By: Domenic Fraboni
On Bob Bardwell’s It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What You Do With It
Have you ever had a rough day? Just a day when you don’t know how anything could get any worse? I think a lot of us could conjure up memories of a specific terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day that we’ve had. How about a day that your buddy makes one small mistake, pushes one wrong lever, and suddenly a skidster's bucket drops and crushes your back, paralyzing you from the waist down? No? Well, I don’t think many can actually say yes to that question. This is the story of Bob Bardwell. It would have been easy for Bob to give up on that day. Instead, he has gone on to achieve incredible feats. He did this with four things: Big dreams. Big community. Big God. And a chair.
One of the first lessons Bob learned was given by a new found friend, Glen White. Glen was a local student, also wheelchair bound, who stopped by Bob’s room a few times a week to see how he was doing. It was during this time that Bob made the decision to be a victor and not a victim. A victim blames others and has self pity based on the injury or situation they are in. A victor seeks out the new challenges presented to them and, develops new skills and strategies to overcome these
challenges, uncovers all of the new abilities they have, and does what they can to bring others along with them. Similar to being a victor, Glen helped Bob learn the importance of being an “uplifter.” He knew that throughout his journey, he had to be able to help others understand their disabilities as he now understood his.
It didn’t take long for Bob to get into wheelchair racing. This is no surprise considering Bob had a decorated career in athletics (went 74-4 in high school wrestling and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006). There Bob was, sitting at the start line of his first 10 kilometer wheelchair race in his klunky, rickety chair that was not meant for racing (the wheels would nearly vibrate of the axle if he went faster than three miles per hour). He had his water bottle ready and farm gloves on his hands to prevent blisters. What happened next was something Bob was not expecting. No, he didn’t win the race. However, as soon as the race began, Bob’s disability melted away. There was a crowd cheering him on, not because he was stuck in a chair, but because of ability he had in that chair. When he crossed the finish line (after taking a spill in the only pot hole on the course), Bob had found his passion. A passion he quickly incorporated into his life long goals and dreams.
Since this first race, Bob has become one of the most prolific wheel chair racers around. He has completed 100 marathons (200 races total) and has nearly become an Olympian in wheelchair racing. Bob now travels around the country as a motivational speaker and is also a counselor, author, coach, husband, and father to four daughters (by the way – daughters he was told he had a 1% chance of conceiving). Bob has authored his own inspirational autobiography, “The Marathons of Life,” which he calls the number one best selling autobiography in Stewartville, MN. More impressive than his athletic and personal accomplishments is the service that he has lived out in his community.
This year, Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch celebrated its 40-year anniversary. Bob founded the ranch back in 1976 with a dream to help provide hope and opportunity to those with physical disability. It was aimed at helping individuals get to know themselves, others, and God better. Since its inauguration in ’76, the ranch has grown to serve over 24,000 people each year. They specialize in youth and family camps, horse and trail camps, and winter snow retreats, among boasting many other activities and facilities that are available for use and participation. Most notably, however, for the past 30-years (another big anniversary) Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch has hosted the National Wheelchair Sports and Recreation Camp, of which Bob is the founder and director. That’s not all! In 2007, after over 40,000 hours of volunteer work on this 4.5 million dollar job, Miracle Lodge opened. This modern, 27-room lodge has evolved into the host for Operation Welcome Home for soldiers, Camp Jornada (for children with cancer), and is the new home for the National Wheelchair Sports Camp. I would say that Bob has without a doubt lived out his mission of giving back to his community.
Thanks to Bob’s talk, I was able to leave that room feeling just that much more positive and that much more enabled (even though I was heading straight to a musculoskeletal practical that I was vastly unprepared for). He showed me that there are always strategies to use your attitude, situation, and the people around you to your advantage. Don’t let negativity rule your road. Each day we have on this earth is a miracle. Bob said that a good friend once told him that there is no such thing as a bad day to be alive. There are just some days that are better than others.
“My heart is pounding. My hands are working. Let’s roll.” ~ Bob Bardwell’s morning checklist.
Acknowledgements: I need to give a big thanks to the
disABILITY MERG for hosting Bob. Also, a thank you is owed to Mr. Bob Bardwell for his endless and relentless attitude about life, for sharing his story with us, and for all he has done to help people and the community throughout his career.
Author Bio: Domenic is a second year student in Mayo School of Health Sciences' DPT program. He grew up as the middle of three brothers in Princeton, Minnesota. He now has two nephews (2.5 years and 1 year old) and has a blast with them while finger painting, playing hide and seek, and eating their leftovers (aka whatever they drop on the floor).