Jamie Blanek

By Kathleen Seaman

Snowboarder & Adaptive Athlete

On February 6, 2021, Jamie Blanek came upon a car wreck on her way home and stopped to assist. While she was trying to secure two little girls in their car seats, another car came upon the scene and hit her. She ultimately lost her right leg and suffered numerous other injuries.

Blanek admits she could have given up. She could have allowed herself to become a victim, spending time feeling sorry for herself, but instead she’s decided not to spend another day of what she now knows is a fragile life, focused on negative thoughts.

“I’m in charge of my narrative,” Blanek said. “I get to decide how I’m going to look at it.” She’s chosen to be what she calls “healthy selfish” and focused on her mental health. Part of that means setting goals for herself. Before her accident, Blanek had an active lifestyle. She was a former dancer and an amateur snowboarder that worked out every day and was in peak physical condition. So, even while she was still in the hospital, Blanek set a very challenging physical goal: she was going to snowboard again. And she did. Less than a year after her accident, on her 32nd birthday, she went snowboarding in Park City, Utah. Now, almost two years later, she lives in Park City full-time while she trains with the National Ability Center and a development group of Paralympic snowboarding hopefuls who have their sights set on the 2026 Winter Paralympics in Italy. Recently, Blanek spoke with the Wacoan about her recovery up to this point, the adaptive communities that gave her the tools to lead a fulfilling life, and the family, friends and strangers that continue to rally around her.

WACOAN: Most people know you as a Wacoan, so what has taken you to Utah?

Jamie Blanek: I moved here around New Year’s to train with the National Ability Center (NAC) and that is located here in Park City, Utah. I train with them in adaptive snowboarding, and I’m currently training for the next Paralympics, which are in Italy in 2026. I moved here full time to train year-round so that I was always at elevation and around other adaptive athletes. There’s tons of Olympians and Paralympians that live in this area, so it just made sense for me to stay here while I have this specific goal in mind.

WACOAN: What drew you to snowboarding?

Blanek: Being from Texas, we don’t have snow. I skied for several years on family vacations or trips with friends and never really got the hang of how to stop on skis, and at some point, was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna try snowboarding.’ Even though I had been told it was so much harder, I was like, ‘I’m gonna try it.’ I did and absolutely loved it. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I should have been doing this the whole time.’

I was a dancer my whole life. I grew up dancing, I did it competitively and in college. I feel like the physicality of being on a snowboard and going down the mountain is very similar to that of a dance. Because I’m aware of my body positioning and where everything is in space, I do well with snowboarding. I can visualize it better in my head. When it came to skiing, I just couldn’t stop.

I was determined to get back to snowboarding, and I had been planning on going in March of [2021], but then I had my accident in February [of 2021], and I couldn’t go, obviously. In the ICU, I just set this goal for myself with my surgeon. I was like, ‘I’m a snowboarder. I have to be able to snowboard again.’ That was my goal throughout all of my training and all of my rehab was just to get my body to a point to where I could snowboard again. Then I snowboarded on my birthday last year [in December 2021]. I snowboarded here in Park City with the National Ability Center, and they asked, ‘Have you thought about doing this competitively?’ And I was like, ‘OK,’ so I just set that as my next goal, and now I’m working towards that.

WACOAN: For any readers that aren’t aware, would you mind walking us through your accident?

Blanek: I was headed home last February – February 6, 2021. I was going down this back country highway in Lorena, and I came upon a bad wreck [at Chapel Road and Old Lorena Road]. I stopped and while I was rendering aid – I was helping these two small girls that were in the back of this Jeep that had overturned several times. I was helping them, and I was securing them in their car seats when another car came down the road and crashed into me.

On impact, I lost my right leg. And then I had a multitude of other injuries. My entire left leg was shattered, my pelvis was broken, and I had a massive head wound. I had a fractured skull and brain bleeds. I was care-flighted to Baylor Scott and White in Temple and immediately went into surgery to save my life. Which, here I am. I’m alive.

I had several surgeries while in the hospital. I was in the hospital for three weeks. During that time, the ‘Snowpocalypse’ [of February 2021] happened. My mom was literally frozen into my hospital room in Temple. We went through this process together. She actually saw the accident. She was in the car behind me, so she saw the accident, and she was with me from the very beginning.

