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Former LAPD officer, paralyzed in 2006, says fitness was key to her recovery

October 16, 2010

Over the summer, Kristina Ripatti-Pearce completed Race Across America, a bicycle relay from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md.

It's considered one of the most difficult races in the world. But unlike her team members, Ripatti-Pearce faced an added challenge -- the young mother of two is paralyzed from the chest down.

A former officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, Ripatti-Pearce was on a routine patrol in 2006 when she noticed a suspicious-looking man walking the streets in South L.A. After chasing him for blocks and then jumping on his back, the suspect turned and shot Ripatti-Pearce at point-blank range.

At first, Ripatti-Pearce didn't realize how bad her injuries were. When doctors offered her an antidepressant, she asked them for a beer instead: "I was like, just give me a Guinness and let me watch the World Cup," she recalled Saturday at "Conversations on Beauty, Health & Wellness," a daylong event sponsored by LA, Los Angeles Times Magazine.

But after going to physical therapy for the first time, reality hit.

"I realized this was gonna be my life now," she said. "Everybody faces tough challenges in their life, and this spinal cord injury is gonna be mine."

Ripatti-Pearce credits her long-term commitment to fitness with saving her life.

An avid surfer, fisher and off-roader, she did cross-training and ran six miles a day before her injury. After being shot, her fitness routine abruptly changed -- she labored to do simple things like sit up and throw a balloon across a room.

But within weeks of being released from the hospital, Ripatti-Pearce was surfing again. Soon, she was active on her handcycle, which she used to complete Race Across America. And last year, Ripatti-Pearce finished the Boston and Los Angeles marathons.

"The habits I developed through working out and fitness made it a lot easier to deal with" the injury, she said. "I realized how important it is to prepare today for the challenges you know you will face tomorrow.”

-- Jessica Pauline Ogilvie / Special to the Los Angeles Times

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