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Disability doesn’t stop alum from finding success

May 1, 2014

Dale Spencer and the Souper Wednesday crowdAlumnus Dale Spencer told students from the University Honors Program on Wednesday that they shouldn’t let anything restrict their goals and that restrictions are self-imposed.

Spencer shared with students how he turned his life around after ending up in a wheelchair. He visited with them during Souper Wednesday, which is an opportunity for students to learn about the success of alumni and get together for lunch.

During his junior year at NIU, the weekend before fall finals, he and his fraternity brothers decided to take a break and walk to a party. On the way, he slipped on railroad tracks across the Kishwaukee River and fell into the water.

His friends ran to a house to call emergency. Paramedics took him to Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where he was transported by helicopter to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center. He learned from tests that he had a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the hips down.

Spencer stayed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for a couple of months to build his upper body, learn how to use a wheelchair and do everyday tasks.

“I had big time moments of depression,” he said, adding that a support system of friends, families and therapists helped him through it.

He missed the spring semester, but returned to school in the fall and completed his courses by 1991 to earn a political science degree.

Dale Spencer“My end goal was to get a job, no matter what,” he said, despite difficulties that he had accessing buildings to apply for jobs.

Four months after graduating, he got a job as a title insurance representative in outside sales and spent most of his career in the mortgage business. But after the 2008 economy collapse, he lost his passion for it.

With more than 20 years of volunteer experience as a professional speaker for the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, he decided to speak for a living. He has been talking to groups, from students to professionals, for nearly two years to help them reach their goals and identify road blocks that prevent success.

“Passion has got to be one of the biggest reasons that you really focus on in your life,” said Spencer, a resident of Bartlett. “Passion means everything in every, every point of your life. That has driven me where I am today.”

Besides passion driving him forward, he has made it his mission to help others. “That’s what this life is all about,” he said. “It’s about paying it forward.”