Owen in the WSJ

After Paralysis, Coach Inspires Others With Injuries

Reprinted from the 7/13/2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal

Owen Henderson-Howes coached hundreds of children on youth hockey and lacrosse leagues in the lower Fairfield County area of Connecticut. Now, he’s doing a different kind of coaching by helping people who have a spinal-cord disease or injury.
Mr. Harrington-Howes, 56 years old, works in the financial services industry. Fourteen years ago he suffered a spinal-cord injury while swimming at Jones Beach. He was left paralyzed.

“Life is really random,” says Mr. Harrington-Howes. “You don’t have to be a risk-taker. I was at the beach playing in the waves.”

That life-changing moment resulted in an outpouring of local support and the creation of the Owen Henderson-Howes Foundation to help Connecticut residents who have suffered spinal-cord injuries. Mr. Harrington-Howes was the foundation’s first grant recipient. Since 1999, the organization has made about $2 million in grants to more than 200 people.

Recent grants have covered the cost of a front door ramp, a basketball wheelchair that will allow a young woman to continue playing sports, tuition for a woman completing a graduate degree in high-school counseling, funding for a wheelchair-accessible van, a computer and printer for a young man injured by a stray bullet and a neuromuscular electrical stimulation unit for a young professor.
Key to the foundation’s work is Mr. Harrington-Howes’s support when people first receive a diagnosis.

“Owen is the kind of person that if somebody’s sister’s husband’s second cousin removed has a spinal cord injury somewhere in the tristate area, Owen is the go-to guy,” says Candace Wheelock, executive director of the foundation. “People call him and he and his wife get in the car and go visit people at rehabilitation hospitals.”

Mr. Harrington-Howes says that he makes as many visits as he can. Those visits by others were pivotal to him when he was recovering and he knows how scary the initial weeks can be when a patient thinks life is over. “It can be incredibly helpful for someone to say that in a couple of years, you will look back at this and it’s not going to look like the total calamity that it is now,” he says.

Mr. Harrington-Howes says that the foundation is overwhelmed with requests for help. To meet the need, the community will gather Wednesday night at the Terry Conners Ice Rink in Stamford, Conn. for the Big Assist III, an annual fund-raiser and hockey exhibition game.

The event is organized by Ryan Shannon, a hockey player for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He brings in his friends who are professional hockey players for the game and they sign autographs late into the night. Mr. Shannon credits Mr. Harrington-Howes, his first on-ice coach, for igniting his love of hockey.
At the event, Mr. Harrington-Howes says that he will greet people at the door. “I see people from all parts of my life and meet new friends,” he says. “You never know who has a connection to someone with a spinal- cord injury.”