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Legendary Locals: Ladera Ranch Quadriplegic Defies Odds
by: Debbie L. Sklar
Freeman enjoys spending time with son, Parker.
Freeman enjoys spending time with son, Parker.

Stefan Freeman of Ladera Ranch has more drive than a lot of people even though he has a spinal cord injury.

In 1997, he sustained a C 6/7 complete spinal cord injury at the age of 24, a year prior, he had graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and was in the process of moving to LA after spending the ski season in his hometown of Vail.

“Because my father lived in Seattle and close to the hospital, I chose to do my rehab at the University of Washington. I spent 3 months in the hospital and an additional year working out 5-6 days/week trying to get back what I had lost,” he says. “With no return of muscle function or sensation below the level of my injury (mid-chest), I decided to re-enter society and got a job at one of the best creative ad agencies in the world, Chiat/Day.”

He worked as a media planner for 4 years until getting laid-off when the Internet bubble burst in 2002, then managed to work for GM Mobility and held other consulting jobs until meeting his wife, Justine.

With that, Freeman packed his bags, got a new job selling life insurance, bought a house and got married in 2005. After 2 years and a baby boy on the way (Parker – born March 2007), he knew that his passions and desires were not being fulfilled selling insurance.

“I decided to jump into the Wellness Revolution and haven’t looked back since. Among other projects, I now work with a company called Genewize that markets nutritional supplements and skincare based on your DNA,” he says.

In his spare time, Freeman enjoys concerts, taking part in many activities, sports and charitable endeavors. He played wheelchair Rugby for 5 seasons in Northridge from 1998-2003 and is looking to join a team just established this year in Orange County.

“I also stay very active by lifting weights a couple times a week at the Goodwill Gym in Santa Ana, Irvine Valley or Saddleback Colleges,” he shares. “For the past 4 years, I have been a Board Member for an organization called UCP Wheels for Humanity.”

The organization collects, refurbishes wheelchairs, distributes and personally fits them to those in need in developing countries.

“We have distributed more than 50,000 chairs in 66 countries so far,” Freeman says proudly. “I am also a ‘Rider’ in an Organization called Ralph’s Riders. It is a non-profit that was set up to mentor and give peer counseling to those suffering new spinal cord injuries.”

Every April, he volunteers at JAWS (Junior Active Wheelchair Sports) camp.

“A year ago, I helped set up and now lead a networking group that meets once a month to talk about current events, job opportunities, resources for those with SCI. Last but not least, my goal is to be a second generation Olympian in swimming at the Paralympics in London 2012.”

He says his mother skied in the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley.

“I’m driven to inspire and lead others to live a healthier and longer quality of life. I do this simply, by surrounding myself with like-minded individuals, continually learning and having a ‘Whoa is NOT me!!’ attitude,” he says. “This sounds crazy, but I really enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself. At the end of the day, I'll figure it out and prove the 'doubters' wrong.”

Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at

What do you think? Leave your comment here.

Comment by Elaine Smith 12/23/2009 5:23:00 PM

Bravo, Stefan!! Kath passed this on to me, tho I'm living with her and Chad now (permanent). Glad to hear of your many intersts and your attitude - Way to Go!!!\

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