A fateful dive into the James River in Virginia to get across the rapids cost Cole Sydnor the use of his arms and legs when he hit his head on a rock in August 2011. Cole was only 16 years old. Sydnor’s recollection of the accident is vivid. He recalls floating face down with his eyes open, in murky water.
He recalls trying to swim and being puzzled by his inability to do so, by the refusal of his arms and legs to obey his brain’s commands. Cole remembers watching as the water changed color to a bright red. Luckily, a friend saw Cole in the river and jumped in and saved him.
The impact shattered Cole’s neck at C5 and C6, rendering him a quadriplegic. Cole lost all function below those levels of his vertebrae. He’s unable to use his hands and triceps as well so he’s a complete quadriplegic. Cole is now able to use his shoulders, biceps and a little bit of his wrists. Cole believes that the Epidural Stimulation is the most promising surgery out there right now for those with spinal cord injuries and he is exploring the possibility of same. Cole has worked, and continues to work, with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which plays a critical role in the Epidural Stimulation project in various capacities.
After the doctors reconstructed Cole’s neck shortly following the accident, Cole went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for 122 days where he relearned everything; both physical and mental. Cole notes that initially the mental aspect was particularly difficult. However, once he got to the Shepherd Center, his mindset shifted and he recalled what his family had instilled in him, “Whatever hand you’re dealt, deal with it and move on”. Cole “flipped that switch”, and today, he maintains a positive attitude just about all the time. This positive attitude went on to play a large role in Cole's recovery and new life.
After the Shepherd Center, Cole went back to the University of Richmond (Cole was on the crew team!) and ultimately graduated. In November 2017, Cole first crossed paths with Charisma Jamison at Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation in Virginia, where Cole was undergoing rehab therapy. Charisma was a Rehabilitation Technician. Cole states, “I saw this beautiful girl walking around [Sheltering Arms]." From there, love was born.
Cole and Charisma (now engaged!) spend their time not only focused on each other, but also on educating others about their inter-abled relationship through various social media platforms, which are funded through advertisement revenue, sponsorship, pledges and donations.
They started their YouTube channel in May 2018, "Roll with Cole & Charisma," with the goal of breaking down misconceptions that can surround inter-abled relationships. The idea was Charisma’s. She wanted a way to easily communicate with friends and family who were curious about her relationship with Cole and it has transformed/ballooned from there. They currently have over 200,000 subscribers to “Roll with Cole & Charisma”!
At the core of their YouTube channel and other social media platforms is their desire to make people realize that no matter what the circumstances, you can live a full, happy, meaningful life.
"No matter what you're going through in life, love is out there," Charisma said.
Now 24 years old, Cole’s typical week consists of the following: 2 times/week he goes to therapy at a facility and 3 times/week he works out with Charisma. The couple’s full- time job is preparing and working on their YouTube channel and other social media platforms.
Cole wishes society understood more that how much function a person with a spinal cord injury regains is not based on the amount of work you put in or how positive an attitude you have.
“It’s based on your injury. It’s frustrating that people don’t understand.” Cole says.
Cole and Charisma’s main goal is to raise awareness and spread the word to those with spinal cord injuries and all disabilities and to make the world more inclusive and accessible. They seem to be well on their way to achieving this goal!
Rebecca Pascarell is an attorney working with the Chaffin Luhana Foundation who is dedicated to Peloton cycling and endurance sports. She is an advocate for various causes/organizations, including The Reeve Foundation, The American Heart Association and The American Stroke Association.