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March 30, 2007

Wayne County employee inspires others

Jonathan Greeson
PowerHockey player Jonathan Greeson works for Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

Jonathan Greeson of Pikeville in Wayne County dreamed of playing hockey from the time he was 12 years old. But life in a wheelchair limited his ability to play sports.

Greeson, 25, has struggled with spinal muscular atrophy all his life. A 2004 graduate of N.C. State University’s business management program, Greeson works for Wayne County’s office of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, where he serves as a budget assistant for the 4-H Afterschool Program. Last year, he was recognized by the Goldsboro Mayor’s Committee for Disabilities as Disabled Employee of the Year.

As he approached many challenges in his life, Greeson decided not to let his disability prevent him from pursuing his goal of playing hockey. In 2002, he founded the Carolina Fury, North Carolina’s only wheelchair hockey team, under the umbrella of N.C. Electric Hockey Wheelchair Association.

At the time, three players from Jacksonville, Burlington and Raleigh – where Greeson lived as a student – practiced in Cary. Today, the Carolina Fury has eight regular players from across the state. The sport is competitive, Greeson says, with rules that are similar to regulation hockey.

The team does not play on ice. Their home court is the gymnasium of Charles B. Aycock High School in Pikeville, Greeson’s high school alma mater, and their main opponents are able-bodied players who take on the Fury from wheelchairs. Though the opposing teams always put up a fight, it is usually the Fury that comes out on top.

The Fury has set a goal of competing in the PowerHockey World Championships every two years. In 2004, the team competed in Minneapolis, and in 2006, they competed in the PowerHockey Cup in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Greeson said the team drove to the competition – about five days on the road.

Greeson acknowledges that participating in PowerHockey requires support. “You have to have a really good family,” he said.

Throughout his life, Greeson’s family has been supportive of letting him do what he wants to do. His father Vance Greeson is one of the Carolina Fury’s coaches, and his mother Connie Greeson is director of Wayne County’s 4-H Afterschool Program.

“Vance and Connie have given him opportunities,” said Howard Scott, director of Wayne County’s Cooperative Extension center. Scott has known Greeson since he was a Wayne County 4-H’er, and he is not surprised by anything Greeson has achieved.

“Jonathan is incredible, genuine and driven in a positive way,” Scott said. “He is making a difference in people’s lives.”

As a 4-H’er, Greeson attended retreats and participated in presentation contests. He also remembers showing lambs and participating in livestock shows and sales. He says Scott “is like a second father to me.”

Scott recalls Greeson’s high school graduation, when the entire senior class applauded for him. “Jonathan was friends with everyone,” Scott said. “He could cross the socio-economic divide.”

After graduation, Greeson became a business major at N.C. State. Though the state’s largest university posed challenges to someone with limited mobility, Greeson said, “it’s N.C. State, or nothing.”

Greeson faced challenges of getting around campus. He had to carefully plan his day and arrange for help getting to class. Family members lived with him at times to help him get around. Yet he still graduated in four years.

Greeson’s student experience included an internship with the Carolina Hurricanes, a relationship that continues today. The Hurricanes have provided some support for the Fury, and the Fury held a Hurricanes appreciation event at one of their games this year.

Greeson now oversees nearly $1 million in grants for the Wayne County 4-H program, which serves about 6,000 youth. “We got so big we had to have some help,” Scott said.

“Everybody on staff cares about him,” Scott added. “At staff meetings, when he speaks people listen because he had put some thought into what he says. He can point out things without offending people.”

Christine Smith, Wayne County family and consumer sciences agent, described Greeson as a hero in her column for the local newspaper. “It’s funny how you will find heroes in the unlikeliest of places,” Smith wrote. “I work with a man who’s only in his mid-20s, and he is one of the most heroic men I’ve ever met.”

Greeson is not sure about the hero label, but in spite of the challenges that his disability have brought him, he believes that it has made him who he is today. “If I wasn’t in a wheelchair, I might not have been as involved in sports as I have,” he said. “It has taken me more to the level where I wanted to be.”
-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at March 30, 2007 03:22 PM