My healing process has been a joint effort with her and with my family and with all these incredible foundations and people that I’ve met. I’ve come a long way in less than two years. You never know what your life is going to look like after a traumatic injury, a near death experience, and I think I’m just trying to make the most of it.

WACOAN: Beyond your family and friends, you mentioned your recovery has been a joint effort. How has the community been a part of your recovery?

Blanek: I don’t know the sequence of events, but almost immediately people knew about my accident. The area where the accident happened is a very dangerous intersection, which I didn’t know before, and you don’t think about that when you come upon this sort of thing [where someone needs help]. You just go into action if you’re that kind of person, which I am.

People living in that area heard the accident. I have family members who live on that road who saw the commotion. Almost immediately, people started hearing about it. Then people heard that it was me. As my mom was calling my family and notifying our friends, they were then notifying people because what we needed in the immediate timeframe were prayers.

The community really rallied together to pray for me through the whole night and through the whole first week and month. This entire time, people have still been praying for me. They tell me, ‘I pray for you every day still.’ And that means so much to me. There were all these prayer groups. People I don’t even know were praying for me, and they were asking their friends in other states and other countries to pray for this girl in Waco, and I firmly believe that because the community— not just of Waco and my friends and family — but the community who are people of prayer, they came together and they truly saved my life that night because God heard their prayers and God answered them.

Then the community was like, ‘Whatever we can do. We want to help you. We want to help your family.’ We own a business, [Blanek’s Custom Catering], and our business can’t just stop because this huge thing happened to me. We knew we were going to have medical bills, and who knew what else we were going to face, but we needed our business to continue. All of our employees just stepped up and came in, and they were like, ‘We’ve got this. You take care of Jamie. We can take care of this.’ From every aspect, people were so giving, and people were so compassionate, and they were so helpful. That allowed us as a family to focus on what I needed and what was going to be best for me. I had to go to physical therapy several times a week. I had doctor’s appointments almost every day. So, people were like, ‘Whatever we can do, we want to help,’ and that was just so beautiful to me.

Friends held ‘Jamie Jam.’ That’s what it was called. It was a fundraiser for me last August for my medical expenses, and it was amazing. People came from all over the state. People came from all over and donated — whether it was to the silent auction or the audible auction or just donated — because they wanted to. It was so amazing to see people come together to help me.

And I know a lot of people don’t have that kind of experience. They don’t have that community. I just read a message from an Instagram post I did yesterday where someone said, ‘I wish I had someone like you and a community around me like you do because I can’t get past the trauma that happened to me.’ I feel so grateful that I am from Waco, the small-town-type place. Yes, people knew and what happened to me was very public, but that also allowed people to be aware and to help if they could. I’m super grateful to have everyone who has been around me this whole time.

WACOAN: You said you didn’t know that this section of Old Lorena Road was dangerous. Was it a road you traveled very often?

Blanek: I was visiting my brother and his wife in Lorena, and I lived in Woodway. I only went that way if I was going to my brother’s house. I traveled it many times but didn’t know how dangerous it was.

From what I’ve been told by the detectives, the 911 calls for the first accident [involving the Jeep and a Chevrolet Sonic] were coming in at about 7:53 [p.m.] and then by 7:56 or 7:58, they were coming in for my accident, so it was nighttime in February. It was dark by that point. At Chapel, you have a stop sign, but at this specific area in the road, there’s a hill [on Old Lorena]. If a car is coming over the hill on Old Lorena, and if you’re on Chapel, you might not be able to see the car coming over the hill. It’s just a very dangerous intersection.

A car had stopped at Chapel and then pulled out, and the Jeep that was coming down Old Lorena tried to swerve to keep from hitting the car but wound up hitting it and then rolling several times. Then I came upon it.

I didn’t know this to be a dangerous intersection, but people who live there know that it’s dangerous. All the first responders, the police officers, everyone knows how dangerous that intersection is. But there’s nothing but stop signs on Chapel.

