HOMEPAGE www.danieljvance.com

By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC

It's that time of year when Judy Siegle of Fargo, North Dakota, volunteers again at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat for families affected by disability, this time in Minnesota. A number of nonprofit organizations around the nation, such as Joni and Friends, have retreats that offer a respite and recharge from daily routine for people with disabilities and their caregivers.

What makes Siegle unique as a retreat volunteer is the fact she has a disability herself. In 1979, a drunk driver running a stop sign broadsided a car with then 18-year-old Siegle inside. Two teens in the other vehicle died and Siegle broke her neck after being thrown outside. Today, as an “incomplete” quadriplegic using a manual wheelchair, she has leg paralysis and partial arm paralysis.

An all-state high school basketball player before the accident, Siegle in time became a wheelchair racer competing in the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games and holding U.S. records for quadriplegic women in the 400-, 800-, 1,500-, and 5,000-meter events. Also post-accident, she earned a master's degree from the University of Minnesota in social work and worked in that profession until 2000. She is now a motivational speaker.

Given her disability, Siegle qualifies as a person that could seek respite at a retreat, yet she volunteers as a trainer and small group leader. Joni and Friends retreat volunteers give up vacation days from work and pay their own way to participate. Why do it?

“I was on a Wheels for the World (another Joni and Friends program) trip in 1999 and was told how incredible an experience family retreat was. The next summer, I volunteered at one in Maryland and indeed it was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I was with people who could understand the physical challenges I faced as a quadriplegic and were so accepting. All the people were given the ability to participate fully in all the events. And I felt unconditional love.”

She especially remembered playing the card game UNO at that retreat with a woman substantially physically limited by cerebral palsy, who, said Siegle, “had a life purpose and hope, and she wasn't just sitting back. She was actively taking on life.” As for the others playing UNO, she was “awestruck” by their faith in God and courage to face daily challenges. She said to people experiencing quadriplegia, “You are not alone.”

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