My name is Allen Beauchamp, and I’m 43 years old. I live in a town called Negaunee, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After graduating from high school in 1991, I spent a few years working at a local tire shop. Then, I decided to enlist in the US Navy. I served for a few years as a Damage Controlman stationed on the USS Detroit. When I got out of the Navy in 1995, I came back home to Negaunee and got a job at a company called Argonics, Inc. I’ve been working for them for over 20 years now.
On July 17, 2010, I was involved in an ATV accident. I sustained a partially severed spinal cord at the T11 location. That accident left me paralyzed from the waist down. I was worried I wasn’t even going to make it. I lay in the woods for about two and a half hours with one of my friends before the emergency services could get to me. Once the ambulance got there, they were able to stabilize me and transport me to the nearest hospital. They did some initial tests and X-rays, and at that point, they couldn’t determine what exactly was going on, but everyone knew that I wasn’t able to move my lower extremities.
I was transferred to UP Health System in Marquette and spent the next 10 days there going through different medical procedures and surgeries — the whole nine yards. Several days into that, the doctor came in and said, “Allen, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You’re never going to walk again.” I don’t remember much of my time there, but I do remember that specific day. My mom, dad and fiancée at the time were in the room with me, and I lost it right there. I turned to my side and started crying, and I asked them to leave. I just wanted a few minutes to myself. That was a point in my life when I didn’t know what I was going to do. Was I going to live a week? Was I going to live two months? Was I going to live 20 years? I didn’t know.
After that, this process started where my family, friends and hospital workers were advocating for me and telling me what I should do. All of these questions were coming at me, and I was just so overwhelmed. The ninth day I was there, the doctor came into my room and looked at me and said, “You’re still here?” and I said, “Yeah, what do you want me to do?” He told me I needed to make a decision on where I’d like to go. They’d given me some recommendations — one was Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids, and the other was Craig Hospital out in Colorado.
I didn’t want to leave Marquette because it’s home, and all of my family and friends are here. He just said, “Allen, you can’t stay here. The rehab here is not going to give you what you need. You have a severe injury and you need to learn how to live life in this way now.” So, I ended up choosing Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I spent five weeks total — four inpatient and one outpatient — and learned how to manage my bowel, my bladder, and did a lot of exercises to build up my core strength and upper body. In the beginning, I could barely use my left arm, because I had a brachial plexus injury.
I had to work back to the point where I was able to do basic functions. It’s now in good shape at about 90%.
While I was at rehab, my friends and family built an addition onto my home for me; that was when I was with my ex-fiancée. We had lived together for 15 years. That addition helped me a lot. I had a room on the main level, some ramps were put on so I could get into the house, and the addition was my own little space with a nice, large bathroom and a roll-in shower. Everything was really easy and accessible.
I did have some people come in to help me through some mobility items in the beginning, but I learned a lot of things on my own.
From there on out, I took over my own care and managed my own situation, which is still going well to this day. Every morning when I wake up, I have to do a set of stretches with my legs and then some exercises to make sure I keep going in the right direction. It was definitely a difficult task, but I’m getting through it.
Back To Work
I was able to go back to work six months after my accident. I had been a manufacturing supervisor before, so when I returned to work, that’s what I went back to. After several months, I realized that the job I was doing was frustrating me a lot, because I wasn’t able to do a lot of the physical labor, such as demonstrating to the employees how things are done. I went to my manager at the time and it just happened that one of our employees working in a safety and chemical position was getting ready to retire. They hired a Chemical Control Specialist, and I was offered a position as a Safety and Procedure Coordinator. It just happened to fall in place. I was happy to get the job, and I enjoy what I’m doing. The company was really good to me as far as getting me back to work. They installed some automatic openers on a few of the doors throughout the plant. I’m able to drive my vehicle into one of the garages during the winter to unload when we have inclement weather. In the U.P., getting around in a wheelchair is a challenge every day. Most people in my situation would be like “I’m outta here. I’m moving south and never coming back.”
Editor’s Note: The Upper Peninsula, or the U.P., of Michigan is infamous for long, cold, snowy winters. Marquette’s annual average snowfall is 117 inches, according to WeatherDB by Graphiq.
Drifting Apart and Moving On
Eventually, my ex-fiancée and I started drifting apart, and I look at the accident as a major contributor to it. I went into a total 180 and had a whole new positive outlook on life, and we just drifted apart. We got to a point where we were at each other constantly. There was a breaking point where one day where I just looked at her and said, “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to just give up on this or what?” She looked at me and said, “You can stay here until you’re done with school.” That was a huge eye-opener. At that point I knew that the relationship was not going to go any further, so I started making preparations for myself to find another place.
The VA offers assistance for home loans for Veterans, so I looked into it and applied and was able to get a loan. I had a new home built, and I basically designed it myself with the help of the contractor. I have a couple of friends that have a local contracting business, so I told those guys “this is what I want.” I wanted it one-level, no basement, everything accessible, to be able to roll underneath the countertops, a roll-in shower, and a garage where I can pull my truck in and unload inside. They did all of that plus some, so I was really happy with it.
