Doug Robinson: After the fall

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27 2014 6:35 p.m. MST

Eventually, he returned to schooling, enrolling in a seminary program and earning a master’s degree in educational curriculum. He has taught seminary at Murray High for 13 years.

In his free time he coaches young Paralympic athletes and does other volunteer work. He makes annual trips to third-world countries through the LDS Church to work with people who are confined to wheelchairs, many of whom are unaware of the possibilities that are available to them.

“We teach them how to live with a chair,” says Griffin. “We teach their disability rights, skin care, bladder care, sexuality, sports, transfer, job interviews, how to present themselves, how to get around … We go out there and give them hope and inspiration.”

Looking back, Griffin says the fall from that barn “rocked his world.” How could he live the life he had envisioned in a chair? Now he says, “I have concluded — and I say this honestly — that I am grateful to be in a wheelchair. I see things differently. My perspective completely changed. Things I thought were important were not that important in the eternal perspective, the big picture. I had started to lose focus on the importance of friendships and relationships. I know I wouldn’t have met my wife. I’ve just experienced life differently. I had to develop other social and intellectual skills, not just physical strength.”

That doesn’t mean he wants to remain in a chair.

* * * * * * *

After injury, he underwent eight hours of surgery. Afterward, he couldn’t feel his legs or move them. During grueling therapy sessions, he made incremental improvement. It took him five minutes just to stand. He walked by leaning on parallel bars, but he wasn’t really walking — therapists moved his legs for him. Soon he was able to stand up and reach the bars in 30 seconds. When he told his doctor about his progress, the doctor replied, “Don’t get your hopes up. You’ll never walk or move your legs again.”

Griffin was defiant. He never returned to that doctor again. Fast forward to the present. Griffin leaves his wheelchair in his truck when he is home. He moves around the house by walking, albeit slowly. "It's more of a waddle than a walk," he says. He no longer uses leg braces or crutches. He used to trip over his feet frequently, but not anymore. He can generate enough power to walk on an elliptical trainer at the gym.

“There’s been tremendous improvement since we’ve been married,” says Emily. When she and Griffin were dating in college, he would borrow his grandmother’s walker and they would go for a walk. His goal was to walk to a stop sign two blocks away. “He would get halfway and then get too tired and have to turn back,” she recalls. Eventually, he reached the stop sign.

Slowly, the feeling in his legs has returned. It started at the waist and moved down to his thighs, then his knees and now his shins. He hopes it continues to his feet.

“Through our whole marriage, Jeff has never been one to say, ‘Why me?’” says Emily. “It was: ‘What am I going to do to pick myself up and move forward?’”

Griffin does not spend much time sitting around, as it were. He took up golf three years ago. Initially, he swung the club while sitting in a cart; now he uses a crutch for balance and strikes the ball from a standing position, one-handed. He shoots in the low 50s for nine holes.

Such determination seems to have been passed on to his children. He and Bradley get up at 5 a.m. and go to the gym to work on Bradley’s basketball skills, Monday through Friday. “Jeff is an idol for him,” says Emily. “He looks up to his dad a lot with his example of never letting anything stop him.”

Says Griffin, “It’s easy to listen to the experts, but I am determined. Some might think it’s naïve. My faith has a lot to do with it. I believe someday I will walk again, not waddle. Perhaps I can walk my daughters down the aisle when they marry.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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