Behind the story: How a Cal Poly student coped with tragic injury

Finding the story:

At our first pitch meeting of senior project, we began sharing story ideas tentatively. We bounced around a couple ideas: A 24 hour look at SLO Do Co?  Investigating the “creeping” that’s been going on near campus?  Then, we hit a gold mine story: Ysabel suggested the idea of doing a profile on Jake Javier, a Cal Poly student from her hometown who suffered a life-altering accident his senior year of high school, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

After doing preliminary research, it became clear that Jake’s story was covered extensively by local and state papers at the time of his accident.  We were all amazed by the tenacity and hopefulness Jake maintained through his long recovery process illustrated in the articles we read. We grew excited to meet him and hear his perspective on the accident first hand.

Meeting Jake:

On Thursday, Ysabel and I were first able to meet up with Jake to discuss his availability and our intentions for the project. We lucked out – Jake was the perfect subject for a story: he was charming, chatty and very willing to explain the details of his injury and how he lives his life. Without hesitation he said he’d be willing to speak on all topics of his accident, and we decided to meet on Sunday at his apartment in Cerro Vista.

On Sunday, Jake was very comfortable answering all our questions, despite having a four person journalism team crammed into his apartment peering at his things, scribbling notes and taking pictures.


“Jake goofs around a lot and was super outgoing and very easy to talk to. He’s very comfortable in his own skin,” said Jody. This made the interviewing process much easier on our part.

We toured his tiny apartment, checked out some of the equipment he uses for physical therapy, got to see his car and then walked outside to interview him and get some video footage. In between takes, our conversations were light and friendly. Jake had a great sense of humor and an extraverted nature that made us giggle and put everyone at ease. His perspective on being in a wheelchair was very positive. He explained how patience and his stubbornness are keys to his success: “Things take a while and things take a lot of effort, so I have to be ready to push through a lot of challenges,” said Javier.


Jake and Ysabel chatting during our first video interview.
Jake and Ysabel chatting during our first video interview.


Navigating Sensitive Topics:

One obstacle we ran into early on was making sure we were being as sensitive as possible towards Jake’s situation. When speaking with Amy Gode, the Assistant Director of Cal Poly’s DRC, she explained how some individuals don’t use their disability to define themselves, while others consider it a huge part of their identity. After talking with Jake in our interview, we were able to take his lead on the use of specific jargon (disability, quadriplegic, person in a wheelchair) he used. Resources like “Choosing Words for Talking About Disability” were also helpful in navigating these more sensitive topics.

“I was really impressed with how willing Jake was to talk about his injury.  If it were me in his position, I’d probably be upset about the whole thing.  But Jake carries himself really well and is such a nice guy,” said Greg after interviewing Jake on Sunday.

Ysabel also had a similar reaction: “It was awesome being able to work on a story unlike anything I ever had worked on before before. Accidents like these are heartbreaking and touchy subjects, this one changed Jake’s life forever. It was a good experience for us to have to learn how to interview, and go about the story with respect and sensitivity while also making the story become the best it could be.”

Jake showing us his wheelie.
Jake showing us his wheelie.