Rare Photos of Dr. Bookspan's Early Work

Plus, "The Years I Thought I'd Never Mention Again" - Paralyzed After the Accidents


I am private and spent a career ducking photos and keeping personal information out of print. I am experimenting with a few images to share. This page may stay or not.




One of my readers, Devin Leary, wrote me after reading about my accident (on this page, toward the bottom). He wrote about his sustaining major injuries including serious head injury from a motor vehicle accident:

"I found your web page 'Rare Photos' when I was all bandaged up, stuck at home moping around. If I remember correctly, I read it from start to finish, and afterwards, got up off my lazy butt and went for a walk. It was sometime around then that I made a positive decision to start being more active and actively working towards getting my mind and body 'back' and ready to conquer the world again. I've been reading your Healthy Martial Arts book as well and been making an effort to incorporate it to my daily life."

~ Devin Leary Manager/Owner, Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Arraia Divers - PADI 5 Star IDC
Azores, Portugal



The Cruise Ship

I was the first to put fitness on cruise ships. I had worked for years trying to convince dozens of cruise lines that people would exercise on vacation. I was already out of my first grad school program in physiology (returned for more, later), and was presenting my lab research studies on healthier fitness at sports medicine conferences, often without the funds to pay for both the conference fees and lodging. At one ACSM conference, I secretly slept in the bathroom of the conference center just to be able to attend. Once I hitchhiked to get to a conference. No one wanted healthy exercise programs - not the military, university, gyms, or cruises. I went back to guiding SCUBA trips in the Caribbean. Then in the early 1980s, one cruise line agreed to start my fitness program. I took a bathing suit and scuba gear and left for the sea.


ALT =[“Dr. Jolie Bookspan: Dr. Bookspan pioneered putting fitness on cruise ships in the early 1980s.”Pictured here getting ready to teach Parcours (Parkour, Free Running) starting with a run on the ships rails.]

Getting ready to teach Parcours (Parkour, Free Running)



ALT =[“Dr. Jolie Bookspan: Dr. Bookspan pioneered teaching fitness on cruise ships. Pictured here teaching the difference between a turned-out leg for art forms like dance, and the better healthier stretch of keeping the standing leg facing forward.]

Teaching Ballet.


It was the beginning of the first aerobics classes. I taught dance and aerobics in classic 80s style in leg warmers and leotards. I was called their "Vitality Instructor." In ballet and other dance, legs are turned out for style, even though it is less stretch. This stretch mistake carried over into "fitness" from people who didn't know it was only style and tradition, not stretch. I taught stretch with parallel feet, upsetting "fitness" people.



We wore these uniforms on "Mexican Night." Mine was too big. Occasionally it would fall suddenly. One day it dropped to the floor and a passenger raised a camera to catch the view. I pulled it in front of me and pretended it was all part of the costume. New arrangement, above right.



ALT =[“Dr. Jolie Bookspan: Dr. Bookspan taught snorkeling to cruise ship passengers, took them on dives, then cooked them lunch on the beach.]

Teaching snorkeling before leading the group out to the reefs.


I took passengers by boat to a sheltered cove where I'd teach them how to snorkel, then lead their trip and cook them lunch on the beach.

In scuba and snorkeling, the hand gesture asks if a student is OK. The reply is the same gesture meaning, "I am ok." Nothing else.



Western night.

Cruise staff dressed as saloon dance hall girls. I wore jeans and aces and did a trick whip show. At the time, I had no idea why it was so popular.





Part of my job was to be like popular people (of that era) to please the passengers. At left I am trying to pay respectful tribute to Farrah Faucet. At right is the beach of the movie "10" - Las Hadas. I was told to wear a Bo Derek bathing suit and prance on the beach, in addition to teaching scuba, windsurfing, water exercise, and aerobics classes.

The ship is in the background, and a lone hotel or two. I think there are many now.



The standard required bent knee pose



Evaluation from passengers - nice words at left and lower right



From my scrapbook of letters from passengers.


Living In Mexico



I never wanted to leave the cruise ship.

I found myself put ashore suddenly for not being cozy enough with the Director. You really have to read the fine print in your contract.

I worked day and night with locals on the southwestern Mexican coast to build a gym.

