Losing a leg barely slows down Salem woman
Just 10 days after losing her left leg in a traffic accident and her first day out of the hospital Jackie Bell knew where she wanted to go.
She asked her fianc, Doug Hill, to take her to dragon boat practice. She been headed to practice when a driver ran a red light in June, striking her Harley Davidson.
On Saturday, she was back at the dragon boats to join her teammates in a series of races, and then to join Hill in marriage. Two loves, paddling together.
“I would not have recovered as fast” without the team, she said. “And, of course, Doug.”
Just an hour after the day last race, surrounded by teammates still in their purple and orange jerseys, she and Hill walked under an aisle of raised paddles as a married couple.
The Hills, who live in Salem, met 2 1/2 years ago on their jobs at a Safeway. Both widowed, they started dating and decided they fit each other perfectly.
Not long after, Jackie met someone in the checkout line at Safeway who would change her life again: Weisha Mize, coach of the Peace Dragon Warriors dragon boat team. Mize came through her line again and again to try to persuade Jackie to give the sport a try.
Finally, she did. And loved it. Then she got Doug involved, too.
“They great on the boat,” Mize said. “Really valuable teammates. I wouldn want to paddle without them.”
At a party last New Year Eve, Jackie took Doug up to the stage in front of 800 people and proposed.
“I had no idea what she was going to do, and she asked, you marry me? Doug said.
They wanted to marry early in the year but postponed after Doug daughter got engaged. Then came the accident; Jackie underwent two surgeries, amputating her leg at the knee. They set a date.
But first, she had to get back in racing form.
In the hospital, her team made sure someone sat with her around the clock. They turned her room into a garden of flowers, painted her nails in team colors and tie dyed her hospital gown.
“I telling you, the people on her team wouldn have had it any other way,” Mize said.
After she returned to practice, she switched from the second row to the back bench on the right side. She learned how to paddle again, her balance and reach thrown off with one fewer leg to brace her.
It wasn easy. But losing her team would have been worse than losing her leg, she said.
Teammates expected Jackie to take a year off, but she barely let the accident slow her down.
View full size Molly Harbarger/The OregonianDoug and Jackie Hill walk under a canopy of their teammates’ paddles at their wedding Saturday. Bell laughs at her teammates’ wisecracking as she and Doug Hill walk down the aisle. The Peace Dragon Warriors from Salem hold up their paddles for the newly married couple to recess through.
“I think I being me, but everyone is saying I crazy and insane,” said Jackie, laughing. She also back on a motorcycle, a modified one.
“Her struggle and determination and self drive is really amazing,” Doug said.
## ## So there she was Saturday at the Willamette River for the Portland Dragon Boat Race.
The race brought teams from around Oregon, Washington, California and Canada, filling Tom McCall Waterfront Park with a kaleidescope of jerseys. Teams stretched on the lawn, drank in the beer garden and hustled to and from races.
Jackie and Doug competed on separate teams he on a mixed team called Pax Bellatoris, she on the all women Peace Dragon Warriors, also the name of their club. At the club race tent, they sold golf towels and other items to raise money for a new prosthetic leg.
After the races, Jackie put on her wedding gown, with maroon flowers embroidered on the skirt and bodice. Doug put on a tuxedo and top hat.
They and the rest of the wedding party danced down the aisle. Officiating? Mize, of course.