So, I'm missing my girls this evening because I've been too active and now my feet are alarmingly swollen and I'm stuck at home, feet up and facebook.

Paralysis. It's not as bad as you think.

This is followed by pictures of the sunset taken outside her house, her favorite Irish toast, a couple of memes.

Longdon attends an anti-bullying candlelight vigil at the state Capitol in February.
Jamie Peachey
Longdon attends an anti-bullying candlelight vigil at the state Capitol in February.
A photo taken of Longdon two months before her injury; she has three first-degree black belts.
Courtesy of Jennifer Longdon
A photo taken of Longdon two months before her injury; she has three first-degree black belts.

And finally, this status update:

This is one of those moments where it's all so hard — everything is breaking or broken, I can't manage it any more. I am so lost in "the system" I can't find myself, and my body is screaming because I've pushed it too hard for too long — I just want to give up. But I won't. And tomorrow I'll start again. Here we go . . .


An argument you hear often from gun-control advocates is that it's easier to stave off an attacker armed with a knife or a baseball bat than with a gun. That may not be the case for some of us, but you could definitely make the case for Jennifer Longdon and her fiancé, David Rueckert.

Rueckert ran a successful martial-arts school in town; he was a four-time world champion. Longdon was his student, but she'd had an interest in martial arts long before she moved to the Valley in 1999.

"Doesn't everyone want to be a ninja?" she asks, laughing, then gets serious and explains that she was raped by an acquaintance in 1985 and took a women's self-defense class after that.

It was "transformative," she says, recalling the feeling of breaking a board on the last night of class and thinking, "Fuck, yeah, I am all that."

Longdon was born in Urbana, Ohio, the kind of small town where "if I did something wrong on the playground, it got home before I did." At 11, her parents moved the family to Chicago. She says she's been estranged from her "huge, rowdy Irish Catholic family" since she was 23 and confronted her parents about their drinking. All has not been forgotten — or forgiven.

"My mom was way smarter than my dad, and I spent my childhood watching her dumb herself down."

Longdon did not intend to repeat that mistake. She says her father refused to let her go to the college of her choice, so she worked a series of odd jobs — with computers, cleaning houses, retail — 'til she settled on an office job that led to work as a legal secretary.

She met her husband, Jack, on a blind date and it was "love at first sight." He built cabinets and made furniture, and she got good at translating legalese, working for a hospital insurance department.

They had a son, Matt, and life in Chicago was pretty good — but they were restless, she says, and decided to move someplace else to open a bed and breakfast. They wanted four seasons, so Phoenix (an initial contender) was out, in favor of Bloomfield, Illinois. But then a former colleague offered Longdon an administrative job in Arizona — and the Longdons decided to make the move. The B&B never happened.

Jennifer had given up martial arts when she got pregnant with Matt, though she held onto her sparring gear. They arrived in Phoenix in the summer. Determined to keep her tween son busy, she enrolled him in at a local martial-arts school. The owner was a man named David Rueckert.

They were both married.

"We were friends first," she says, adding quickly, "That's not code — really, we became friends."

Ultimately, she asked Jack for a divorce and took off for several months to work out of town. Rueckert's divorce proceedings followed.

At some point during all this, Longdon and Rueckert became a couple.

Longdon's relationship with her son got complicated (and stayed that way for a long time), but she was happy. She took up martial arts again. She was training as a massage therapist, working for a hotel company setting up properties, and teaching at Rueckert's school.

"I loved my life," she says. And she loved Rueckert.

That life together revolved around martial arts. They'd wake up and do 1,000 kicks each, then shower and eat breakfast — and then train. Longdon recalls that even as she was brushing her teeth at night, Rueckert was coaching her — correcting her stance, giving advice. He was training for his next world competition. She dreamed of competing for a world title, too.

At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, Rueckert was a "beautiful specimen of humanity," Longdon says sighing, describing him as a "bastard of a perfectionist" — but also goofy and romantic. They both loved to scuba dive, and she remembers a trip to Mexico, where he found a ring-shaped shell on the beach, and proposed.

"Sí, mañana," she said, laughing. It became a joke between them.

Longdon pauses to turn off a burner and pour hot water for tea. The counters in her small North Phoenix home are low, designed for her wheelchair to slide underneath. Next to her on the counter, a mini-command center: phone, TV remotes, laptop, a glass of water.

By fall 2004, both Longdon and Rueckert were exhausted. It had been a tough year. Things had gotten even messier on Rueckert's end, and they desperately needed to get away. They did, on a 14-day dive trip.

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5 comments
Pat Elliott
Pat Elliott

Fantastic. We need to see more stories like this and hear from more journalists like Amy Silverman who can tackle difficult topics with sensitivity and accuracy.

Saracat
Saracat

Jen is one of the most incredible people I have ever met. Her courage and compassion are an inspiration and her sense of humor is hilarious

stefnj2000
stefnj2000

Jennifer is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is an inspiration to many and a true voice for wheelchair users, those with spinal cord injuries and others.

This article takes us into her life in the most intimate of ways. She allows us to know what her struggles are and that they don't stop her from countless hours volunteering and committees. I am proud to be a Phoenician with Jennifer Longdon.

kennedymsw
kennedymsw

Wonderful article and a great spokesperson and advocate for so many people and causes.  I hope Jennifer does run for office she needs a larger platform than facebook. 

donnagratehouse
donnagratehouse

Jennifer Longdon is the coolest person ever. I'm honored to know her. 

Great piece, Amy. One of your best. 

 
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