"Now I remember why I don't like shooting," Jennifer Longdon says, holding out her fingers to examine the chips in her bright red nail polish.

The Peoria Shooter's World is humming on a cloudy Monday afternoon in February. Plenty of people are here today — men, women, a kid with his dad, a lot of senior citizens.

And Longdon, who stands out because she's sitting down.

Jamie Peachey
Days before their injuries, Rueckert and Longdon taught martial arts to children in a village in Fiji.
Courtesy of Jennifer Longdon
Days before their injuries, Rueckert and Longdon taught martial arts to children in a village in Fiji.
The couple regularly hiked Piestawa Peak.
Courtesy of Jennifer Longdon
The couple regularly hiked Piestawa Peak.
Longdon took part in February's 
anti-discrimination debate before the city council at the Orpheum Theatre.
Jamie Peachey
Longdon took part in February's anti-discrimination debate before the city council at the Orpheum Theatre.
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.
Longdon was an avid scuba diver before the shooting.
Courtesy of Jennifer Longdon
Longdon was an avid scuba diver before the shooting.

She hasn't fired a gun in more than eight years, not since a bullet hit her spine, collapsed her lungs, shattered her ribs, and ricocheted around her internal organs, ultimately leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

Longdon learned to shoot as a little girl, and once owned handguns, but a while back, she got rid of the .45-caliber Glock that made it a little too easy to make the thought of suicide a reality.

These days, she uses a sleek brown Doberman named Pearl for protection and testifies for gun control at the Arizona Legislature, but she's just been accepted to the Phoenix Police Department's Citizen Police Academy and she knows she'll be asked to fire a weapon. She also knows she's out of practice. More than that, she's terrified she'll fall apart the first time she pulls the trigger.

When she called Shooter's World and explained her situation, she was looking for someone who specializes in post-traumatic stress syndrome; instead, her instructor today is better-versed in mobility challenges than the ones that go on above the shoulders. But he's kind and steady, leading her past a packed house in the indoor shooting range to a separate, empty area, where she attempts her second round of rounds.

He presses a button and — whoosh — a target swings down from nowhere and snaps into place, like the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland.

Longdon fires the rented 9 millimeter three times, then stops. "Can I hold your hand for a second?" she asks the instructor.

Five more rounds and she's done, eager to examine the target. Not bad for her first time back. She pays $70 for the privilege and, shaking, rolls out to the parking lot.

Even though she technically doesn't have feeling there anymore, the long-healed wound in her back burned hard with phantom pain the first time she fired the gun, she says, admitting that she watched the others on the range with their weapons and wondered, "Is someone in there going to shoot me in the back?"

"Fear isn't a reason not to do things," she says, angry that she'll have to repaint her nails but clearly proud of herself.

Longdon flips a switch, and the door of her old van opens and a lift unfolds, and with a little push, she's inside and sliding herself into the driver's seat. Late that night, she'll update her Facebook status:

What a day. Did one of the hardest things I've ever done EVER.


Jennifer Longdon wears her heart on her Facebook page.

In the years since she and her fiancé were nearly killed in what she says she must believe was a random act of violence (the case remains unsolved), Longdon has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities on city, state, and national platforms. She testifies before governmental bodies, chairs committees, and blogs for the foundation created by late actor and activist Christopher Reeve and his family (www.paralysis.org).

But arguably, her most effective platform is the most ubiquitous: Facebook. What began as a Scrabble obsession in 2007 or '08 (she doesn't recall exactly when she signed on) has become — as it is for many — all-consuming.

Indeed, following Jennifer Longdon on Facebook can be all-consuming.

In an age when the shelves of the bookstores that are left are crammed with tomes about how to use social media effectively, all you need to do is friend Longdon (and hope she'll accept your request — she's picky) to see how to do it right.

Longdon posts regularly about get-out-the-vote efforts and legislative actions, and she's quick to call out an elected official for failing to support her cause. (For example, she was all over President Barack Obama for failing to mention people with disabilities in his most recent State of the Union speech.)

To be honest, she gets more than a little preachy at times.

But she's preaching beyond the choir — past the near-empty audiences for gatherings like disability rights commission meetings, taking her place in crowded news feeds — and people are listening. They also un-friend her on occasion, she says with a smile and a shrug.

It's not the GOTV reminders that are so compelling. Jennifer Longdon is posting about her day-to-day life in such an honest way that you can't help but understand, watching her status updates, why all this stuff is important.

