Schuh will share her story ‘Little is Big’ at CHS on Sept. 2, and at Valley Christian Fellowship Sept. 5
When Tasha Schuh, then 16 years old, plummeted 16 feet down a stage trap door while rehearsing for a musical, a plunge that paralyzed her, she never thought she would learn to love her life again.
Fast forward 17 years, and the motivational speaker and author from Ellsworth, Wis. has overcome what many would consider extremely difficult, if not impossible obstacles. She has graduated college with two bachelors degrees, is married and able to function in everyday life as well as travel to share her story and inspire those who hear it. And, perhaps most importantly, Schuh is able to say that, "Today, I absolutely love my life!
"It's so easy to forget now how difficult my transition and journey really was," Schuh recalls.
Her first year as a C-5 quadriplegic was extremely difficult. "I never really lost consciousness," The 33-year-old remembers. "Right away there was a battle in my mind. One side of me said, 'Tasha, you're paralyzed, you're never going to walk again.’ At the same time the other side was saying, 'No, you're invincible, you're Tasha Schuh. Nothing bad could ever happen to you.'"
The doctors confirmed her worst fears at the hospital. "I heard my neck break when I fell," Schuh explains. "I instantly lost feeling in my legs. It was a very terrifying feeling, something I would never wish on anyone.
"I had this sense of defiance, kind of like, 'Oh, the doctors will tell me that I'm going to have a difficult journey ahead of me, but I am going to get myself out of this, work really hard and prove them all wrong.'"
Little did Schuh know, she was only at the beginning of a long, treacherous, and maturing path. "I was really depressed," Schuh remembers. "I just kept feeling this sinking feeling, like I just honestly wanted to die."
In the following eight days, Schuh laid in a coma. She was extremely sick and had a 108-degree fever. The doctors even warned her parents to brace themselves for the worst.
When Schuh awoke, she knew mentally that she might just be on this earth for a reason. "I'm so thankful to have lived through that,” she says. “It increased my faith, which has always been really important to me, and gave me the confirmation that I'm here for a reason."
Schuh was forced to grow up faster than most through the mental, emotional and physical struggles of losing three quarters of her body's independent function. "Besides being paralyzed, growing up in 'stages,' I guess you could call them, seemed ten times more difficult – things like breaking up with my boyfriend at the time, my parents selling the only home I ever lived in to give me wheelchair accessibility,” Schuh recalls. “Some of my friends were there for me, but others weren't.
"At the hospital," Schuh recalls, "I was given a poem. It talked about taking things one day at a time, and at that time I was thinking about my life in five years, in ten and becoming depressed. What had once been my dreams were now impossibilities. Things like going to college, getting married, having children – they all seemed like failures, like lost dreams. Once I was able to focus on just one day at a time, things became so much easier and I began to really grasp and swallow that this was my reality."
Schuh remained in the hospital for six months and was, as she put it, "constantly put in people's paths that reminded me that my situation was not the worst."
Her faith and family inspired her during this time. "I come from a family of really strong people, many of whom have defied the odds in their own lives,” she says. “They always instilled in us kids to never quit, that 'the Schuhs are not quitters.' This helped me understand and gave me the willpower to never give up, to survive. I finally told myself one day, 'This is it, here we go – I only have one option, and it's to get through this.’"
But those inspiring thoughts didn’t make anything easier, especially during that first year of adjustment to her drastically altered way of life. "It was awful – I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," Schuh recalls. "After I made it through that initial year, I knew I could do whatever I put my mind to. I graduated college, and even though things would take longer and were more difficult for me, I learned that I could still do it. And that was liberating.
"Today, I absolutely love my life. I wouldn't trade what I've been through for anything,” she continues. “I love speaking, to kids especially, but everyone, from young to old, is going to have things or is going through things that are challenging or make you want to quit or feel sorry about, like they're never going to amount to much."
