There are moments in life that make or break a person. Decisions are made every day where little or no thought is given to how it may affect the rest of a life. What often makes the difference is the attitude of the person coming out of a bad moment and the choice to come of out it better.
Shawn Vogelgesang had a life-changing experience 10 years ago.
“I had been working for Otis Elevator in L.A. and run into drug problems so I moved back home to Lima and had been working at Lima Harley-Davidson for a month or two,” he said. “I was 28 at the time. Me and a buddy went out drinking and ran into a few girls that he knew. I took one of the girls home out by the Twist and Shout, when it was still open, and was coming out of a private drive.”
He doesn’t remember the accident where he collided with another vehicle (the other driver was uninjured). They were both going 45 mph.
“I don’t remember anything between dropping her off and waking up in the hospital a day and a half later.”
Vogelgesang is now an incomplete quadriplegic.
“Complete means you cannot feel your butt, incomplete means you have a chance of feeling it,” he said. “I have impairment in my wrist, hands, fingers, fine motor skills and in the lower half there is a weakness in my hips. My legs do still work sometimes. When I have pressure on my toes my calves bounce like I’m doing calf raises all day, my legs are desensitized from the knee down. I can’t tell hot and cold, sharp and dull, stuff like that.”
When he first woke up he didn’t know the extent of the injuries.
“Your body tends to curl into the fetal position with a traumatic injury like that; your hands curl up, all that. I couldn’t move my legs, but I didn’t freak out. I kept thinking it was no big deal or not as bad as it seemed,” he said. “Mom had a lot of work to do when I came home; it was like being an infant all over again. It was humbling to say the least.”
That was 2006, and now he describes the accident as “probably the best thing that ever happened to me to be honest. I was coming out of drug addiction and in that party lifestyle. It opened my eyes to people with disabilities. I’ve met people who live happy lives with the ability to do a lot less than I have.
“Since my accident I do speeches for classes, physical therapy, for med students with buddies at Wright State,” he added. “Motivational speaking has been on my radar since the accident but it’s just been bumped up. I’m very honest about everything.”
He’s working on his master’s degree for mental health and wants to minor in substance abuse/chemical dependency treatment.
“I hear there is a high burnout rate for chemical dependency work so I went with the broader mental health category for now,” he said.
Shawn Vogelgesang has a Facebook page with videos and more information regarding his rugby and lifting competitions.
1. How was it for your family at first?
My mom, Beth Alt, was always there and supportive. My brother and everybody else were worried that I’d go down the same path as before the accident with drugs and stuff, and I did a lot of drinking afterward. I wasn’t going out just for a couple drinks and come home, it was an all night thing. But it took a long time for my brother and some of my family to realize that I’m not that same person anymore. For the first year it was kind of hard. I thought I was invincible so I would get mouthy with my then stepdad. He put up with a lot. For the first year or two I really thought I was invincible and didn’t realize the whole impact of it. The doctor always was kind of surprised I had a smile and was genuinely happy. There was a couple moments when I thought about this really sucks, but over all I was just happy. The recovery processes changes your thinking. When I was starting rugby I met all these guys, two of the guys had kids, the guys all worked normal jobs and couldn’t stand up and get stuff off the top shelf, some of their hands were still fists like mine was when I was first injured. These guys that had less function than I did and still had a life.
2. So rugby came first?
I started as soon as I got the neck brace off and have been playing that ever since. I hadn’t played sports since high school but at OSU they showed me the movie “Murder Ball,” which is about wheelchair rugby. We were at an outing and came back and the coach was there recruiting people as we were getting off the bus. He asked if I would play for Columbus and I told him as long as mom will drive me and she did for the first year.
3. How is the game played?
It’s played on an indoor basketball court and is four on four and mainly quadriplegics, but we’ve opened it quadruple amputees and people with cerebral palsy. Everyone is classified by how much function you have from a 0.5 to a 3.5. I’m a 3 cause I have quite a bit of use and you can only have 8 points on the floor at one time to even the playing field. The ideal is all 2’s. There’s a kickoff and you have the ball in your lap, you dribble or pass every 10 seconds and then the other team will force a pass or turnover.
4. When did you start lifting?
I started two years ago, May 6. The cervical plate in my neck that fused the vertebrate together was pushing against my esophagus making it hard to swallow. I got an infection and was at OSU again. To make a long story short, I had a drainage tube, pick line, feeding tube for two months. I couldn’t eat or drink anything for two months and before that I didn’t eat for a week while they figured out what was going on. So after all that I had about two months to get ready for rugby season. I called my friend Don Stemen, because I knew he was a powerlifter who could get me in shape for rugby. He started me under the bar doing regular lifting not powerlifting. The following March I was just doing regular squat with no weight. Last October did my first meet and it went real well.
5. Can you drive now?
I’m able to drive now. I had to pay parking tickets from L.A. I didn’t think they would find me for that, but they did. So I had to pay those down slowly and retake the test. I had to buy the hand controls that run about $1,000 so it took some time to drive again. I don’t have to use the hand controls all the time now. I still use them, but I don’t need them as much so I’m going to retake the test and get the restriction lifted.
6. Is there any kind of prognosis going forward?
They never told me. I don’t have any hope of walking again because I know my legs have the spasms. I go about 50 feet on crutches and I’m on the ground, I can get back up again, but my lower right abs will ever be strong enough. It would be nice to walk again but it’s faster and easier in a wheelchair right now. I’m just seeing where this takes me. I am going to do an adapted Strong Man competition, I was supposed to do it with a buddy last year, but I couldn’t because of an injury. But that’s on my list and a Savage Race with some guys.
Janet Ferguson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Lima News. Share your story ideas for Tell Me About It at firstname.lastname@example.org.