Paralyzed jockey looks to make a better life for himself

Jake Chalfin

UNIONVILLE -- A Unionville area man who was paralyzed in a horse accident nearly two years ago has made remarkable improvements and hopes to soon live a self-sustaining life.

Jake Chalfin, 34, was paralyzed from the upper chest down after being thrown from his horse in September of 2010 at Blue Ridge races in Virginia. Up until last August, he needed round-the-clock care. Today, he needs just four hours of care per day, and soon hopes to perform daily chores by himself.

“I’m a lot more independent,” Chalfin said. “I’ve made significant progress.”

Today, Chalfin has a job as sales manager at Laurel Valley Soils in Avondale, can drive and even prepares meals by himself.

But despite the inroads he has made, Chalfin is a realist; he knows it is likely he will never walk again. He pins a lot of his hope on stem cell research, but he feels it could take up to 100 years for that science to help paraplegics.

“With a spinal cord injury, you get dealt your hand,” he said. “You have to work with whatever you have left. No matter how hard you work, you can still only work within the parameters of your injury. I’m not recovering anymore, but I am getting my strength back.”

And when Chalfin has his “down” days, days when he thinks about all the things he could be doing had he not been injured, he trains his thoughts on another local man, Jesse Picard. Picard, a 2007 Unionville High School grad, was paralyzed from the neck down following a motorcycle accident. He has no use of his hands or legs and requires constant care.

“I’ve never met Jesse, but I know his level of injury is much higher than mine,” Chalfin said. “When I say luck of the draw, I’m lucky enough that I can use my hands. He can’t even use his hands.”

In July, two fundraising events were held to help Chalfin with his rising medical expenses. The Second annual Polo Match at the Brandywine Polo Club raised about $7,000 after expenses, and the first annual 10K race and 5K walk-run in Springdell raised more than $3,000.

Chalfin said the 10K race at Runnymede Estate was so successful with 150 contestants, he envisions double the entries next year.

“Everyone who ran the course was thrilled,” he said. “It was challenging but doable. There were six creek crossings, horse jumps and incredible views.”

The money raised through events sanctioned by organizers ‘Chasin’ for Chalfin” helps to defray his caregiving and rehabilitation costs. This month, he will be traveling to California for a month of intense therapy through an organization called Projectwalk.org that specializes in spinal cord injury. Chalfin sees it as a hard core boot camp and is hoping instructors push him to his limits.

Chalfin returned home in March of last year after receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Magee Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia. Since then, he has been working to make his home wheelchair-accessible. With help from his friends, he was able to widen the hallways, renovate the bathroom and have a backup generator installed. Now he’s looking to make his kitchen handicapped-accessible by installing a counter that raises and lowers so he can cook and clean safely on his own.

“Right now I cheat by eating microwaved food, but this will allow me to have a healthy diet,” Chalin said.

For now, Chalfin said the fundraisers are helping to offset costs of therapy and home renovation. And the gift he recently received of a four-wheel-drive Gator has enabled him to volunteer at horsing events in Chester County.

“It was too hard to negotiate the hilly fields in a wheelchair,” Chalfin said. “With the Gator, I can see all the race action. And it has allowed me to volunteer which I really like. I can shuttle jockeys or race officials around.”

This feeling of usefulness has given Chalfin, a newly inducted member of the West Marlborough Township planning commission, a new chapter in his life.

“The community has done so much for me, I want to be able to give back as much as I can,” Chalfin said. “I love this area. I love the people.”

Donations are still being taken for Chalfin’s recovery through www.chasinforchalfin.com.

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