I hammered, sawed, laid bricks, painted, translated, wrote class routines, and learned that after impressive consequences from drinking from a water supply hose in Mexico, I was able to live in rustic conditions and drink anything, even from the river, although I don't recommend it now.


While building the gym, I worked until my Spanish improved enough to be appointed Professor at a college, photo on the Adventure page. I taught anatomy and physiology completely in Spanish. Students often asked me American song lyrics, and when I translated popular songs of the 80s with lyrics like "...hurts so good" and "...the funk of 40,000 years" they thought I couldn't speak English. There was no one for miles around that spoke English so I could prove that I did. I loved working there.


With my friend outside a shop in my new home



The Years I Never Thought I'd Mention Again



I was paralyzed in a military accident. They didn't know me anymore after that. No compensation or help. My face and body were disfigured (photo above shows the sunglasses I usually wore to help hide the damaged face). My body and legs first swelled grotesquely, then shrank and twisted into claws, then turned to spaghetti. I didn't want photos or anyone to know.

Every doctor and "friend" and family member said I was an unreasonable baby to not accept I'd never walk. They prevented me from trying, saying it was dangerous and I had no right to be unhappy about it. They tried to force me to have both legs cut off. They said bed rest was the only cure for injury and I was wrong to think any movement was healthy. That was the belief back then and I was a lone voice in getting injured people moving. They threatened to put me in restraints and sedation if I tried to exercise or move.

I paid physical therapy out of pocket but they all said I had to live with pain and lose my legs too and I'd never be better. Even a breeze blowing on my legs would set off neural pain so serious I'd shriek in pain for hours. The hospital and doctors left me that way many months and said there was no other way. I worked years until I was able to push myself up, so I threw a party (where the photo above was taken).



I used my own methods to rehab and forced myself to walk.



In the photos above, I went back to the pool, swallowed my pride about my shrunken legs and ruined body, and hit the laps at a pool where I used to work, although no one would hire me anymore. I had been an Olympic swimming hopeful, and here I could only swish around - barely. Painfully.

The only photos I'd allow were carefully posed so that I'd look like I could stand or do anything, although I could not. I'd smile to prove all was fine when nothing was fine.

I destroyed my photos, sports trophies, medals (as much as I was able to move at all). It only added pain to see the life I had worked so hard for, all gone. Everyone said I had to accept I'd never be me again.

A month after being able to walk again, I was a passenger in a 4-car fiery smash when a police vehicle in pursuit of a stolen car smashed us. Paralyzed again, worse this time, from a broken neck, broken knees (and almost everything else torn off). They had sovereign immunity so I was not compensated for rehab or even food. I could not get work. Once again I was on my own.

I couldn't get work anywhere. It was before disability laws. I could understand the look of the people staring at me from the other side of the interview table; I looked bad. I went from applying for senior scientist work, to junior, then tech positions. Although years earlier I had already completed a 2 year, 100 hour a week post-doc, I went all the way back to apply for (beg for) any post doc position, no matter how awful. They refused to hire, then said they couldn't because I hadn't published lab research in the previous year, and "Publish or Perish." Years passed this way.

I did my own rehab. I couldn't bear the thought of a wheelchair or for anyone to see me. As soon I could conceal my disfigurement enough that I didn't frighten horses in the street, I went back to martial arts. I'd arrive at school an hour early so no one could see me try to get up the stairs on all fours. In training matches, my opponents knew to just go for my ruined legs, still cased in metal bracing, for an easy win. I refused to put my black belt on again until I earned it from the bottom level back up a second time.


Why am I telling any of this now?


I never used to mention anything. My classes and work were for the students, not to talk about myself. Students would complain how hard my classes were and that they didn't want to work for anything. The first time I mentioned I had spent years unable to walk, they said they were glad I told them. They said before I told them, they didn't like me. They thought I couldn't understand a hard life. I took that as a compliment, that anyone could look at me, when I still see my mangled former self struggling, they see someone untouched by any scar.


If I had died every time a doctor insisted I would die if I didn't do as they say, I'd be dead a lot.

I rehabbed myself and walked and am still creating world programs of health and better ways. Come join the fun.



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All text and photos © copyright Jolie Bookspan



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