There’s a woman named Terri Rohrer, whose daughter had an accident there several years ago. Luckily, her daughter was fine, but it so often isn’t that way. People have died at this intersection. She was on this mission of getting something done at this intersection because she didn’t want anyone to lose anyone else there. There was a petition that had been started, people had signed it, and our state representatives knew about it, so it was a well-known thing. [The Texas Department of Transportation] came out and surveyed this intersection, and then they said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t need anything. It’s fine.’ And accidents continued to happen.

Then my accident happened. Finally, TxDOT said, ‘We’re gonna put a light there by the end of [2022].’ But here we are, it’s October, and there is still not a light, and a couple of days ago there was another bad wreck there.

At this point, there are a lot of emotions attached to it because of how dangerous this place is and how TxDOT just refuses to do anything. They’re playing with Texas lives, and it’s not OK at all. They’re being negligent. They’re just pushing this off and pushing this off. Chapel Road has been widened, and they have yet to have anything except these stop signs that are there.

I was minutes from dying. I was bleeding out. I could have been another death that happened at this intersection. Maybe it could have been prevented if there were lights there. Maybe not. Who knows? But at this point, something has to be done at this intersection. I traveled it many times, and I didn’t know how dangerous it was, but I now know exactly how dangerous it is, and TxDOT just doesn’t care.

WACOAN: Considering that you’re already back to snowboarding less than two years after your accident and losing a limb, what has your rehabilitation process been like?

Blanek: My process of physical therapy and rehab has been extensive. At times excruciating, but also so beneficial. I am where I am now because of the hard work that I put in.

After I was transferred out of the hospital in Temple, I was transferred to Baylor Scott and White in Waco. I spent a week there. My whole body was basically broken, so it took tiny little baby steps, all of which were excruciating. First off, the pain from just being hit by a vehicle at high speeds is a lot, and I wasn’t in a vehicle. It was just my body that was hit, so that caused a lot of pain. Then the pain of losing a limb, you have what they refer to as phantom pain, so I was dealing with real pain and phantom pain and then trying to learn how to feed myself and take a drink. I couldn’t even lift a cup of water when I was in the hospital. That’s how weak I was. They taught me how to start to be able to do things on my own.

It was estimated that I would be there weeks, maybe months, but on day eight, they’re like ‘OK, Jamie, we’ve taught you everything that we can, and you can go home now.’ I was released from there super quickly. All my doctors and all my therapists have told me that the reason that I sped through my recovery process was because I was in such good shape at the time of the accident. [Before the accident], I went to the gym every day. At least two hours a day. My body was in the best shape ever. That not only gave my surgeons a guideline to kind of put me back together, but it gave me this good foundation to start from. Three days after I was released from the hospital, I went back to the gym.

Some really wrong person in the hospital told me that I wouldn’t be in the gym for at least a year. And I was like, ‘What? A year?’ I can’t imagine not going to the gym for a week, let alone a year. So, three days later, I was like, ‘No, I’m gonna prove you wrong,’ and I went to the gym. Of course, I literally could do nothing. I was there for 10 minutes, and I was like, ‘I’m so tired.’ So, it was a gradual progression. My dad would take me to the gym, and I would work out a little bit and then we’d go home.

There’s this foundation in Carrollton, Texas called the Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF) that I came across through my research into this new disabled life and this amputee life. I came across their social media page, and they take people with disabilities, wounded warriors, and amputees into this nine-week program that they have, and it’s a full mind-body type of experience, and they get you to this place of being able to work out again and become this athlete that you have inside of you and to mentally gear you up for this life. I had been following their page, and I was so inspired by these people who are quadriplegics in their wheelchairs doing more than I could do, and I was just missing a leg. It was just so awesome to watch.

Someone there reached out to me, and they were like, ‘I heard about your story. We have a mutual friend. You have to apply.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not an athlete right now. I have one leg. I’m in a wheelchair. I’m not an athlete. Maybe in the future this would be something that I would be good enough for but that’s gonna be a while.’ And they’re like, ‘No, you have to apply.’ So, I did, and I wound up being accepted into their class a year ago.

