In opening address, quadriplegic says participating more important than winning.

By Chris Lempesis
The Forum, Fargo, ND
July 14, 2007

Judy Siegle, who was an all-state basketball player at Pelican Rapids (Minn.) High School before she was paralyzed in a 1979 car crash, delivers the keynote speech Friday during the Prairie Rose State Games opening ceremonies at the Fargo North High School football field.

Winning isn't necessarily the most important thing, but rather; it's joining in and participating that really counts. That's the message Judy Siegle had Friday for competitors in this weekend's Prairie Rose State Games. Siegle was the keynote speaker of the opening ceremonies at Fargo North High School.

Joining in and participating, despite immense odds, are major themes in Siegle's life. All-state in basketball at Pelican Rapids (Minn.) High School, Siegle was looking forward to suiting up for Concordia College in 1979 when, on Aug. 11 of that year her life was forever altered.

As a result of a car crash caused by a drunk driver speeding through a stop sign, Siegle suffered a C5-6 spinal cord injury - in other words, a broken neck - and found out that she was a quadriplegic and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

After trying wheelchair basketball, Siegle found out about quad rugby, a sport known by many as "murderball." This, she said, was right up her alley. "I loved to hit, my dad was a football coach," she said "(Quad rugby is) just very physical. Chairs are smashing each other, bodies are flying - I loved it."

She enjoyed it so much, she actually played for the North Dakota Wallbangers, a quad rugby team from 1991-94. She was the only woman on the team. It was at a national quad rugby tournament, in San Jose, Calif., that Siegle found out about wheelchair racing.

"(Some other quad rugby players) said, 'Get into the road racing, find out where the running races are in your area, chairs can be a part,'" Siegle said. "So it's like, 'Wow, I can do this on my own. I can train' and so, anyways, I got my own chair and started taking part in races."

She started competing at the national and international level.

She didn't just compete, however; she excelled, setting national records for quadriplegic women in the 400-, 800-, 1,500- and 5,000-meter events, records she holds to this day. She also was able to compete in events like the 1998 World Games, the 1999 Pan-Am Games and even the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

"Unbelievable," said Siegle of the Olympic experience. "It's just, daily connecting with some of the best athletes in the world and hearing their stories, seeing and getting to know dwarf athletes and visually impaired athletes."

Siegle suffered a torn wrist tendon in the Sydney games. That, combined with years of shoulder problems from the tremendous strain of competitive racing, forced her to retire.

For someone who has done so much, Siegle's message is a fairly simple one.

"So often we limit ourselves, it doesn't have to be a physical disability, it doesn't have to be...whatever the challenge," she said. "A broken relationship, a work situation that's not going well, you lose your job or a rebellious teenager or struggling with depression. We don't need to be defeated. It's not what happens to us, we have a choice as to how we will respond two what comes our way."

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