OCALA, Fla. – Ronald Schultz started writing his new book almost 40 years ago, when he thought his life was over.
He was 22 years old, had a good job in a western New York factory and a couple years of college under his belt. He lost it all on a long, icy curve as his ’63 Rambler spun out and overturned. It was too dark to see anything, but Schultz knew something was wrong.
“It was a feeling of just nothingness – like I couldn’t feel my body at all,” he says.
Schultz was paralyzed. He spent about a year in hospitals and treatment centers, in traction and undergoing surgery that would fuse part of his hip with two Vertebrae so he could regain some arm function.
He finally went home around Thanksgiving of 1969, completely miserable. It was winter in Royalton Center, N.Y., and Schultz couldn’t do anything but lie around.
“I didn’t adjust well at home – I couldn’t do much functionally. I got very depressed. I was wondering what was going to go on next.”
Schultz started writing to exorcise his frustration, and has now rolled those notes into a 172-page memoir called “Looking Upward: Facing and Reaching Beyond Spinal Cord Injury,” coming out Monday from Frederick, Md.-based PublishAmerica.
The book follows Schultz from the accident to the present day, detailing painful procedures, long hospital stays, desperate observations and eventual hope.
Schultz has grown a lot since his life-changing injury, but says he still doesn’t accept that he’s paralyzed.
“I don’t identify myself as spinal cord-injured. I just can’t do that; my spirit’s too free,” he says. “I don’t sit and think about it and let it get the best of me. I just live my life with what I have.”
That life includes his wife of 35 years, Linda, who married him in the New York Rehabilitation hospital where they were both being treated. The hospital chaplain presided and the kitchen staff did their best to fashion a cake, which was appropriately layered but tilts to the left in well-worn photographs.
Linda Schultz has her own tragic tale, but traces hers back to birth. Her mother had the German measles, causing her to be born with club hands and feet from a condition called “arthrogryposis.” She has had 32 surgeries over 54 years of living to stretch out her arms and fuse her ankles. Growing up she needed surgery just about every year.
Linda was surprised to see Ronald show up again at the State Rehabilitation Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y., for a checkup in 1971. She noticed when he was there earlier just after the accident, and told another girl she would one day marry him. In December that year she did.
“I don’t know how I knew it,” Linda says today with a laugh.
The couple moved to Florida, where Linda learned how to drive. Ronald started pursuing his academic interests in psychology and sociology, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida, later a master’s in sociology and finally a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Florida. There, while the couple lived in Gainesville, he also tutored athletes and led classes as a teaching assistant.
Now, Ronald helps his brother run a fencing company in Ocala, where the couple lives in a home designed to accommodate their special needs.
Ronald has even started writing another book, and says this one isn’t going to take four decades to finish. He won’t reveal exactly what it’s about, but says it will focus on his youth before he became paralyzed.
As for the first book, Schultz says he wants to tell readers going through tough times that things get better.
“No matter what happens in life, you really can’t be defeated,” Schultz says. “If you have self-determination and if you believe in a power higher than yourself, and the strength you can derive from that, then really nothing can really defeat you in life.”
TRAVIS REED Associated Press