She writes about the restaurants she can't access, the emergency room visits that are a near-weekly occurrence, so many broken bones she's lost count, and how it's not easy to run out to the store for limes for margaritas when you've got a spinal-cord injury.

On Christmas Eve, when the rest of us were posting pictures of cookies for Santa and status updates about annoying extended family members, Longdon wrote:

God bless us — everyone.

Well, some cripple has to say it.

This pretty 52-year-old mom with thick dark hair and a wry grin is putting a face on disability that you can't look away from.

I can't, anyway. I didn't remember who friended whom when I approached Longdon about profiling her for New Times — I'd been following her on Facebook for more than a year. I just knew she'd made an impact on me. When she posted that she'd read a story to a class of elementary school kids on Dr. Seuss' birthday, I winced, having canceled my own appointment to do the same. Really, she could get her butt out of bed to do it, but I couldn't? The other day, I found myself stopping my car by a freeway exit to hand money to a guy with a missing leg and a sign, something I never do. When a colleague was booking space for a work event recently, I pointed out that one of the options discussed was not accessible to someone who can't climb stairs.

It's hardly a point of pride, but the truth is that these aren't things I considered much before Longdon and I became friends on Facebook. And even though journalists aren't supposed to write about their friends, I decided to write about Jennifer.

I asked a few of our mutual friends on Facebook whether they similarly have been affected; turns out, they have. But the best example I found actually played out via Twitter, which Longdon is on as well.

Tim McGuire is the Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University, which is a fancy way of saying that the guy knows his way around a newspaper. In fact, he was the editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis for a decade and managing editor before that. He also happens to have been born with arthogriposis multi congenita, a genetic condition that didn't put him in a wheelchair but has affected what he can do physically.

"I learned to walk at 18 months in plaster of Paris casts," McGuire wrote in a post at www.cronkite.asu.edu/mcguireblog. "I had 13 surgeries before I was 16 years old. My right arm is mostly decorative. I have walked with a profound limp all my life. Yet the words handicapped or disabled were never acceptable to me."

Things got a little trickier recently when surgery made an electric cart necessary, McGuire continued, but still, he resisted labels — as well as handicapped parking spots. Then he encountered Jennifer Longdon.

In 2011, Longdon participated in Ignite, the local knockoff of the national phenomenon in which people take the stage to talk about anything from the history of Japanese rock music to the dangers of lice. Longdon's talk was titled "Life at Butt Level," and it's still up on the Ignite Phoenix website, www.ignitephoenix.com.

"If you watch it, your tears and laughter are going to get mixed up into one dramatic and confused mess. It is brilliant," McGuire wrote.

But that's not what moved him to agree — finally — to accept an invitation to join the board of the National Center for Disability Journalism. It was Longdon's tweets after the event, in which she described the pain of being unable to attend the after-party, held at the top of a long, narrow flight of stairs at a Scottsdale bar she couldn't access in her wheelchair.

McGuire remains a fan. He joined the board of the disability journalism organization, and rumor has it that he's now working on a memoir.

As for Longdon, she hasn't posted on her own personal blog, jenlongdon.wordpress.com, since December. But she can be forgiven, considering how busy 2013's been so far.

Last week, she did her ride-along — in a helicopter —with the Phoenix Police Department and graduated from the Citizen Police Academy. She worked hard on the provisions of the human-rights ordinance passed last month by the Phoenix City Council that dealt with disability issues (not as sexy as the LGBT component, her efforts got no attention from the press); publicized the case of a woman whose wheelchair was stolen; attended an anti-bully vigil at the invitation of Phoenix first lady Nicole Stanton; and led the pledge of allegiance at the State of the City address. And that's just a sampling.

You might be tempted to say that Jennifer Longdon's on a roll, but she prefers you'd leave the wheelchair jokes to her.

In recent days, she's found it harder to smile. All that work has taken its toll on her body, as well as her van. With little financial support from the government and less from freelance writing, she struggles to pay to keep up both, and she's just posted on Facebook that she's in danger of losing her health coverage, because of an administrative snag. Her Facebook friends rush forward with support and advice about advocates for the advocate.

She posts late on a Friday afternoon that, regretfully, she's home for the night instead of out with friends:

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.

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.

"It was idyllic. It was Fiji," she says, running her hand along the kitchen counter, an unconscious effort to smooth things out or maybe to keep the memories at bay. "No clocks, no locks, no phones."

It was a wonderful trip; the two relaxed, dove, and began to make solid wedding plans. And then it was time to go home.

