September 8, 2018

Running Hard Even When Our Feet Don’t Work

met Trent Dubberke at camp meeting two years ago.

He was about to participate in the annual 5K run/walk. He rolled up to the starting line in a manually powered wheelchair and enthusiastically sped off down the road.

The route takes participants up and down several small hills. I watched as, one by one, the runners crossed the finish line. Then the walkers came. Then finally — eventually — Trent. His arm strength had long been spent, yet he had somehow willed himself to push on with a determination that nearly catapulted his slender frame out of the chair with each thrust of the wheels. It didn’t matter to him that he had finished last. What mattered was that he had finished.

It wasn’t always like this.

Trent grew up in Beaman, Iowa, United States. He had what most would consider a normal childhood. He was outgoing, active, and enjoyed sports. In high school, Trent participated in hockey, football, wrestling, track, dance, speech, and musicals. He dreamed of being a professional hockey player and had even been invited to try out for a professional hockey team.

The Night Everything Changed

On June 14, 2004, while watching a movie at his grandparents’ house, Trent’s right shoulder started to cramp. The pain grew more intense until what felt like electricity shot down his arm and across his chest. Thinking he was experiencing a heart attack, Trent’s grandparents rushed him to the Emergency Room. Because his heart seemed fine, the doctors were convinced it was an anxiety attack and sent him home with something to help him sleep.

A few hours later, however, Trent was back in the ER. He could feel his limbs growing heavy and numb, and within minutes he lost feeling and movement throughout his body. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test confirmed that Trent, at the age of 17, had suffered a spinal stroke.

“I was fully paralyzed from the neck down,” he said. “Doctors had no idea how much movement I’d get back, if any.”

The Long Road to Recovery

Trent spent two weeks in intensive care in the hospital, followed by six months of physical rehabilitation. He regained some movement in his arms and hands, but not enough to care for himself.

“My parents had to help me with everything,” he said. “Dressing, getting in and out of bed and my chair, driving me places, going to the bathroom, showering, cooking — everything. I honestly thought it was going to be like that for the rest of my life.”

In 2010, Trent was encouraged by his mom and doctors to attend a Christian wheelchair sports camp in Minnesota. Though he had some reservations, Trent agreed to go.

“For the first time since my injury, I didn’t feel like a minority or out of place,” he said. “I met people who were close to my age who had similar experiences. What separated them from me, though, was that they never let that stop them from living life and being active.”

Trent had been convinced he would not see any further improvement at that point, but at the wheelchair camp, he found encouragement to push himself to live a fuller, more independent life.

“During those five days my life took a turn toward a brighter future,” he said. “I did things I never thought were possible: water skiing, scuba diving, playing softball, paintball, [hand-powered] biking, rope climbing, horseback riding, tennis, dodgeball, and so much more!”

This newfound determination led to other improvements at home. Trent, who had previously been confined to his power wheelchair, began using a manual chair full time. He worked on transferring in and out of the chair until he perfected it. He figured out how to dress and do other tasks and eventually decided to live on his own.

Trent returns to the wheelchair camp each year with a whole list of improvements and has become a source of hope and encouragement for others there.

Beyond the Physical

Trent believes God allowed this trial to come into his life to save him.

He grew up in a Christian home but struggled to make his family’s faith his own. Like many teenagers, he experimented with alcohol and other drugs. As he grew older, Trent became convinced that God didn’t exist.

In 2014, his mom learned about an Adventist prophecy seminar being held at Marshalltown Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa, where Trent was then a student. She asked Trent to go with her, but he wasn’t interested. When she couldn’t find anyone else to go with her, however, Trent agreed to go.

“The first study was on Daniel 2, and I was blown away!” he said. “I’m a huge history buff, so I was familiar with the four kingdoms. I also knew that no man could predict the future with that much accuracy on his own.”

Trent and his mom kept coming back night after night, and God began to change him. He gave up the alcohol and other drugs, and he made other significant changes to his diet and lifestyle. Trent and his mom started attending the Marshalltown church after the series was over and were both baptized on June 28 of that year.

Trent now regularly preaches at his church and has been a guest speaker at several other Adventist churches in the area. He plans to attend Southern Adventist University to obtain a theology degree.

New Possibilities for a Full Recovery

When I reconnected with Trent at camp meeting last year, he again lined up to compete in the 5K run/walk. This time, however, he was using a hand-powered recumbent trike and finished far from last place.

He introduced me to his wife of just over a month, Suzy. They met online a couple of years earlier and, after studying the Bible together, had started dating. Suzy has helped Trent push himself even further, and for the first time in 14 years, there are signs of hope for a full recovery. Through the power of prayer and sheer determination, Trent has regained limited use of his legs.

Trent may or may not experience a full recovery this side of heaven, but in any case, I’m confident I will see him at camp meeting once again as he takes his place at the starting line for the 5K run/walk. He is an example to all of us to always keep striving — physically, mentally and spiritually — until, like Paul, we can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7, NIV).