The last step Tasha Schuh ever took was backwards. It turned her life into one of unimaginable challenges – and incredibly rewarding victories.
From her motorized wheelchair on the stage of the Business Education Center Auditorium on Wednesday, the Ellsworth resident urged students and staff at Chippewa Valley Technical College to keep a positive attitude in the face of adversity, and to always have hope.
Schuh does not pretend she has always been one to emphasize the positive and see purpose in life. “I was a happy-go-lucky teenager who had full use of her very tall body,” she said.
She noted that a week shy of her 17th birthday, in response to an odd question from a friend, she said the worst thing that could happen to her would be to be paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. She said she would rather die.
Three days later, in a rehearsal for a play at Ellsworth High School, she took a step backwards and fell 16 feet through a stage trap door she did not know was there.
“I had broken my neck and had severely crushed my spinal cord,” Schuh said. Her worst fears had been realized, as she soon found out she was paralyzed from the chest down, with only limited use of her arms and hands.
Then the blood infection set in and she went into a coma for eight days, fighting a 108-degree fever that should have caused brain damage. Her family was called in to say their goodbyes, as doctors declared there was nothing they could do. By some miracle, she survived.
“When they told me I almost died, I wanted to live,” she said. It was a sign to her that she is in this world for a reason, as we all are.
“I know now my purpose is to give hope and encouragement to others,” she said.
Schuh’s accomplishments since then have been impressive. Just learning to get around on her own and feed herself was a challenge. But she went beyond everyone’s expectations, earning two degrees at Winona State University, learning to drive, embarking on a career as a motivational speaker, and writing a book due out soon. Last summer, she was crowned Miss Wheelchair USA.
Along her journey, she has been inspired by others herself, like the children she met staying at Ronald McDonald House.
“I saw all of these bald-headed kids running around, all with terminal illnesses, choosing to play and wrestle with each other,” she said.
Schuh came to realize that she had to choose to be happy.
“I decided to move on and start focusing not on what I lost, but what I had,” she said.
Now, despite all the challenges presented by her permanent paralysis, she loves her life, and says she would not undo what happened to her even if she could.
“Today, I have accomplished more sitting in this wheelchair than I ever could do walking,” she said.
Schuh’s appearance was sponsored by the CVTC Student Government Association.