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The Other Side of the Hill

July 2008


"Regret and anger will eat you like a cancer," says Bruce Beyer '88. He should know. One ordinary day in 1982, Beyer, then 25 years old and newly married with a baby on the way, was riding his bike down Division Street hill in Davenport. At the bottom he would wreck his bike—and his spinal cord. The injury would leave him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

For this athletic, fiercely self-sufficient man, life would never be the same. Yet it would lead him to where he is today: husband, father of one and stepfather of three, grandfather of five, and the 2007 recipient of the U.S. Army’s Outstanding Individual with Disability Award.

Twenty-six years ago, though, "I was Mr. Independent, ‘I don’t need anyone’s help. I can do it on my own,’" Beyer says. "And overnight I had became completely dependent. It was humbling and a culture shock."

He and his now former wife were in the same hospital when their son was born. Unlike mother and son, Beyer wouldn’t return home until after many months of rehabilitation.

It was another steep road, this one uphill, adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair. A skilled machinist with a good paying job and a promising career at a tool-and-die company before his accident, he saw his prospects in that field obliterated.

There would be other casualties of the accident, which proved an adjustment for his friends, as well. Some didn’t stick with him.

At one of his lowest points, "I began to ask myself, ‘What is my value?’" Beyer admits. Less than a year after the accident, he would come to St. Ambrose to seek the answer.

The Ambrose campus and culture were not unfamiliar to him. After high school he’d spent a year as a Fighting Bee before accepting the machinist apprenticeship. This go-round at St. Ambrose, he registered for computer science classes, knowing he was good at math, while still struggling with his limitations. "I started thinking about what job I could do from a wheelchair."

While still regaining his strength, he kept a rigorous schedule of attending classes part-time over the next four years. During that time, Beyer says, the comfort and support he received from his fellow students were in stark contrast to the attitudes he’d encountered in some people right after his accident.

His disability aside, "I was impressed with how the younger students blended in with non-traditional students like me," he says. "Even though there was an age discrepancy, they embraced me."

After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, he was hired at the Rock Island Arsenal as a computer network administrator, a position he held for 15 years. About two years ago, he began working in Field Support Logistics at the Arsenal, where he is in charge of managing, in his words, “fellow workers” who ensure supplies reach soldiers on the ground in combat zones.

And along the way, he found—and learned to give—acceptance.

"What the accident has done to me is make me appreciate everyone, and I don’t gloss over anyone,” he says. “I don’t go by people anymore. I stop."

Sure, it’s tough knowing he can’t hop out of his wheelchair and go running down the street. He’ll never get in an hour of kick-boxing at the gym or play a round of golf as he used to. And boy, would he really like to.

"Sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t do everything, the things I always used to do," he admits. "But I understand that I’ve got my health, a loving wife and family, and that I lived through that accident."

And regret and anger? They’re starving.

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