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Schuh still loving her 'crazy journey'

I've done more sitting in this wheelchair than I ever would have done walking," says Tasha Schuh. -- Photo by Rebecca Beissel.1 / 2
Tasha Schuh's van is outfitted to allow her to use her arms rather than her legs to control the gas and brakes. She has put 160,000 miles on the six-year-old vehicle. -- Photo by Judy Wiff2 / 2

Tasha Schuh is writing a book about her life, and although the story is not finished, she has the title: "My Last Step Backwards."

That phrase is full of meanings. It means the step Schuh took Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1997 when, during a scene change for a school musical, she moved back, dropped through an open trap door and fell 16 feet onto a cement floor. That single step made Schuh a quadriplegic, destined to never take another step.

But the title also indicates the direction Schuh's life has taken in the past 14 years.

"I just have to pinch myself at how well things have turned out," said Schuh last Thursday during an interview at her picturesquely situated home just outside Ellsworth.

"I'm really thankful that my accident happened," she says sincerely. "I never thought I would say that. It's been a crazy journey. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but I wouldn't trade my life with anyone."

In September Schuh was named Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin, and in 2012 she'll compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA.

"I've done more sitting in this wheelchair than I ever would have done walking," says Schuh, who will turn 31 in December.

She was 16 and a junior at Ellsworth High School in the fall of 1997 when she was cast as a chorus member in the school's production of "The Wizard of Oz." The last week of rehearsals was hectic. The chorus' scene changes weren't going well, and the cast members' positions were changed. Schuh says when someone told her to move, she stepped back not knowing that the trap door was behind her and open.

She was transported to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where she was told that her spinal cord had been crushed at the C-5 level.

She thought she had no future, that there was no point in living. Then when it seemed things couldn't get worse, they did. She got pneumonia and septic shock and needed round the clock care.

The end of dreams

"It's a miracle that I'm here today," says Schuh.

When they told her she'd never walk again, she saw only despair.

"I wanted to jump out a window and die. I thought my life was over. I didn't want this to be my life."

She had been at an age when young people dream and make plans.

"It seemed like my dreams ended," says Schuh. She envisioned never being able to leave home, spending her life looking out the window, bored and wishing the accident had never happened.

She spent 3 ½ months in the intensive care unit followed by five months in rehab and then a month in the Ronald McDonald House while her family prepared a new handicapped accessible home for her in Ellsworth.

Before the house was finished, she moved back to Ellsworth into a friend's home so she could go to prom.

"That was a promise I made to my friends," says Schuh. "That was my biggest goal when I was in the hospital. It's so important to have those goals. I was like I just want to get home and be with my friends and get some sense of normalcy."

Still normal wasn't what it had been. Schuh said she spent a good six to nine months feeling depressed, frustrated and purposeless.

Slowly her attitude changed. She compared the reason for the change to television's Dr. Phil asking, "How's that working for you?"

All her life her parents had taught her to never quit, to persevere. "Some of those lessons started taking hold," says Schuh. "It was very gradual. It was not an overnight change. It was slowly putting one foot in front of the other."

It dawned on her: "This is your life now no matter what."

Right about that time, she says, she truly became a Christian.

"I grew up going to church, but it was never as personal as it was at this time."

For more please read the Oct. 12 print version of the Herald.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.