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Paralympian brings lessons of resilience

March 17, 2016

Chris Waddell was a talented skier at Middlebury College in Vermont. But during a run on December 20, 1988, one of his skis released during a turn. The 20-year-old sophomore fell, broke two vertebrae, damaged his spinal cord, and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Lying there, Waddell realized that if he could overcome this obstacle, he would emerge stronger than ever. And he turned tragedy into triumph.

Within two months, he was back in class. Within a year, he was back on the slopes using a mono-ski. He went from a six-year-old level to an adult/pro level in months. And after only two years of skiing, he was named to the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. He won numerous national championships and his first gold medal in the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Waddell became the most decorated paralympian in history, winning 13 Paralympic Games medals in sit-skiing and wheelchair track racing before retiring in 2004 at 36.

Along the way, the Massachusetts native became the first paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The Dalai Lama named Waddell his “unsung hero of compassion.”

Waddell brings his amazing tale to the River Campus on Monday, March 21. He will speak at 7 p.m. in Morey Hall, Room 321. The event is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College and is free and open to the public.

A dessert reception in the Rettner Gallery in Morey Hall will follow. For more information, contact Emily Fehnel at Emily.Fehnel@Rochester.edu or (585) 276-7276.

Waddell’s presentation will offer a message of resilience as he asks the audience to look at the labels they place on themselves and others that limit their ability to achieve.

Waddell was a model for Eddie Bauer, was named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the world and appeared on Dateline, 20/20, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

He is the founder of One Revolution Foundation, a nonprofit organization on a mission to “turn the perception of disability upside down.”

During the Q&A portion of his lectures, Waddell often is asked if he could go back to the day he became paralyzed, would he change what happened.

“I answer the question emphatically,” he writes in his Huffington Post blog. ‘‘No, I would not want to avoid my accident. I realize that sounds strange because I’m supposed to want to walk. But I wouldn’t change that moment because I wouldn’t want to lose the experiences I’ve had since, and the person I’ve become.’’

And then Waddell quotes the Dalai Lama, who once said, “Sometimes not getting what you want is the greatest gift of all.”

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