On a Roll and Nothing Can Stop HerNov 01, 2021 08:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Rozaline Thompson was born in Wellsboro in 1991, but she doesn’t remember much about her early years because she moved to Florida when she was four. By the time she was twenty-one and moved back, things were different. Tioga County was different, certainly, but the biggest change was that Roz was now in a wheelchair.
When Roz was fourteen and trying to snooze in the backseat of a moving car, another vehicle crashed into the car door right where her head was. Thankfully, she escaped brain injury—but she was paralyzed from the chest down. “I’m a C5/C6 quadriplegic,” she says. “All four limbs were affected. I have no use of my legs or individual fingers.” Her smile is a big one and can make it hard to take in what she’s saying.
Roz turns thirty this month, and she recently hit some milestones. She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work—earning honors both times. She got her driver’s license, her own apartment, and a van. And she has started hunting—a lifelong dream. The journey to this point has not been easy or quick, but now, Roz says, barriers are falling faster and faster.
After the accident, Roz spent four months in the hospital. “I felt like my life was over at the age of fifteen,” she says. “I lost all my friends, well, I thought they were my friends.” Roz thinks they shied away because they didn’t know how to handle her disability. Things she once loved doing—camping, fishing, four-wheeling, jet-skiing—were in the past. For a few years, depression took hold. “Then I changed my mindset. No more feeling sorry for myself.”
Just when Roz decided to apply to college and had been awarded a National ChairScholars Scholarship for people with serious physical disabilities, she and her mother moved back to Pennsylvania. Luckily, Mansfield University accepted the scholarship.
“I was really worried about being accepted at college, but everyone was so friendly! Classmates would call out ‘Hey, Hot Wheels.’” Roz says the hilly campus could be difficult in the winter. Once, when she was coming down the hill from Butler Hall, she started sliding in the snow. “Out of nowhere this guy came running and grabbed my chair and saved me.”
Roz majored in social work and joined two honor societies, continuing to do volunteer work through them and church. Helping people comes naturally.
During an internship at Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro, Roz discovered she loved being a medical social worker. Also, because everything at the hospital is accessible, Roz had greater autonomy.
There she helped patients and families plan for life after being discharged and advocated for them. She knew what it felt like to lie in a hospital bed wondering how you were going to keep going. Dr. Tiffany Welch, her professor, says, “The nurses and patients raved about the light Roz brought to their day.”
After graduating, Roz got her master’s in social work from Edinboro University. Getting a job after college presented more challenges for Roz. Until then, she’d either been driven by her mother or rode the EMTA bus, but the bus wouldn’t take Roz out of Tioga County. So Roz, who has PTSD from her car accident, determined to learn how to drive. Her van has a ramp she rides up, locking her wheelchair into place behind the steering wheel. She works special controls with her hands and head. None of this comes easily, but now she’s gained enough independence to live on her own.
Two years ago, Roz began working at Wellspring Community Support Services in Mansfield as a psychiatric rehabilitation worker. One day Mick Morgan, a co-worker, asked if she’d tried hunting. “It was something I’d always wanted to do,” Roz says, “but I didn’t know if I could without the full use of my hands.”
Mick knew Rose Moore, archery expert and owner of Moore’s Sport Center in Wellsboro, who was excited to help Roz try a crossbow. They met at the store’s indoor archery range. Once Rose realized that Roz is right-handed but left-eye dominant, Rose set the crossbow on Roz’s left shoulder. With the front end propped on a table, Roz hooked her right pointer finger on the trigger. Instead of squeezing the trigger, Roz has to pull her hand back.
There is a video on Rose’s YouTube channel showing Roz wondering where her shot went. Nothing is sticking out of the foam bear target—at least not the front of it. Rose turns it around, showing the arrow has gone right through the bullseye.
Last year Roz went hunting a few times with friends. Carl Knapp, her mom’s boyfriend, has a large tree stand on his land. He carried Roz’s wheelchair up the steps, and then carried her. They saw deer that were out of range. Though she hopes to have better luck this season, Roz says, “I enjoy just getting out there. It’s tranquil.”
She has started fishing again. She doesn’t bait or cast, but she’s learned how to reel in her catch. She would like to try kayaking next, and go camping. She’s studying to get her social work license in Pennsylvania and New York.
These days, Roz has a great circle of friends and lots of support. She shares some of her own challenges with her clients, who know about her accident. “I tell them, ‘You still have the ability to experience life and love. Even though things are tough they can get better.’” Roz’s message is clear: put yourself out there and hunt for the life you want.