenge.
"It was really exhilarating, and riding bicycles is something we can do together," she said. "And then there was the speed factor. It allowed me to go fast."
On a bike ride on the Legacy Trail last summer, Rebecca saw a man with a competitive handcycle who was going much faster than she could.
"It began to peak my interest in doing something competitive," she said.
But when Rebecca began looking for training programs for disabled people she was perplexed. "There's not a lot out there," she said.
Eventually, she discovered FitStudio.com, an online fitness community started by Sears. It is donating the competitive handcycle she will use in the race and connected her with Andrea Metcalf, author of Naked Fitness, and nutritional adviser Toby Amidor.
Her urge to compete doesn't surprise her mother, Paulette Bierwolf, who said Rebecca was born with a positive outlook and a vibrant personality.
"I don't think she thought of herself as any different than anyone else," Bierwolf recalled. "She always thought she was a capable human being and that the worst thing she could do was victimize herself or feel self-pity."
But when Rebecca became a teenager, she realized that some people saw her as a wheelchair with a person in it, rather than a person who happened to use a wheelchair. So the youngster developed a strategy.
"She reached out to people and learned their names," her mother said. "They would get to know her and see her as a person, not a wheelchair."
Rebecca's vivacious personality helped her capture the Ms. Wheelchair Utah title in 2006. The following year, she was runner-up in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition.
That brought plenty of public speaking opportunities and other chances to tell people about her life and overcoming challenges.
"My message is never about me and my life; that would be real boring. My message is, believe in yourself and work toward your goals," she said.
Some people do have self-doubt and fear of failure, she said. "They have to choose to remove those barriers. I only hope I can inspire them."
O Follow Rebecca Goeckeritz as she competes in the ING Miami Marathon on Jan. 29