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Recovering dad No. 1 at home and a top 10 finalist in "Wheels" contest

Photo Courtesy Of The Bridgman Family

Jennifer Bridgman helps Chris, holding Christopher, rehabilitate from a dirt bike accident last year that left him unable to walk.

He may not have won the title of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation “Best Dad on Wheels,” but Chris Bridgman is the No. 1 dad in the world to his son, Christopher, and a source of inspiration for his wife, Jennifer.

After submitting a short article describing her husband’s loving and courageous spirit following a dirt-bike accident in February 2010 that left him unable to walk, Jennifer learned earlier this month that Chris was one of the top 10 finalists in the foundation’s contest.

She invited friends, family and supporters to cast votes by June 14, in time for Father’s Day.

“All 10 fathers were so deserving of the title, and it was a true honor for Chris to be selected as a semifinalist,” Jennifer said. “We are very happy for the winner, Eric. He sounds like an incredible human being.”

Eric Lantz, 40, of Houston won the contest, which attracted 3,000 voters to the website in just one week in “what turned out to be a very tight race,” according to foundation officials. Lantz suffered a complete T5 spinal injury at age 18 from an automobile accident.

A little more than a year following his own accident, Chris said he’s grateful every day for life’s little blessings – and the big ones: friends and family.

It’s a life lesson that Jennifer appreciates, too. After watching the challenges her husband faces each day trying to maneuver through the world in a wheelchair, Jennifer conducted a social experiment for herself June 28: “The 24-Hour Wheelchair Challenge.”

With absolutely no cheating allowed, Jennifer navigated in the wheelchair while tending to her daily routine.

“What an eye-opener – very intimidating with a toddler,” she said. “Thank goodness my mom was here for a few hours to document the experiment with my camera, and to save me a few times when I couldn’t do things alone.”

Perception alone is quite different when you’re seated several feet below others’ lines of sight, Chris said.

An experience in a crowded public stadium, unable to see far and move even less, left an impression.

“That was very intimidating – just sitting there,” he said. “You have a new respect for little people.”

The chair is difficult to strong-arm uphill and even more difficult to control going down the other side, a recent experience at San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park and Zoo convinced him.

“It got a little scary,” Chris said.

For Jennifer, “The 24-Hour Wheelchair Challenge” got a little wet.

“(Tuesday’s) summer rainstorm really put a kink in the day,” she said.

Now dedicated to writing for the magazine New Mobility and its offshoot, Life in Action, which feature articles for physically challenged people, she chronicles her family’s journey in overcoming spinal-cord injury. She plans to document her wheelchair experience – after she heals.

“As soon as I finish icing my arms and can type again without pain, I’ll get around to writing the article,” she said.

In the meantime, Jennifer usually prescouts public venues so that Chris knows what to expect at events, and Chris continues working out to strengthen his upper body.

He is able to walk – though for short periods of time – using leg braces and hand crutches.

“We’re all hoping Chris will be permanently out of his chair and disqualified for next year’s contest, but thanks for voting and ensuring us a very happy Father’s Day in 2011,” Jennifer said.

Chris enjoyed his first outdoor concert since the accident – an evening with singer Gavin DeGraw at Shoreline Amphitheatre Mountain View.

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