Longdon recalls a custom in Fiji — as visitors leave the island they are given flowers to throw in the water. If your flower drifts out to sea, you aren't coming back. If it returns to you, you will return to Fiji.

Longdon and Rueckert shared a flower, standing together and throwing it into the water together.

The flower sank.


Back home, Longdon was jet-lagged and preoccupied with luggage — her scuba gear was missing. She saw her son as soon as she could, and broke the news that she was getting married.

Suddenly, it was Monday morning. She and Rueckert weren't back 36 hours, but they each worked a full day, then got into his red truck to go home. Longdon knew the refrigerator was empty, so she offered a choice: grocery shop for salad ingredients or split a carnitas torta from a drive-thru.

That's how Longdon and Rueckert ended up at the Filiberto's at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard at 9 p.m. on November 15, 2004.

She shivers, pulling a sweatshirt around her shoulders, and keeps going.

"We pull in. It was a beautiful night — the kind of night that we live here for."

The two were holding hands, talking about the wedding. Just as they turned in, he said something funny — she doesn't remember what — and she laughed then sighed.

Then she heard a screech. "Another truck sideswiped us."

Rueckert parked.

The shots began. Some trauma patients black out, but Londgon says she has a memory of the entire incident, start to finish.

"David's window . . . just spiderwebbed. It shattered. I remember watching that pattern in slow motion. It was beautiful."

In a quiet voice, Rueckert said, "Get down."

She was confused. He threw himself over her.

"Someone was firing, and it was loud. God, it was loud."

She grabbed her cellphone and tried to call 911, but she couldn't get a signal at first.

At her feet in a cooler: Rueckert's .45-caliber Glock, which he'd stored at the office while he was out of town.

"David was well-versed in how to use that gun," she says. And he did reach over and flip the lid on the cooler, she recalls, and reached for the gun.

"And then he didn't." She doesn't know why.

Londgon remembers three shots — then it stopped. They both sat up, and he put the car in gear. The shots started again.

With the last one, "I felt this burning," she says.

"David had been speaking to me. Then all of the sudden his words just melted."

He'd been shot several times, including in the brain. And his foot was still on the gas.

"I saw a palm tree coming at us."

The airbag deployed. Longdon was hot. She couldn't breathe. She opened the truck door and gulped in cold air, then froze as Rueckert's door opened.

"I just knew that there was going to be a bullet in my brain."

Instead, a man told her he was an off-duty paramedic.

The bullet had traveled through the body of the truck and into the seat, stopping inside Longdon's body.

"Tell my son I love him," she told the EMTs, dry-eyed as she tells the story. They took Rueckert first ('til then, she'd figured he was dead), and suddenly she was on a gurney going backward.

"Am I being medevaced?" she asked, feeling a spotlight on her face.

"No," someone said. "It's the news vultures."


Longdon couldn't breathe. She kept trying to tell the doctors that her reg (short for "regulator" — a scuba term for the device you breathe through underwater) was blocked. There was blood everywhere. The hospital chaplain came.

She wasn't supposed to survive.

She'd lost so much blood, they couldn't give her anything for the pain. She passed out.

She recalls waking up on her side in a hospital room with her back to the door — and to a doctor, who told her she had a spinal-cord injury and would never walk again.

Longdon has sympathy for that doctor. "Doctors are human beings, too," she says, adding that breaking news like that couldn't be "fun or easy." In a lot of ways, that moment defined her experience.

"No sugarcoating. It's kind of me. It's kind of how this thing has been all along."

And that, she says, is spinal-cord injury.

"When it comes down to it, I'm paralyzed — that's what today's going to be."

The news about her fiancé wasn't great, either.

Rueckert had been shot in the brain, wrist, and shoulder. He was in a medically induced coma in another hospital. Longdon's ex and her son were allowed to visit, but for the most part, she was anonymous — the police were investigating, the reporters were hovering, and the authorities wanted to ensure Longdon's safety.

That meant isolation, and it was profoundly depressing, particularly under the circumstances.

The sympathy she has for the doctor who told her to her back that she was paralyzed does not (understandably) extend to the nurse's aide who — trying to reposition her in bed — yelled, "Bend your knees! This would be so much easier if you'd bend your knees!"

Or for whoever designed the chapel at Good Samaritan Hospital; she's not religious, but one day during rehab, Longdon tried to go in. Her wheelchair wouldn't fit through the chapel door.

