Brother’s spirit runs like the wind

By on February 20, 2019

One local woman’s enduring love for her famous, late brother has prompted her to write a book about his life.

Jennifer Hippensteel of Ephrata recently added “author” to her list of accomplishments, which include reiki master, holistic health practitioner, and owner of Sun and Moon Productions.
Hippensteel is also the administrative assistant for Bethany United Church of Christ in Ephrata.

Her brother, Jim MacLaren, was an internationally known athlete who turned his talents and positive outlook into a career as a motivational speaker and author.

Having broken records in the Ironman Triathlon and the marathon, he was inducted into the Tri-athlete Hall of Fame and in 2005, was bestowed the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

At Yale University, MacLaren had excelled in football and lacrosse. But at age 22, MacLaren lost his left leg below the knee due to a motorcycle accident.  Even that serious alteration to his life didn’t stop him; he is remembered for record-breaking performances in a number of marathons and triathlons after that accident. As an amputee, MacLaren finished the Ironman Hawaii in 10 hours, 42 minutes.

At one time, MacLaren earned the title of the world’s fastest amputee tri-athlete.

More tragedy occurred in 1993, when he was struck by a van during the biking portion of a race, resulting in MacLaren becoming a quadriplegic.

“He was a pretty amazing guy, a pretty impressive guy,” Hippensteel said. “We were very close and his story is very complex.” Hippensteel’s book is titled, “I Am Not My Body; a Tribute to Jim MacLaren.” “That was one of those phrases he used to use,” Hippensteel said. “He said physical limitations do not change our spirit or our ability to make a difference.” The book is a combination of MacLaren’s words, Hippensteel’s observations, and vignettes from people helped by MacLaren. Even the second astounding tragedy couldn’t stop MacLaren, who started the Challenged Athletes Foundation to support other disabled athletes.

Jennifer Hippensteal

MacLaren is also quoted as saying: “Life isn’t about being fair; it’s about moving on.” Despite his injuries, he always continued to reach out to other people, Hippensteel said.

“I helped to run his speaking business and one of the things I marvel at were the long lines of people waiting to hear him; they’d wait for an hour, and then they’d tell him their stories, too,” Hippensteel said. “I really think Jim’s story and his spirit, the fact that he was so strong and had the courage to deal with adversity, that they, too, felt they could learn to live with and get over the challenges they were facing.”

After the second accident, MacLaren worked very hard in therapy so that he would be able to drive a specialized van, she said.
A fundraiser by friends raised $30,000 more than was needed for the vehicle, so MacLaren used the money to start the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which has become a multi-million dollar non-profit.

“The foundation helps people get back into life, including our military,” Hippensteel said. “They’ve made it such a huge, beautiful thing.” MacLaren actually did a book tour with actor Kirk Douglas and the two became friends, Hippensteel said. One day, the movie star surprised MacLaren with a very expensive, state-of-the-art wheelchair, she said. MacLaren died in August 2010 when he was 47, from complications of his condition.

While her family was originally from Massachusetts, Hippensteel came to the Akron area to be near her late husband’s family. MacLaren was living in California when he became ill and was assisted to Pennsylvania so Hippensteel could care for him.

Last spring, Hippensteel’s husband, Bruce, also passed away.

With another tragedy to deal with, Hippensteel took a page from her brother’s book and soldiered on.

“When he passed away, I was devastated, but I was a mom of four and I pushed it all down; I didn’t allow myself to grieve,” Hippensteel said. Although she kept busy with family and work, Hippensteel knew that avoiding her feelings wasn’t healthy and also realized that the avoidance and denial began adversely affecting her life.

“I thought ‘you better find a way to channel this’ and so, I began to write,” Hippensteel said. Hippensteel has some words of wisdom for those in adversity; it’s OK to feel and if you have to cry, scream, or yell to get through it, that’s OK. If feelings are overwhelming, find help through counseling and/or medication.

“With medication, I would never begrudge anyone who needs that,” Hippensteel said. “But you’re still going to have to deal with it…it’s still there. However, if you can’t live day to day, then consult a doctor and do it (get medication).”

“I hope the book can help other people and also, keep Jim’s courageous spirit alive,” Hippensteel said. “Jim’s life has had a ripple effect and he’s helped people around the world.”
One young man in Ghana, born with a partial leg, saw MacLaren on TV and wrote to him, asking if MacLaren could send him a bicycle so he could bike across Ghana to show that the disabled are real people, too.

MacLaren sent the bike; the young man, Emmanuel, made good on his promise to ride across Ghana and became such a sensation, that his determination actually changed the laws regarding the disabled in Ghana, Hippensteel said.

“Jim was very human and reaching out and helping other people helped him get through the day,” Hippensteel said.
Hippensteel would like to see her tribute expand to an interactive website where people could share their stories of dealing with challenges.

“There is, in fact, a light at the end of the tunnel,” Hippensteel said. “When you’re beaten down, you have to try to remember that. I think we all have it in us, and it’s a matter of putting it all into perspective.”

Hippensteel’s book can be purchased at Amazon.com in paperback or e-book, or by visiting jimmaclarentribute.com.
The book was published by Kindle Publishing, Karal Gregory, editor.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net.

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