“It’s okay if people underestimate me. In the end, it’s their problem, not mine. But I take great pride in being able to do the unexpected.”
When people ask Jessica Kruger “how did you end up like this?” – a blunt question but she insists she was asked it – she tells them she grew up on a sailboat.
From age 6 to 10, Kruger and his family lived on a sailboat and traveled to 54 different countries where Kruger says he witnessed poverty you can’t even imagine. “People who have next to nothing make the most of these situations and still find happiness,” she shares. “I feel like that’s a big part of why I am who I am today and why I’ve always felt the need to make the most of difficult situations.”
When Kruger was 15, she got her first summer job painting houses. “We had just started our second home when I was two stories up the ladder, and I passed out,” she recalled. “I didn’t have a harness or anything, so I fell from both floors.”
After she was rushed to hospital, they found she had broken her neck in four places and damaged her spinal cord. After the operation, she was classified as a quadriplegic.
People think quadriplegic means someone doesn’t have the use of all four limbs, but Kruger says it’s a disability. She is in a wheelchair and has some impairment in her right hand and triceps, but she is able to use her hands.
“Before the accident, I was great outdoors, she says. So I started looking for new hobbies and things to fill the void there and one of the things I came to was cake decorating.”
Kruger now owns Vancouver-based custom dessert business The stubborn baker who specializes in the elaborate imaginative feats of baking and she incorporates stubbornness into all aspects of her life.
Find the pastry
“As soon as I was out of rehab and back to school, I was back in all the clubs, I could be in it and go on school trips,” she says. “People thought I wasn’t going to be able to travel, I couldn’t go to Disneyland and ride rides. I always felt the need to do everything because people expect me to be able to not do nothing.
Kruger baked cakes for her family and friends for 10 years while graduating from high school, earning an English degree and working as an event planner for a year before deciding she didn’t want to. more than a hobby and start turning to baking. schools – which has not been without difficulties.
“The first school I applied to said they weren’t willing to accommodate anyone in a wheelchair,” she says. “They told me their space wasn’t accessible. But I had been there before and that was it, it was just that they weren’t interested in the extra work that might have come from my participation in the program.”
The second school she applied to was not much better and told her that she would have to pay for two places because she would supposedly occupy double the place as an able-bodied person. Eventually she met with the disability coordinator at Vancouver City College and they told her they would do whatever it took to include her, which turned out to be just a lowered workstation.
“When I graduated I was debating whether to look to work for someone else or start my own thing and I really felt a bit discouraged about working for someone. else just because of society’s perception of what I was able to do was not what I’m actually capable of,” she says. “So I was really hesitant to put myself in that situation where I was once again faced with rejection.”
Never underestimate her
Kruger runs her solo business from a shared commissary on Industrial Avenue, which she says is a great stepping stone to legitimizing her business without jumping straight into bricks and mortar. She also appears at farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland and teaches decorating lessons to other budding bakers and hobbyists.
She says that at school a lot of teachers challenged her and underestimated her, but points out that her whole life is dedicated to problem solving. “From the second I wake up and get out of bed, and get the door up in the morning,” she says, she basically solves problems. It is also a talent that helps him cook; she loves getting requests that allow her to be creative like a flamingo-shaped cake, cookies that look like pushpins for a nine-year-old’s birthday party, or a dozen bean-inspired cupcakes Every Flavor by Bertie Bott.
“I feel like my technique has always been, ‘if that’s what you expect me to be able to do. Let me do 500 things you don’t expect me to be able to do. to make sure there’s no room left in your mind…to underestimate me.'”
She admits, however, that it can get tiring and that she is learning to accept doing less, going slower or asking for help. “It’s okay if people underestimate me. In the end, it’s their problem, not mine. But I take great pride in being able to do the unexpected.”
Kruger may have discovered baking, but she never really gave up on the sport. At 15, she joined the British Columbia student wheelchair rugby team (also sometimes called killer ball) where she played with men in their 30s and 40s, often as the only woman . She says she ended up in rugby because, although it was a relatively new sport at the time, it was one of the most designed wheelchair sports for quadriplegics. “So that’s where I could be most competitive, basically. That’s why I ended up in rugby,” she laughs. “I’ve always been super competitive. I like being in a space where people didn’t expect to see me and being able to uproot their perception of what a 15-year-old girl should be doing.”
Kruger has been with the team for 14 years now and recently competed with the Next Gen team at Nationals and won.
“I guess a theme throughout my life is defying people’s expectations of me.”