Ultimately, surgeons would remove parts of both of her lungs, wire her ribs together, and put her in a medically induced coma to heal.

When she woke up, the patient-controlled pain medication helped — but what she really wanted was a shower — or at least to have her hair washed. One of the few friends who was able to sneak into Longdon's hospital room in those early days had taken her hair down — it reached way down her back in those days — and began to brush it out. It was matted with blood, bone, and bits of brain matter. It was in the folds of her ears, on her back.

It wakes her up at night, even now. "They were brushing bits of David's brain out of my hair."

When she finally got that shower, the nurse put on a slicker and rain boots and wheeled her into a giant shower stall.

It was better than sex. "I used soap, hot water, touched my skin all at once. I cried," she says.

Even for someone used to intense physical training, rehab was just about impossible. Longdon had lost so much strength; she was sick and depressed, almost blacking out the first time they helped her dangle her legs off the side of the bed. She was getting almost no information about Rueckert and still was in almost complete isolation.

Every day, a social worker came into her room and asked her to repeat:

"My name is Jennifer Longdon. I have a spinal-cord injury. There is no treatment at this time."

Longdon refused. The social worker would scribble furiously in her chart, then leave.

"I am paralyzed. I get that," she says now. "It's kind of hard for me to forget. But I will never accept it. Accepting it is a defeat. I fight it every single day."

Aware the mood's getting a little dark, she paraphrases the comedian Chris Rock: "This is the only condition where the prescription is furniture."


Longdon never did go home. Home was a two-story house with doorways far too narrow for her wheelchair.

She visited it once, the week she was released from rehab.

She had to go to the bathroom, but her wheelchair didn't fit. She couldn't see the door frame where, for years, her son's height had been measured.

"I just sat there and cried."

Friends from the martial-arts community took her in; a few months later, Rueckert joined them. He had lost his sight — and more, which Longdon is careful not to talk about too much.

She's also circumspect about the shooting, now a cold case in the hands of the Phoenix Police Department.

"You just don't know. There are still theories," she says, her voice trailing off.

At first, it kept her up at night.

"I cannot accept that anyone can have that much malice," she says, closing the case with her tone. "For my own sanity, I had to create resolution.

"It was random."

With the case faded from the headlines, Longdon became Rueckert's caretaker — spoon-feeding him, shaving his chin. Later, they moved into a ratty apartment, then the house she's in now. The struggle to care for Rueckert got tougher as her own health declined. She remains medically fragile. In the first three years after the accident, she was hospitalized 10 times.

She was seeing her son less, too. She felt she didn't have any choice.

"What was I going to do? I couldn't abandon David . . . David had saved my life that night."

He continued to be loving — very loving, she says, constantly kissing her hand and telling anyone who would listen how wonderful she was. People thought it was romantic.

"It wasn't romantic. It was frontal-lobe damage," she says, motioning to her wheelchair. "I would never trade this for a brain injury."

In 2009, after Longdon broke her leg and things got way worse, Rueckert moved out. She hasn't seen him in two years, and just a couple of months ago, she took off a ring he gave her when they were both in the hospital.

She filed for bankruptcy, survived a lot of suicidal thoughts and one serious attempt. She burned through a lot of friendships — she wondered how any of her friends could stand her, figuring they'd drink heavily before picking up the phone.

"Woo! I'm going to call Jennifer now. Or I can get a pelvic," she jokes.

"You know, amazingly, you don't run out of tears."

The suicide attempt — a very close call involving a lot of vodka and pills — was a turning point.

"I lost my fear. I became very, very, very aware of my mortality," she says. "There's just now. And I can't put stuff off."

Keeping busy has become a survival tactic in a very real way.

A common misunderstanding about spinal-cord injuries is that you lose all feeling below the injured area. Not so, Longdon says. She feels pain almost constantly — intense, burning pain called neuropathy. Drugs don't work; neither does alcohol. The only thing that works, she says, is to keep really, really busy.

She's got that one down.


Her day begins as it does for most of us — with coffee and Facebook. But first, Jennifer Longdon has to get out of bed.

She rises at 5 — always has.

"Honestly, as soon as I snap my eyes open, I try to figure out how I am," she says.

If you were to list the worst things about her spinal-cord injury, Longdon says, not being able to walk wouldn't even make her top 10. Her morning routine explains that pretty well.

She checks to be sure her legs didn't spasm in the night (which could mean broken bones she can't feel) and, in the winter, throws on a hat and scarf because her body doesn't regulate temperature well anymore.