Let me tell you, this place is life changing. There’s such an incredible community, and going through their nine-week program, it just catapulted my recovery. I have gone so much faster than I ever would have gone by myself. Yes, I had to go to physical therapy through Baylor Scott and White, and I still go to physical therapy because my left leg still has lots of damage and lots of trauma, and it’s my only good leg so I do it for recovery, and you have to do these things for your body. But the ATF program, I have seen people come in just broken and lost and depressed, and I have been that at some point during this, and they just give you all the tools you need to live a fulfilling life. I am now living this incredible, beautiful life that I fully credit ATF with. For sure.

Yes, I’m a strong-minded individual. Yes, I’m an athlete. Yes, I was all these things before, and I eventually would have gotten to some point that I could be proud of because of where I started, which was bleeding out on a highway, dying. Anything is better than that, technically. But now, I have people who if I need anything, they are there for me. And as a disabled person, a newly disabled person, feeling alone is definitely one of the biggest struggles.

In the hospital, I didn’t know any amputees. Maybe I could name a couple that I’d met in my life, but none that I was close friends with, and now all my close friends are either in a wheelchair or they’re missing limbs, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I have all these cool new people in my life,’ and I’m so grateful for that. It’s such an amazing place.

From there, I went to Park City, Utah with the National Ability Center. It’s one of the largest adaptive programs in the world. They do all kinds of sports, and I got back up on the snowboard and here I am. It’s been a pretty quick process, for sure. Lots of moving parts, lots of people involved to get me to this point.

WACOAN: You moved to Park City at the beginning of this year. Is this move permanent?

Blanek: I will always come back to Waco because my friends and family are there. I try to come back at least once a month. But I am full-time living here. The next Paralympics are in 2026 [in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy]. We’re not sure yet, but the Olympics after that [in 2030], Salt Lake City has [submitted a bid to host]. The 2030 Olympics and Paralympics could be here. And if they are, that would be really cool. At least another four to eight years, I’ll be living here.

WACOAN: You were very involved in the Waco community when you lived here. Have you been able to get involved in the Park City community?

Blanek: I’m involved with a foundation called Sisters in Sports. It’s a brand-new foundation started by a Paralympian, Danelle Umstead. She’s a blind skier. She wanted disabled women in sports to be able to have this community to bond and grow and be together. [Sisters in Sports Foundation is non-profit focused on creating community for women and girls with disabilities by providing mentor and education programs.] There are so many things like that here in Park City. People are very aware of and supportive of the adaptive community here. It isn’t like that everywhere but people around the world associate the NAC with Park City.

I’m not as involved [as I was in Waco]. In Waco, I did everything, but it’s OK because I don’t have the energy for it. I can’t say yes to everything anymore even though that’s my nature. To say yes. To be involved. To be helpful. But I can’t be as involved as I used to be because I physically can’t do it. I’m also by myself here. I don’t have anyone here who can drive me somewhere, help me keep track of my life or whatever. I have to do everything, so I have to limit what I say yes to.

Something that I do now with this life I’ve been given is public speaking. It’s not part of my daily life, but it is part of my journey now. Then I use my social media as a platform to talk about what I go through and to share what I’ve learned. That’s important to me, and I want people in Waco to know that I’m doing something with what happened to me. I’m not just the former beauty queen who lost a leg and now she’s snowboarding. I now take my own story to help others. I’ve learned so much throughout this journey that I feel can help people. Stuff I’ve used to get through my trauma and how I deal with my PTSD and my brain injury. I’m doing something with this tragedy.

Most of it’s on my Instagram [@jamieblanek] because it’s just easier for me to do that. Facebook is overwhelming. People reach out to me, complete strangers all over the world. A lot have amputations, or are facing amputation, but people with disabilities, people who’ve been through an accident or trauma, and they find something in my story that they can connect to and that they can use to help get them through what they’re going through.

Social media can be a bad thing, but in this case, it’s been very good. It’s been very positive. I share just what I go through, what I’ve learned, tools I use. Because I do have a TBI, I have to be very specific about things I do and very routine.

I have a lot of people that I know who are going through mental health issues, and so I try to share what I use that helps me with my mental health. When people see me, they see someone who’s doing great. ‘Jamie’s fine. She’s walking. She’s an athlete. She’s living in Park City. She’s awesome.’ My disability is visible because I’m an amputee, you can see that I’m disabled, but my disability is also invisible because of my brain injury and my PTSD. I do go through a lot and deal with a lot, and I do have a lot of things that people can use to help them.