Schuh is, perhaps, an inspirational paragon for individuals who find themselves in trying situations. "If somebody had told me during that first year that this is where I was going to be today, that I was going to be traveling as a motivational speaker and helping others overcome their own obstacles, I would have told them they were crazy!" she says.
Schuh's journey of self-discovery has had its share of milestones. Her first accomplishment was graduating from Winona State University in 2003 with her first bachelors degree. "When I told my mom I was moving an hour and a half away, I thought she was going to have a heart attack!" Schuh recalls with a laugh during her phone interview with the Times. "It was scary, though, not only for me but for my family and friends. I didn't know if I could go to college. Most people, including those same family and friends, didn't know any different and went along with the common mentality that because I was paralyzed it was just something I couldn't do."
It was at Winona State that the idea for motivational speaking would eventually come to fruition. Schuh always knew she wanted to help people, and particularly enjoyed her high school psychology class. She enrolled in the psychology program at Winona State and discovered with rigorous math and science classes that it simply was not the program for her. She then dabbled in special education, reasoning that it would be rewarding to help kids with disabilities. This proved to not be the right fit for her as well.
"During this time, I was working on a research project with a Communication Studies professor, when he looked at me and said, 'You know, you're going to be a Comm. Studies major,’” Schuh recalls.
"I just kind of blew him off, didn't think too much about it," she continues. "One day I went into his office and said to him, 'OK, so if I switch my major, what can I do with it?' The professor just laughed and said, 'That's not how it works, Tasha, it doesn't go that way – What do you want to do with your life?'
"He suggested I be a motivational speaker. To be completely honest, at first I just kind of sat that there and thought that it was the dumbest idea!" she recalls with a laugh. "But at the same time, a lightbulb went off. I could travel and speak and tell my story. I could help people that way!"
A beautiful ideal married a bit of a process as Schuh figured out just how to get into "the biz."
"It's a very difficult job to get into and to succeed in," Schuh explains. "I had such a peace about it, though. I changed my major to Communication Studies and absolutely loved it. It talked all about how people communicate and interact, relationships between individuals. I use it every day in not only my job but my marriage and friendships."
After receiving her second bachelors degree in Theology in the Twin Cities, Schuh sent out 250 flyers to schools, an additional 250 to churches and juvenile detention centers, places she said she knew I could make an impact.
"And I've been speaking ever since," Schuh says. "I love the challenge! Say I'm speaking ten times in an area. Well, each school or business or place is asking me to come for just a slightly different reason. So, I write ten different speeches addressing the needs of the individual place. I love the challenge of writing the perfect speech for the perfect group.
"I tend to think I'm SuperWoman sometimes!" Schuh exclaims. "I have to realize what's important, though, and I've realized I have to take care of myself so I can continue to spread my message. My husband has helped me realized the need for balance because I don't see it as work – even though it is!"
If there's one word Schuh could share with people, it would be hope. "There's always hope," she says with passion. "In hindsight, when you're able to look back at what you were going through, it doesn't seem like it could be that difficult. But when you're going through it, actually experiencing it, it's extremely difficult.
"But it gets better. Every day I look up and think, 'Oh, my goodness. I'm so glad I didn't let it get me down. It's important to remind everyone that no matter what they're going through, better days are always ahead, and to keep your head up. A positive attitude can make a load of difference in any situation.
"I love my life. And I don't just say that to be inspirational,” Schuh says. “It's the truth, and it's my dream to help people live their life to the fullest and to love their life like I've come to love mine."
Schuh will be speaking in Crookston on Sept. 2 at 2 p.m. at the high school and on Friday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. at Valley Christian Fellowship in downtown Crookston, which is open to the public. The Crookston community is welcome to attend this event and hear Tasha's incredible story. Her Crookston talks are part of a whirlwind series of speeches in the area that week, from Moorhead to Greenbush.
Schuh is a member of Renee Rongen's national speaking team, Renee Rongen & Associates, and would like to extend extreme gratitude to Rongen, who has been a huge support to her. If interested in learning more about or contacting Schuh, visit tashaschuh.com.