I made the announcement to my ex-fiancée that I was moving out. She had two boys, so I talked to them, too. I told them I was moving out in the spring, and we were parting ways. That was a tough period in my life. I had to stay there for six months or so until my house was finished, so it was really awkward and difficult, but I made it through.
Not Looking For Love In All the Right Places
A few months after I made the announcement, I was just focusing on finding a new home and wasn’t looking for another relationship, but I ended up finding a woman. We actually went to the same high school, but she’s a few years younger, and we had never met before. We started checking in on each other on social media. We weren’t friends, but we had a lot of mutual friends on Facebook. Her posts kept popping up on my feed, and they were always positive. She was doing a lot of running, and she did all of these really positive things. I just thought, “You know what? I need more people like that in my life.”
One day, one of my friends was coming home for Thanksgiving, and we usually try to get together at a local pizza place with other friends. We were talking back and forth, and we decided I’d invite the guys, she’d invite the girls, and we’d make a night of it. So she threw out some invites and Joan (who is now my fiancée) responded, because she’s one of Amy’s friends, and asked who would be there. Amy started naming people off, and when she said Allen Beauchamp, Joan said, “Ok, I’ll be there.” We had talked a little bit on Facebook, but nothing face-to-face. When she came to the pizza place that evening, she was with one of her guy friends, so I thought they might be dating. Amy turns and looks and said, “Oh, you and Gary, hey?” and Joan said, “No, I don’t date.” At that moment, I thought, “Ok, I won’t worry about pursuing her because she doesn’t date, and I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.”
Anyway, she came up to me and said, “Hi, it’s great to finally meet you!” and she gave me a hug. Then she sat down next to me, and I told her that I love reading her posts, because she’s so positive and just an amazing person. I touched her hand to give her a little pat to say thank you. She told me later, after we got into the relationship, that at that point, she knew instantly that she loved me.
It’s amazing, and she’s amazing. We live together now, and her son lives with us, too. We’re engaged to be married in 2018, and I couldn’t be happier. It seemed like God was definitely looking out for us. We were both in a bad situation at the same time, and I think God was just waiting for the right moment for us to meet. She’s a nurse, so she really pays close attention to my health and well-being. If I start slacking in one area, she’ll say, “Hey, you need to do this. You can’t be letting your health fly like that.” And I’ll say, “Yup, you’re right.” I also do that for her. We have each other’s back, and it’s a team relationship where we’re always looking out for one another.
We’re All Human Beings
After my accident, I figured I was going to live the rest of my life alone. But when Joan came along, everything changed. Early on in our relationships, I was thinking, “What does she want with me? This better not be a sick joke.” We were driving once, and I turned and looked at her and said, “I don’t want to scare you away or anything, but I want to get some things off my chest and make you understand. There are a few things that I don’t know if you’re fully aware of. I don’t know if I can have sex.” I had done a little bit of research on my level of injury; some individuals can and some can’t. She looked at me and said “Allen, I’m a nurse, and it doesn’t matter if we can do that or not. I love you.” And I thought, “This is for real.” It just overwhelmed me. That’s how I knew it was true love. Now we laugh about that day a lot.
My advice on love to others in my situation — we’re all human beings.
There’s somebody for everyone out there. I’m a true example of it. Everybody sees how happy I am. Even though I have all of these challenges each and every day, I don’t let that get in the way.
Back on the Ice
This last year, I’ve been involved with the sled hockey program in Marquette. I played hockey all my life. After the accident, I thought I wouldn’t be able to play anymore. I was talking to one of my professors one day about possibly trying some different adaptive sports, and he said, “Hey, I have a friend that is the head coach for one of the sled hockey teams down in Grand Rapids. Do you want me to send him your info, so you can learn some more about it?” So I said, “Absolutely!” His friend, Steve Kozlowski, sent me an email saying they’d love for me to come down and try the sport.
So, last March, I stopped in for a practice. I was only able to get out on the ice for about 20 minutes, but it was amazing. I can’t even explain it, because it’s this emotional situation, but yet, it’s like you never stopped playing the game. You walk into the rink, or you roll into the rink in my case, and you breathe in that smell of the hockey rink. I fell back in love with the sport all over again.
After that, I gained more knowledge and skills, and I started working on developing a program in Marquette. I contacted a local organization called Superior Alliance for Independent Living and have been working with the Executive Director at the location in Marquette for several months. We had an event back in December and we were able to get about 15 people in sleds and out on the ice.
From there, I started applying for grants and we were able to get some money and new equipment. The long-term goal is to have an established program by this fall, when the next hockey season begins.
Editor’s Note: Sled Hockey U.P. and SAIL have held two other events since the time of this interview. For news and information on upcoming events, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SledHockeyUP.
The biggest advice that I give everybody is to stay positive.
As crappy as it might seem, and as bad of a situation you think you’re in, somebody is always in a worse situation. You have to take it like that — holding a positive attitude is key.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!
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