She throws the covers off completely, careful not to trap herself, and pushes aside the pillows she's arranged around her body. Then, she must negotiate with her dog, Pearl, who has a habit of trapping her in bed — sometimes because she can sense better than Longdon when something's not right with her master's health.

She grabs the sheets, pulls hard into a sitting position. She lifts her butt, pulls it over, then her legs one at a time. She throws the covers back over the warm spot so Pearl isn't tempted (the dog is not allowed underneath) and picks up a mirror to check for pressure wounds on her skin.

She scoots into her wheelchair and heads to the bathroom.

"I go to the toilet. I do what everyone else does — except, for me, it involves rubber gloves and lubricant."

She works her way into her shower chair, then back to bed to dry off and put on lotion. She stretches — really important. Then she gets dressed, putting her legs straight in front of her and rolling to get her pants on.

"On a good day, I can do it in three rolls," she says. A bad day it takes five or six. Sitting up to snap on a bra is an extra challenge.

"I'm a bowling ball on top of a wet noodle," she says ruefully. In the early days, she had to nap a lot.

Then it's time for shoes.

She used to love shoes. Now she hates them. They must be flat, accommodate swelling. They can't fly off. She's tried double-stick tape and once, for a special occasion, duct tape, which can get dangerous if you don't remove it carefully. She says she's given up on fancy shoes; pretty earrings and makeup — when she's going out, anyway — make up for them.

By now it's 7, and it's time for coffee. She makes half a pot, eats breakfast (Longdon admits to a sweet tooth, so it might be a piece of leftover limoncello Bundt cake) and opens the laptop.

Her foray into social media began with a community website that offers medical advice for people with spinal-cord injuries. Then she joined Facebook to play Scrabble with her "Care Cure" friends — and it took off from there.

"Facebook is a drug. I can quit it anytime. It's a beer on Saturday; next thing you know, it's a six-pack a night."

She does get un-friended. "I am an acquired taste," she says.

Longdon does a lot of advocacy for people with disabilities. And she also works on gun-control measures, particularly since the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tucson and last year's Newtown school massacre in Connecticut.

She's testified against measures to increase access to guns and supports universal background checks, but she does not take it as far as you might expect, given her personal experience.

"I don't think we should ban guns. Not at all," she says.

Not handguns, anyway.

"You should not be able to put 11 holes in a first-grader," she says. In any human being, she adds.

She was shot by a handgun, and now, she admits, when she sees one, it's like looking at a black widow or a scorpion. She talks about how hard it was to tell her story at the Legislature last year during the guns-on-campus debate. She got upset and went out to the hallway. A police officer there to testify came out to comfort her.

She shakes her head. Cops are the ones who have it hard, she says.

"You know," I say, "you don't have to do this. You don't have to put yourself in such painful positions."

Longdon says, "Yeah, I do," looking away, her eyes filling. She looks back.

"Yeah, I do."

It's not just a matter of being busy. Maybe it's the failed marriage and rough times with her son (Matt is now a journalism student at ASU and the two do have a relationship) or gratitude for survival. Certainly, it has something to do with the friends who showed her kindness after she was injured. Longdon feels compelled to help others. At first, she couldn't do much, she says; she cut her hair and gave it to Locks of Love, the organization that makes wigs for cancer patients. As she got stronger — and more vocal — it's grown into positions with titles: chair of the Mayor's Commission on Disability Issues and board member (among others) of the Statewide Independent Living Council and Arizonans for Gun Safety. One of her favorite gigs: touring other people with disabilities around the state capitol, teaching them how to advocate for themselves.

Longdon's fan club is growing. She's received several awards for her advocacy and a reputation among elected officials as the person to call if you want to get something done on disability issues.

"She is always prepared. She does her homework," says Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. "She is incredibly generous with her time."

He admits there's not a lot of publicity given to the work of the city's disability commission, but he says it's still "incredibly important."

Her prodding on issues of accessibility (she's on a current crusade to better equip some light-rail stops) makes city officials think about it a lot more than they used to, Stanton says. Even though they don't always agree with her.

That's okay, he says. He's not looking for cheerleaders.

"When Jennifer Longdon challenges me and the city I love, it makes me a better mayor," he says.

There's been talk about Longdon herself running for public office.

Oh, no, she says, insisting she's not nice enough to get elected. She doesn't believe both sides are always equal.

Anyhow, she asks, with a gleam in her eye, what about Facebook?

"I'd have to give that up, wouldn't I?"

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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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