By Nick Domings and Danielle North - JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) -- In a moment, Jason Hamel's life changed forever. For most of his teen years, Hamel pushed himself to his physical limits in the competitive sport of BMX bike racing. He has hundreds of trophies to his name. Some of them say, "State Champion."
But all of that ended in one devastating fall that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He was just 19-years-old.
"I hit the jump, and I landed on the side of my head and my neck, and broke my neck," Hamel said. "They all came running over, the kids I was with. And I'm like, 'Will you touch my legs?' And he said 'I'm touching you,' and that was it."
Hamel never regained mobility from the shoulders down. His father was there with him when Hamel learned he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.
"He [said] I want to switch places with you right now," Hamel said. "But we can do this. We can get through this."
Most people would lapse into a deep depression, but only six months after returning home from the hospital, Hamel enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to study fine arts. Later, he earned a degree at Rhode Island College (RIC) in graphic design.
Despite his physical limitations, Hamel said he never had moments of despair. In fact, he says he has found strength and happiness in staying grateful.
"Sometimes I think people don't take life as valuable as they should, you know?" Hamel said. "I really wish people would look at what they have. Is it so bad? The way I look at it, I'm still here. I'm not dead, I didn't die. I came close. So why not enjoy what you still have?"
Now, Hamel is creating stunning artwork in his Jamestown home. Holding a paintbrush in his mouth, he spends hours fueling a passion that has been burning inside him since he was a teen.
"I was really into pottery, drawing and painting," Hamel said. "All sorts of stuff. Photography too."
In fact, it was first photographs taken by his girlfriend that led him to explore a new venue of expression; recreating flowers on canvas.
"There were cool pictures we had that we did together and it was just inspirational, I guess," Hamel said.
Now pushing his creative limits, Hamel is enjoying new success as an artist. His work was chosen to appear at the Sprout Gallery on Valley Street in Providence starting on April 19, as a celebration of Earth Day.
Some of the proceeds from the sales that night will go towards his goal of purchasing a new wheelchair accessible van.