We are determined to honor those involved in high school sports who, because of their situation, made a tremendous impact on those around them by fighting right on through what others might call a real problem.
Published November, 2001, Omaha World Herald:
Turning Setback into Comeback
by Michael Kelly
In the sanctuary of majestic St Cecilia Cathedral, a man dribbled a basketball behind his back and between his legs. He spun the ball on his finger.
In front of the altar, he caught a baseball thrown by a child, flipped off his glove and snatched the ball in the air.
But there was nothing sacrilegious or disrespectful. On the contrary, Ron Gustafson gave glory to God – and inspired the 350 adults and children who watched in awe.
“Gus,” 35, has only one arm, the result of a tractor accident in Lyons, Nebraska when he was 9. Folks who were in Nebraska then remember it well.
After school on September 9, 1975, he was riding on a tractor with his father when an axle broke. Ron fell off. The tire came off, and the metal rim of the wheel sliced off his right shoulder and arm. His right leg was crushed.
His horrified father picked up his son, pressed his bleeding shoulder against his own chest and ran to the house. On the way to a hospital in Fremont, the boy heard someone say, “He’s not going to make it.”
It’s one of Nebraska’s most amazing stories that Ron Gustafson not only survived but also has made the most of his life. He and his wife, Julie, have three beautiful children, all with biblical names – Isaac, 9, Josiah, 7, and Hannah, 5.
Gustafson and a partner started and sold two successful businesses. Today he gives 100 motivational speeches a year around the nation and in other countries, telling people how they can “turn a setback into a comeback.”
Figuratively, he said, “garbage” enters everyone’s life, and you have to turn it into fertilizer. You can never give up. And you must have the courage always to fare the next challenge.
After the accident, Gus said, he was like a Humpty Dumpty who was put back together again, with numerous surgeries and grafts of skin and bone. He became addicted to pain medicine, and went through withdrawal.
He’d hear about folks saying “the poor Gustafson kid” would never play sports like his brothers. But he tossed balls regularly with his dad. Ron grew to 6 feet 4, started on the high school varsity basketball team for three years and played at Kearney State until blowing out his left knee twice.
For a while after that, he said, he drank too much. But he was inspired again by his father, Don, who asked if he was “willing to pay the price” for a full life. Gus’ goal became making something good out of every situation.
We take so much for granted – tying shoelaces and neckties, zipping a jacket. Gus had some folks from the audience try those, with comical results. Then he demonstrated how he performed each task in seconds.
With his family present, he joked that he tried to get out of changing diapers when the children were babies, but Julie wouldn’t buy any excuses. He was right-handed before the accident, but he quips that “in case you’re wondering, now I’m left-handed.”
In 1996, the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame named him the first winner of its Gustafson Inspiration Award, honoring athletes who overcome great obstacles.
He continues to inspire many. He sells his book, “Fully Armed,” as well as video and audio cassettes. For more information, call (877) 780-4068 or e-mail him at [email protected].
Gus said that he is committed to Christ, and that “every day is a great day for me.” Twenty-six years after a horrible accident, the boy from Lyons shows the strength of a lion.
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