Taking it in strideELLSWORTH — Tasha Schuh is writing a book about her life and, although the story is not finished, she has the title: “My Last Step Backwards.”
By: Judy Wiff, The Republican Eagle
ELLSWORTH — 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 refers to the step Schuh took Tuesday Nov. 11, 1997, when, during a scene change for a school musical, she 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 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, she recalled. The chorus’ scene changes weren’t going well, and the cast members’ positions were changed. Schuh said 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. Marys Hospital in Rochester, 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, got pneumonia and septic shock and needed around-the-clock care.
The end of dreams?
“It’s a miracle that I’m here today,” Schuh said. “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 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 intensive care 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,” Schuh said. “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.
“Some of those lessons started taking hold,” Schuh said. “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 said, she truly became a Christian.
“I grew up going to church, but it was never as personal as it was at this time.”
Off to college
She had missed six months of high school, but with the help of a tutor, Schuh caught up and graduated with her classmates. Then she tackled college, enrolling at Winona State University.
“I just jumped in with both feet,” she says, smiling at the phrase. Ellsworth friend Brooke Hines became her roommate.
The university did its part. Her room was made handicapped accessible, other students took class notes for her, and, since she could use her wrists but not her fingers, she learned to type with a special device. She did all her own papers, typing one letter at a time.
“I never handed in anything late,” she says. By her junior and senior years she was writing 20- and 30-page papers.
“I had amazing friends, amazing support and just was seeing life slowly but surely turn around.”
It was slow. She needed help with personal care, which meant keeping to her caregivers’ schedule.
“It was real frustrating because my classmates could pull all-nighters, but that was not an option for me,” Schuh said. “I had to be very disciplined.”
At the same time, she took pride in the self-discipline and organization it took for her to complete assignments.
She made few new friends her freshman year, but that, she says, was her own fault.
“I expected people to knock on my door, and say, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’”
During her sophomore year, she became involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, made friends there and got to know her neighbors.
In four and a half years, after changing her major three times, she earned a degree in communication studies with a minor in music.
Sharing her story
By the time she graduated from WSU, Schuh was doing some public speaking, mostly to classes, talking about what she’d been through. She knew she wanted to continue that and to reach out to churches and other organizations.
She moved back to Ellsworth and in fall of 2004 enrolled at Maranatha College in Brooklyn Park, Minn., to earn a degree in theology.
As she developed her speaking skills, she sought out other motivational speakers for advice. They told her to just start.
So she did an Internet search to find 250 middle and high schools in the region and sent out letters to them and to churches. The response was almost immediate.
“My phone started ringing, and it’s never stopped,” she said.
Her calendar shows seven speaking engagements in September, six in October and another six already for the rest of 2011.
While the story of her life can’t change, her message is different each time she speaks to another group, Schuh said.
“I’ve learned so much in this journey. When I speak, it’s like which of these 500 things am I going to share this time?” she said.
Schuh knows she can’t speak long enough to tell her full story at any one time, so she’s writing a book.
“The book is for everyone,” she said. “All of us will go through hard times. It’s just the decision of what we’re going to do afterwards.”
She adds, “There’s always hope. There’s never a situation that’s hopeless, and so much good can come from bad.
“No one’s exempt from having troubles. Sometimes it’s the trouble that makes you the person you are and makes you better.”
Happy with life
Schuh was ordained as a pastor at Abundant Life Church in River Falls in April. She serves part time there as director of services, is qualified to do counseling and has performed 10 or 12 weddings.
She also works from her home for a travel company.
Her life would be a lot easier if she could walk, Schuh said, but she doubts she would be happier.
“I’m happy sitting right here in this wheelchair,” she said. “If I were to walk, it would just be a perk.”
Her life, she said, includes a home with amazing views out every window, loving family and friends and rewarding work.
“I’m way more independent than I ever thought possible,” she admits. While she didn’t always see her injury as an opportunity, she says it was.
“It’s really made me what I am today, and I wouldn’t have wanted to not go through this.”