A tale of perseverance: Meet Tom Watkins

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As a new Board Member for the Will2Walk Foundation, we asked Tom Watkins to share his story of living with a spinal cord injury for the last twenty-three years. We hope you enjoy getting to know him and the passion he brings to the organization.

Tom Watkins - W2W Board MemberTwenty-three years ago, I was living the life of a normal family man—husband and father of three; working at a job that I knew would take me far; enjoying golf, fishing & camping; and had just finished my first major home remodel. But then my life changed in a split second when I lost control of my car on a black-iced road near my job in Michigan. I slid into the path of a semi-truck, demolishing my car to the point where nothing was left untouched but my seat. I suffered a severe trauma to my neck and when the local hospital could not manage my injuries, I was flown by Medevac helicopter to the University of Michigan. I spent the next three months there, first in intensive care totally paralyzed from my neck down, then into rehab where I learned the fate of my injury and how to live with it.

As time went on, I went from not moving anything to gaining function in my arms and hands. This wasn’t a simple process of waking up one day and having the function return—it was through the help of intensive therapy from my physical therapist, occupational therapist, and the support from my family and friends.

Today, I am still working hard and with state-of-the-art facilities, I now have the ability to walk with a walker for short distances and have around 80% of my hand function. This return of function allowed me to return to work, and follow my passion of photography.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure and opportunity to be Vice President of the local Lions Club, a member of the Board of Directors for the local Center for Independent Living, and sit on our city’s Planning Commission. I am also a consultant on accessibility issues for the city and St. John’s North Shores Hospital, as well as many more obligations throughout my community. Annually, I visit a 5th grade science class at a local school and talk about disabilities and how to live with them, as well as have private sessions with individuals and family members to motivate the newly injured to start their new life.

My recreational activities include driving the back roads to capture that perfect picture; pushing the trails and roads with my race chair or handcycle (usually six to fifty miles); taking my all-terrain scooter to state and federal wilderness trails; traveling to different states; and taking a leisurely float on my pontoon through the beautiful lakes and rivers of southern Michigan.

I met President Richard Hamill many years ago when we were newly injured and from that first meeting, we instantly became great friends. I believe this friendship was so great because we both had the same positive attitude for life and desire to live it to the fullest.  Richard introduced me to the world of handcycling, which opened up a whole new adventurist life for me. I was somewhat disappointed when he moved to Arizona, but he reassured me that I would have a place to stay if I ever came to visit and we would keep in touch. Richard held true to his promise and through the years would call to see how life was in Michigan. I was privileged to be there for his wedding and capture the memories of his beautiful bride, Alesha, as she took that walk down the aisle to see Richard surprising her with a stand-up chair and his ear-to-ear grin.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

I am so glad that I was invited to join the Will2Walk Board of Directors, as I believe it will be a perfect place for me to bring my opportunist and motivational mindset. I share the same passion as my fellow Board members for improving the wellbeing of those living with spinal cord injuries, and look forward to being a part of this great organization.

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