The Life and Times of Chris Rohan
What do you do when your whole life changes in an instant? How do you cope? What about your sense of self when everything is changing? Where can you turn? Ask Chris Rohan. She knows, because it has happened to her again and again. Just look; she has the stubborn grin to prove it.
"I had always wanted to be a nurse. And I was, for a while. And an aerobics instructor. And I worked at the desk there. I always liked the people, wherever I worked. I always wanted to learn more about them."
Chris met the love of her life, Jim Rohan, in a pizza bar in Norwalk a mile from Cerritos College. They married in 1970, the poster children for flower-child hippies in love. Together they lived wherever Jim was working at the time, raising their two boys, Robert and Matthew, only 22 months apart. Bobby was the athlete; Matt was the student.
In 1989, Bobby was training with dreams of competing in the Ironman Triathlon in Kailua-Kona. The accident was a freak one, and happened only a mile from their home. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, not a busy time of the day for traffic. As Bobby rode his bike in the bike lane on that particular day, a school bus was illegally parked in the very spot that Bobby needed to go. The bus driver had abandoned her bus to buy lunch at Taco Bell, and Bobby, avoiding another car changing lanes, could only slam into the back of the bus. That fast, Bobby became a quadriplegic.
"I was working in the orthopedic surgeon's office on March 27, 1989. I knew someone had been hurt. I didn't know at first that it was my son Bobby who had the accident," Chris remembers. "He was brought in right next door to us."
Next door meant that the office building where Chris worked was mere steps from where Bobby was doing his rehabilitation at Northridge Hospital. Chris could keep an eye on her son, making sure he was getting the best care and learning a lot about the new world they had just been forced to join.
"He was in the hospital for six months and he never ate hospital food once." Chris remembers with a smile, "I would stop at McDonalds on my way to work, bring him breakfast, you name it."
Jim and Chris had always welcomed their boys' friends, so the fact that Bobby's new friends came along with wheels and service dogs didn't faze the Rohans a bit. There was always an open door at their home for a poker game or the traditional Christmas Eve Chinese food dinner. It wasn't long, however, before Bobby was self-sufficient and Chris found other people and projects to occupy her imagination.
In August of 2001, Jim and Chris bought the franchise rights to the California, Nevada and Arizona Disabled Dealer Magazine. According to Chris, "We didn't go looking for a magazine to buy and neither of us had any writing, printing or advertising experience. What we did know is that this magazine would reach a lot of disabled people."
When Chris bought Disabled Dealer Magazine's West Coast franchise, she transformed the magazine from a place to buy and sell accessible equipment, into a journalistic enterprise overflowing with heart. Chris taught herself how to use the computer programs she needed. She gathered together talented friends and induced them to write articles for her fledgling paper, searching out and finding topics of interest to her readers and herself. One of these included Karen Kain, who wrote about the profoundly involved, difficult and spiritual world parenting a special needs child in her Disabled Dealer column, Unique Tips for Unique Parents.
"I know so many awesome people through Chris," says Kain. "She connects everybody but she does it through her heart."
Kain credits Chris for encouraging her to write and even for introducing her to the publisher of her first book A Unique Life, Fully Lived, which debuts next month.
Ellen Stohl, writer, actress and the first paraplegic Playboy model wrote her own column for Chris' magazine, a life and travel column entitled Gimpin' It!
Monique McGiveny from VMI wrote her monthly column Monique's Mobility, answering questions readers would pose about accessible transportation. None of these columns were in the paper when the Rohans bought it; they were the brainchild of Chris Rohan. Eventually, she was able to put together her own covers to the magazines as well.
"I have always been proud of my women," Chris stated. "My Mothers' Day issue was one of my favorites."
It was in that issue that Chris introduced her readers to the Rossiter family and their children, Kamden, Briley and Ainsley. The children's book Born an Angel was written by Briley about her sister Ainsley, born with a rare and fatal disease. Her doctors gave her a life expectancy of only 5-10 years, but Briley's book brims over with the life and love and triumph of running races while pushing Ainsley—being the feet for her sister, her angel.
These are the people and the stories Chris loves. As one talks to Chris, she will suddenly look up and say, "Oh there's my friend Dick Hoyt. I've been tracking his triathlon as he carries his son with him the whole way." Chris is not one to get involved in long discussions of ideas and theories. She will fix you with her piercing blue-eyed gaze and tell you the story of a friend of hers, another friend who is doing amazing things. You see, Chris collects people. Then she and Jim bring them together and see what develops.
So what's next for Chris Rohan? When the price of the paper became too overwhelming, Jim and Chris found themselves subsidizing the Disabled Dealer Magazine. What began as an income-producing project became a labor of love. It was unsustainable, however, and in 2013, Chris had to give up her beloved magazine. The free publication that brought the community together was suddenly gone, leaving a huge, jarring gap in its wake. Where can you sell your van, find used exercise equipment and read about the action in the immediate community? Disabled Dealer was the link that brought together the disparate parts of the community, and suddenly it is gone. The community feels its loss. So do Jim and Chris. But what now?
Within a week of announcing the magazine's closure, Chis Rohan became a good will ambassador to the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She brings people together, educates them about the Expos and connects ordinary people who are doing inspiring and amazing things. She still writes, discovers and collects people. And we can't wait to see what is on the horizon for Chris!