WACOAN: What are some of those things that you talk about?

Blanek: Focusing on your mental health is a priority. You have to speak kindly to yourself. I could so easily have just given up and just laid in a hospital bed and been like, ‘My life is over. I’m not a beauty queen anymore. I can’t model. I’ll never walk the runway again.’ I used to model a ton. I’ve been modeling since I was 15. I could have gotten into all the negative, but I chose not to be a victim of my circumstances and not live in this victim mentality. If you can accept what happened to you, that’s the first step. Then go forward set goals for yourself. You can feel bad sometimes. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself sometimes, but you have to give yourself grace. You have to be able to say, ‘OK, this happened to me, but I can do this.’ Find things that you can be grateful for. Every day. Just find the positive in your situation. Even the negative things, I’m thankful for. If I feel terrible one day, and I’m having a bad day, I’ll be like, ‘OK, Jamie, yeah, all this sucks. This is terrible, but you’re alive.’ I’m winning because I’m alive, because I’m still breathing. Yeah, I lost my leg, and it’s terrible. Walking is hard. But I can walk. I didn’t lose both legs. I just lost one. I try to turn it. I’m in charge of my narrative. I get to decide how I’m going to look at it.

I understand how fragile life is because my life almost ended. I don’t want it to take that kind of extreme for someone else to realize how fragile life is. People get so caught up in other people’s opinions, or they’ve done something their whole life and so they have to continue to do that, and they’re unhappy. I don’t want to spend any more of my life being unhappy. Not to say I was unhappy before, but throughout this process, I’ve had some very unhappy moments because of the cards I’ve been dealt, but I don’t let anything steal my joy. Because then I’ve lost another day of my life, and it’s just not worth it. There are so many things that I have shifted my perspective on, and I feel like I’m living a much more fulfilling life. If any of that can help someone change their mindset, then yeah, I’m here all day for that.

WACOAN: What were some of the main organizations you gave your time to when you lived in Waco?

Blanek: I was Miss Waco in 2014-2015 and Miss McLennan-County in 2015-2016. Through that, I was involved in absolutely everything. The biggest commitment I made was with Fuzzy Friends Rescue. I was on their board for several years, and I chaired many of their events. My heart was with homeless animals, and I adore Fuzzy Friends. I was also involved with [REACH Therapeutic Riding Center], the American Cancer Society, the [Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo] and their scholarships. I don’t think there’s much in Waco we aren’t involved with, either through our business or me as Miss Waco, and I loved that.

WACOAN: How does Park City compare to Waco?

Blanek: I love Texas. I am a Texan through and through. My heart is Texas. However, I happen to be a mountain girl, and I love the cold weather. I love the mountains. I think I get the best of both worlds.

Park City is a very small town. Everyone knows everyone, so that reminds me of being in Waco. The people are friendly, and I really love being here. I’ve met amazing people. When I’m in Texas, I miss Park City. And when I’m in Park City, I miss Texas. I’m very fortunate to be able to have both.

Texas is really hot, and as an amputee, we can’t regulate our body temperature. We get super hot, and Texas is already really hot. I am just way too hot in the summer in Texas, so it’s better if I’m in cooler weather because of my disability.

WACOAN: What are some of your favorite spots in Waco?

Blanek: I cannot go to Waco and not go to Ninfa’s. My friends are like, ‘Oh, let’s do dinner whenever you’re here.’ And I’m like, ‘Ninfa’s. Seven o’clock. Be there.’ Every time.

I love walking around Magnolia. It’s just so fun. I know it’s a super Waco thing, and I’ve been a million times, but it’s fun. You have the coffee shop and the cute little area with all the new shops.

I don’t have much time to spend doing Waco things, so usually I try to just make it about food, which involves Ninfa’s, Moroso, DiCampli’s, Chuy’s.

WACOAN: Those sound like great priorities.

Blanek: And I have to have Shipley’s every morning that I’m in Waco. We don’t have Shipley’s in Utah. My brother owns the Shipley’s [in Hewitt, Woodway and Robinson]. I get to see my brother and get donut holes. It’s a win-win.

