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Molly Sacco Hale

2012 Recipient: Coleen Gragen Award of Inspiration

Molly Sacco Hale discovered martial arts after fracturing her 5th lumbar vertebrae in 1981, undertaking a physical conditioning program along with Aikido training. In doing so, she overcame medical predictions that she might lose her ability to walk.  Instead, Molly kept a positive approach to her healing, worked hard at her training, and earned her black.

But that is not the end of her success story.  Within days of a 1995 car accident that broke her neck and further injured her spinal cord, physicians were telling the invincible Molly Hale that she would be a quadriplegic with no movement past her shoulders for the rest of her life.  After two months of hospitalization, she returned home to fight that prognosis of paralysis.  Her fierce determination and years of Aikido practice, combined with Feldenkrais (a gentle movement and directed attention therapy derived from how children learn to move from birth) gradually proved the doctors wrong.  Her recovery process also includes breath work, massage, horseback riding, chiropractic manipulation, and almost daily sessions in a heated pool

Molly’s well developed patience helped her retrain her body and regain daily functions that most of us take for granted by focusing on the most minute of muscle movements, the ones she could sense closest to her skeleton.  She could feel herself tensing and releasing them, and followed whatever motion her body could make to ever so slowly regain limited use of her hands and arms.  Using the buoyancy of water to help her, she learned to move her legs to slowly walk under water.

And then she returned to Aikido, where she had been training for her third degree black belt just before the accident.  From her wheel chair, she completed her test and advanced in rank on merit rather than on ceremony.  She continued on to earn her fourth degree black belt in 2013.

Molly Hale’s determination resulted in her being chosen by the Olympic Committee as an Olympic torchbearer for the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, Utah.  She is also the subject of a 2005 documentary film, “Moment by Moment: The Healing Journey of Molly Hale,” by filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman. The film’s success and subsequent attention from people seeking help led Molly to form a nonprofit foundation, Ability Production, to mentor and support individuals with spinal cord injuries and their families, following the motto of “Discovering the Ability in Disability.”