Part 60: Giving thanks

Part 60: Giving thanks

This being the year the UI celebrates birthday No. 150, we caught up with graduates from across the globe who have gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 60: Thanks to ...

... Brad Hedrick, the legendary Illini wheelchair basketball coach, for giving TIANA TOZER (MA '93) hope when she needed it most.

These days, she's a Ted Talk-delivering, Paralympic medal-winning speaker who runs her own consulting shop after spending three years as a humanitarian aid worker. Three decades ago, she never dreamed she'd do any of that.

"In 1988, as a student at the University of Oregon, I was injured when an intoxicated driver ran a stop sign and broadsided the car in which I was riding," Tozer said Monday from her hometown of Portland, Ore. "I never thought I would play basketball again, but two years later I was recruited to play wheelchair basketball at University of Illinois" by Hedrick, whom she honored in her speech in 2013, when she received the UI's Harold Scharper Award.

Not only was the UI her springboard to Paralympic success — she won silver in 1992 and bronze in '96 — but it's also where Tozer had fun again. Like that time she came back early from holiday break for practice at the IMPE Annex.

"The parking lot had iced over. As I rolled toward the gym, a bunch of my teammates were in the middle of the parking lot. I waved, they waved back and then I headed toward them. When my wheels hit the lot, I started sliding and ended up in the middle of the parking lot with my teammates — we were all stuck in the drain. Luckily, the TA arrived and pulled us out."

* * * * *

... Charles, his Garner Hall floormate, for giving a young ROBERT STEIGMANN (BS '65) a lesson on heroism.

Cerebral palsy meant the only way Charles could communicate with the judge-to-be was via "a rubber stylus held in his teeth that he would use to hit the keys on his electric typewriter," Steigmann says.

"In order to take care of his hygiene needs and eat breakfast before the bus came to pick him up at 8 a.m., he needed to get up at 5:30. Yet despite these hardships, Charles always seemed to be in good humor and grateful for the opportunities he had been given. And at a time when C truly was the average grade, he managed to attain a B average.

"Living with handicapped students (there were about 30 on his floor) was a life-adjusting event," Steigmann said. "It taught me that no matter what future difficulties I may encounter, given my many blessings, I would have no justification to complain."

* * * * *

... Tim Nugent, Jean Driscoll and others for making 2010 grad AMANDA McGRORY's attempt to choose a "quirky" venue for her UI-at-150 memory futile.

"I keep coming back to the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services — a nondescript little building tucked away in the corner of campus, under the shadows of the university power plant smoke stacks," says the seven-time Paralympic track medalist from Pennsylvania.

"When I applied to colleges, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be. There was something about the program that was like nothing else I'd ever seen — and even today, the more I learn, the more awestruck I become."

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