WACOAN: My favorite thing about Shipley’s is the cherry iced. And I’ve never found it anywhere else. I’ve found the pink strawberry iced but never the red cherry iced.

Blanek: Yep. Cherry with sprinkles, that’s my jam. That’s my weakness. I am an athlete, but I do have a couple of things, like Katie’s Custard. If it’s summertime, and I’m dying, I’m like, ‘Dad, please go get me Katie’s.’ And we’ve known [the owners] forever. All the places that I go to, I know the owners, and my family is friends with them. When I go to Moroso, Dan and Robyn [Moroso] are like, ‘Jamie! How have you been?’ It’s not just about the food. It’s also about getting to see these people who love and support me, and it’s really nice. I love going back to that.

H-E-B is a precious, precious place. Whenever I come into town, my mom will be like, ‘Do you want me to pick you up anything at H-E-B,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I will go to H-E-B, and I will get what I need.’ Because I just love the experience of it. People are like, ‘Oh, do you want to go shopping?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s go to the fruit section at H-E-B.’

WACOAN: I don’t know a lot about snowboarding, much less para snowboarding. What events are there? What events will you compete in?

Blanek: Within the Paralympics, there are winter and summer sports, and then in the winter, there are only six sports [alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, snowboard and wheelchair curling] even though in the regular Olympics, there are a ton more winter sports than that.

Now with para snowboarding, there are three [classes]. One is upper limb, UL, which is if you’re missing your hand or your arm. And then there’s lower limb, and there are two categories of that. There’s LL1 and LL2. I happen to be an above-the-knee amputee, which means I’m missing most to all of one of my limbs, and that makes me an LL1 category because I’m the most disabled of the lower limb categories. The other category is if you’re a below-the-knee, so you’re missing your foot or maybe part of your leg. If you’re missing both legs, even below the knee, you would also fall into my category of LL1. So, there’s the three categories: upper limb, LL1, LL2.

The two competitions of para snowboarding, one is banked slalom, which is a course that you do by yourself, and it’s a bunch of ‘S’ turns, and you do it for time. They don’t have banked slalom in the regular Olympics. The other one is the snowboardcross, which is a race, and they have it in the regular Olympics. Four of you go down the track and race, and it’s super fun. Everyone loves that one. So those are the two events I’m training for.

WACOAN: It’s off season, so have you been able to train on an actual course?

Blanek: I haven’t been able to do either of these events yet. This was my first season back on a snowboard. I was relearning how to snowboard with this prosthetic that I have. I have a special prosthetic that I use for snowboarding. It’s not the one that I use with my everyday walking. It’s a high-impact sport leg, and you can use it in wake surfing, horseback riding, any high impact sport.

Here in the U.S., we don’t have these courses built. Yes, there are places you can go ski and snowboard all over the country. But these courses aren’t here. Some places have a halfpipe, and you can go into a halfpipe and do that and that’s fun. Some places have train parks, but they don’t have the specific course built, so for me to be able to train on a course, I have to either go to Europe or to Canada, and those are where most of the competitions take place. And because I haven’t been to either of those, because I just learned how to snowboard again, I haven’t done an actual course. I know the techniques, the building blocks of what I will put together out on a course, but until this next season starts, and I can get to Canada and to Europe to actually train on a course and start competing, I can’t do a course.

I’ll give you how much I’ve improved. When I first came to the NAC in December, and I did the easiest green on the mountain over here, it took me five hours to do it. Now, I can do it in three minutes. I’ve gone in one season from five hours to three minutes.

WACOAN: That’s incredible.

Blanek: Yeah, I’m just waiting for it to snow so we can get back on the mountain. I did summer training with Team USA, and they just came off of the Winter Paralympics [in March 2022]. We had the reigning gold medalist and another Paralympian training with us, and it was an all-female development group. I’m on the development team with Team USA. We went to Mount Hood in Oregon, and we did our summer training there, so I spent a week on the snow there, which is cool because Mount Hood has glaciers, so there’s snow on it year-round. We were training, doing drills. It was awesome, but I’m like, ‘I just need snow.’ My snowboard is right here behind me. I’m ready. The second that it snows, I’m going to load this up and book it to the mountain. Like a psycho. It’s an addiction.

Join the Conversation