Some would call her determined. Others might say dynamic. She calls herself an overachiever. Whatever the description, one thing is certain: Nellie Owen, 49, never stops.
Nellie attended the Downtown Columbia Yippee 5K run, walk, roll to support and spend time with friends. She didn’t intend to race in the early October event until discovering that no one had signed up for the wheelchair division.
So she did.
As the official timer counts down to the race’s start, Nellie has never competed in a wheelchair race. Nonetheless, she unwaveringly pushes her way down the sidewalk along Walnut Street to the starting line.
Just before she reaches the corner of Walnut Street and College Avenue, five runners trot past Nellie and turn onto College. One runner pats Nellie on the back as he breezes by. Another slows down to give her encouragement.
“Ooh,” Nellie grunts as she maneuvers up the incline, her arm muscles straining. Sections of uneven sidewalk force her to slow down.
Nellie cuts through the designated route onto Paquin Street, where she can make it back to the finish line before her upper body wears out.
Twenty minutes into the race, Nellie cuts through an alley, shortening the course by about one mile, then turns onto the street for the finishing stretch. Friends clap and cheer as Nellie crosses the finish line.
She beams with pride, then sighs with exhaustion. She confesses the adjusted route to friends, but they don’t mind — two miles is not an easy feat.
And wheelchair racing really isn’t Nellie’s niche.
Instead, she feels at home when riding horses at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center on Friday afternoons.
The day after the wheelchair race, Nellie participates in an annual charity 10-mile horse trail ride called “Saddle Up,” which benefits Cedar Creek.
“This is my element,” Nellie says, surrounded by horses before the trail ride at Three Creeks State Park.
Nellie rode horses for two years before she broke her back and was partially paralyzed in a car accident.
It took her nearly 10 years to recover from the accident.
She started riding horses again two years ago at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, with the help of a group of people who hoist her onto Max the horse.
Although she has a fear of heights, she says she feels at home when riding Max at Cedar Creek.
Nellie, now a senior research scientist at a private company, earned her veterinary degree from MU in 1998.
“I hate to be told I can’t do something,” she says.