Ric Llewellyn

Friday, Aug 02 2013 06:00 PM

RIC LLEWELLYN: Families stay strong after spinal cord injuries

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    By Photo courtesy of the family

    The Bender family in Washington before the accident. Sarah and Mark are in back, and Titus, Zeke, Jude and Gideon are in front.

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    By Photo courtesy of the family

    The Bender family at Indian Creek in Colorado, in their first race after the accident. Titus, Sarah and Gideon are in back, and Jude, Mark and Zeke are in front.

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    Californian contributing columnist Ric Llewellyn.

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By Ric Llewellyn

When my wife and I were raising our family in Los Osos, we became very close friends with Paul and Linda Busic and their five kids. They were a very important influence on us as a couple and their kids were friends with and good examples for our own children.

We moved to Santa Maria and eventually settled here in Bakersfield. The Busics moved to Washington.

Our lives rolled on. The kids grew up. We barely kept in touch. But the rise of social media allowed us to get reacquainted with each other's family.

We became familiar with the grown-up children and their spouses and families. And we enjoyed how our old friends were talking up the grandparent roles they were now playing.

Their oldest daughter, Sarah, was married and had four sons. Sarah, her husband Mark and the boys were active in cyclocross in the Pacific Northwest. Cyclocross is a form of bike racing that combines road biking and mountain biking with a little running while toting your bike up a muddy hill.

I'm a fairly devoted road bike rider so I was impressed and intrigued by the entire family's passion for cyclocross.

Last March Mark and Sarah were in Hawaii celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary. The day before their departure Mark was seriously injured in a body surfing accident.

Within hours we found out that Mark had sustained a devastating spinal cord injury that had left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Mark and Sarah have faced this event with grace and resolve. But I am sure there are times of grief and desperation that test them. Their faith and a huge network of family and friends provide them with boundless emotional and spiritual support.

I found myself looking into the impacts such an injury would have and the resources people would need to help them live with the extent of paralysis Mark suffered. It was sobering to understand the injury Mark sustained and the effect it would have on his entire family.

But I also found that there are great people scattered around the country who are willing to help as much as they can in all sorts of creative ways.

I discovered a foundation here in Bakersfield that is working to support spinal cord research and to assist people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

Tyler Schilhabel was the starting quarterback for Independence High School in 2010 when he was injured in an ATV accident in Pismo Beach. What started out as a grassroots drive for support for Tyler has turned into a growing charitable foundation.

The Schilhabel Strong Foundation received its tax-exempt status earlier this year but has been active in Bakersfield for about three years. The foundation hosts an annual golf tournament that has been instrumental in raising more than $100,000 for spinal cord injury research and to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.

Medical bills, modifying a home for wheelchair access, buying a vehicle that is wheelchair accessible and ongoing rehabilitation and therapy is costly. Charitable organizations like Schilhabel Strong Foundation and grassroots fundraisers can be a reassuring help in a very trying time.

I hope there will be many of you who will contact the foundation to see how you can help further establish Schilhabel Strong Foundation as a force for spinal cord injury research and support in Kern County. Their web address is schilhabelstrongfoundation.org. Fill out the contact form and ask how you can get involved. Or call them at 330-6601.

And remember Mark and Sarah Bender and their boys. I'll be running in the California International Marathon in December as a fundraiser and their church has set up a site where anyone can make a donation right now. The web address is everribbon.com/supportthebenders.

-- Ric Llewellyn is a community columnist whose work appears in The Californian's Local section every third Saturday. Email him at llewellyn.californian@ gmail.com. These are Llewellyn's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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