From NPR All Things Considered "Been There" Series, October 11, 2016
Austin Beggin (left) and Tim Flynn. Both men suffered neck injuries that
left them paralyzed. (Photos courtesy of Shelly Beggin and Kerry Sheridan)
When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who's already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series "Been There."
On May 31, 2015, Austin Beggin's life changed forever. He had just graduated from college and started a new job at Nabisco. The family was on a beach vacation in St. George Island, Fla. On the first day of the trip, a swim in the ocean left him paralyzed.
"I was probably about waist deep when I saw a wave coming. Decided to dive into it. I was a swimmer my whole life, so it's not like I haven't dove thousands of times, and for whatever reason, this was the wave," Austin tells 55-year-old Tim Flynn.
Tim was about the same age as Austin when, 35 years ago, he became paralyzed in a car accident while driving under the influence.
"I really don't remember it," Tim tells Austin. "But I do remember sort of waking up, lying on my back in the road sort of looking up. It was an incredibly starlit night. But then I saw my friend walk over into my field of vision and he was crying. That's when the moment hit me that, 'Uh oh, this is gonna be serious.'"
Austin and Tim both suffered serious neck injuries. For the most part, Austin can't move below his shoulders. Tim can use his arms, which means a bit more mobility and independence.
While Austin is still adjusting to his new normal, Tim has led a fulfilling 35 years. He now works as an independent living counselor helping other people with disabilities.
On the best advice he received early on
This was from one of the psychologists who came in to gauge my level of mental well-being. ... He said, "In every sort of lifetime, you know, we can do about 10,000 things." And then he said, "So, what's gonna happen now is you're going to do a different 10,000 things than you were gonna do before." So, it became figuring out what that new 10,000 things is gonna be.
On the importance of a career
You're in the middle of this minefield of not the same. And it's not gonna change. And early on, where you are, that's really tough, you're waking up and say, "Uh-oh, yup. Still paralyzed aren't I?"... Hey, still, buddy, I wake up and I gotta drag my legs out of bed, and I'm like, "Ah, alright," you know?
But I've got someplace to go. You know, having a job is really important. ... You gotta come home and have something to talk about at the dinner table.
On not dwelling in the past
One of the big transitions for me — and it took me a good five years to get there — was, I kept on looking back into my past, thinking about what I'd lost. And that's not a strategy for progress. It was when I was sort of able to turn around and start looking forward and sort of looking out into the world and just think in terms of what I got and how I can use it.