Paralyzed police officer a portrait in perseverance
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A career criminal shot Kristina Ripatti just below her armpit. The bullet slid behind her bulletproof vest and severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down. But Ripatti, an LAPD gang officer, retained the use of her arms, and that has made all the difference. With those well-muscled arms, she has continued to surf, camp and fish, not to mention drive, keep house and look after her two young children. She has completed the Boston and Los Angeles marathons on a hand cycle and is preparing for a cross-country bicycle race. Sports and fitness were a big part of her life before her spinal injury. After it, they became her keys to survival.
Photography and video by Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times
Ripatti sits for a portrait in her home. She talks about growing from the challenges she faces in life and rediscovering her self. "Slowly but surely I'm defining myself and who I am as a person and stuff, but it's still a long road; I'm just a baby with this, it's like three years into it, you know, in the spinal cord world, I'm just a baby with it, really, " she said.
Ripatti works out at Gold's Gym with personal trainer Lou Sidella, who has been working with her for more than two years. "You just don't give up; giving up is not an option," Ripatti said.
Ripatti works with locomotor training rehabilitation specialists at NextStep Fitness, an all-handicap-accessible gym. The goal of this particular regimen is to get the nerves in Ripatti's spinal cord to remember the movements the trainers help her achieve.
Ripatti is among those honored at the Los Angeles Regional Crime Center Open House on Oct. 15, 2009. She sits in the front row with her family before the ceremony begins.
Ripatti's daughter, Jordan, pulls her mother close. "They don't care, they just want their mommy or daddy there, they don't care what state you're in," Ripatti said about the unconditional love of her children.
Ripatti hugs her son, Lucas, who crawls onto her lap. "I don't want to collapse and be, you know, an emotional wreck and totally a non-factor in this family. I have my husband and then my friends and family, and you know, I want to keep continuing to live and be happy, I don't want to be miserable every day ... even in a wheelchair, you know, I'm limited, but I can still do so many things, and there are so many things I don't want to miss out on," Ripatti said.
Ripatti has friends and family over to her house to celebrate Lucas' birthday. Lucas, middle, opens a gift with the help of his mother's friend Rosy Rojas, right.
Ripatti, center, graduates from the Los Angeles Police Department Academy in September 1997. At left is her mother, Margaret McConnell, and at right is her grandmother, Margaret Rowe. (Photo courtesy Margaret McConnell family)
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