A cautioning inspirational quote—Expect Nothing. Be ready for anything.—might be wise words to live by, but with a spinal cord injury, nothing like it is even on your radar screen, and it’s virtually impossible to be ready for it. In our exclusive interview with speaker, writer, publisher, and businesswoman Dr. Rosemarie Rossetti, she describes how she struggled to sustain an active life, well-lived before her spinal cord injury, after a freak accident dramatically altered her future on June 13, 1998.
She had an impressive resume at the time. Writer, speaker, teacher—Rosemarie was all those things and more when she and her husband Mark celebrated their third anniversary with a bicycle ride on their favorite trail. As they powered down the trail, they heard a sinister sound, described by her husband Mark as a “gunshot.” It was actually a towering old tree cracking in half. The tree, followed by power lines, came down, and she was “totally engulfed under this 7,000-pound tree, 80 feet tall.”
Like most everyone with traumatic spinal cord injury, Rosemarie—who had always kept a positive outlook on life—was not ready for it. So where did she go from there? She’s added a few things to her resume: Rosemarie carried the Olympic torch as it passed through columbus, Ohio before the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. She was Ms. Wheelchair Ohio in 2004, and it doesn’t stop there. Here’s our interview with Rosemarie Rossetti.
Q. What was your attitude toward life before your accident?
A. I valued life and lived a very active and happy life. I was very healthy. I was fully employed owning two businesses: a publishing company, and a speaking company. I surrounded myself with friends and family. My family always came first. I knew life was precious. I married a wonderful man, Mark Leder, and enjoyed sharing life with him. We had been married three years prior to the accident. Our home was only three years old, and we built it intending to stay there for life.
2. What kinds of activities filled your life before your accident?
I was running two businesses and was extremely busy. I traveled throughout North America delivering training programs. I also ran a publishing company out of my home and shipped books all over the United States. My business partner and I were writing the second edition of my book, The Healthy Indoor Plant.
Mark and I enjoyed traveling, going skiing, playing racquetball, bicycling and going to music concerts. We also took an active part in our community. I served on the Board of Trustees at the Franklin Park Conservatory. As a horticulturist, I enjoyed gardening at my home. We had lots of friends and neighbors we spent time with.
Q. How did the accident change you emotionally?
A. The initial shock and grieving process was devastating for me. I went into a deep depression and was trying to imagine if life was worth living after I got home from the hospital. Soon after coming home from the hospital, Mark and I hired a professional counselor to work with us to cope with the loss and help us strengthen our relationship.
Q. What coping skills did you call on to get beyond those first months of doubt?
A. I had a huge network of friends and family to rally to my aid. They helped me financially as well as came to visit and encourage me. Especially important were the members of the National Speakers Association including those in Ohio.
Financially, I was able to replace a significant amount of my income because I had disability income insurance. This was a very important financial product that strengthened my financial stability.
I had a wonderful home health care aide when I first got home from the hospital. She came to my home every weekday so Mark could go work. She was a joyful and enthusiastic person who helped me to learn how to be independent and to cope with the spinal cord injury. Her son had acquired a spinal cord injury and she was very familiar with the changes I was experiencing. She was a marvelous person to have in my life. She took me to physical and occupational therapy three days a week as well as helped me with my personal daily living. My health aide worked with me for close to a year as I was recovering and becoming more independent.
Q. What was your greatest strength that made a difference in your ability to move forward?
A. My perseverance. I started to learn lessons about coping with change and dealing with adversity and realized I needed to do something new every day in order to move forward in getting my life back.
Q. How did your husband handle those first months after the incident?
A. After the initial shock, Mark was at first hopeful that this was a temporary condition. As it became evident that I would not return to the same level of ability as prior to my injury, he began to fall into a depression, blaming himself for even suggesting that we go biking on that trail. He felt lost and alone, in a new role as an unsure caregiver. Mark panicked that he was now the sole wage earner, wondering how income would cover the medical expenses, let alone the mortgage payment.
Q. What kind of support did you get from other family and friends?
A. I have a large family and lots of friends that came to the rehabilitation center to visit and to encourage me. My immediate family, as well as my husband, were at my side every day in the rehabilitation center and hospital. I had a hospital room full of cut flowers, greeting cards and letters from people I knew as well as people who had heard about my injury that I did not know. Friends from all over the country were calling. There was an e-mail listserv created as a communication link with the members of the National Speakers Association, Ohio chapter.
I received a $5000 grant from the National Speakers Association to help me get back on my feet again. The Ohio chapter hosted a live auction that raised all the money so that I could buy a new Dodge Grand Caravan.
Mark was the most supportive husband. He took care of me as well as our home and my businesses.
Q. Describe the “Wheel of Life” and how it directed your thinking at the time.
A. There are eight components in the wheel of life: career, money, health, friends and family, significant otherromance, personal growth, fun and recreation, physical environment. I was introduced to the wheel at a motivational seminar soon after I got home from the rehabilitation center. When I saw these eight components, the instructor suggested that I fill them in according to how I viewed my life at that time. This visual wheel of life showed me what was missing in my life, including fun and recreation. I was then able to focus on the missing elements so that I could put my life back into balance.
Q. What was the most powerful motivation for you to go back to work?
A. Earning a living again was important so that I would have the economic stability back in my life. Also I wanted to become productive again and see what was possible for me to do in my speaking business. I dissolved the publishing company soon after I got home from the hospital because my book inventory of The Healthy Indoor Plant was in the basement, which was not wheelchair accessible.
Q. How, if at all, did your public speaking topics change when you returned to work?
A. Absolutely my speaking topics changed. I had not previously been a keynote speaker, but rather a trainer. Yes, I continued doing training programs on the same topics for a while, but my business transformed into motivational speaking. I also began a new topic focused on the value of disability insurance. Then, when Mark and I started designing and building our home, I developed topics focused on our home.
Q. Of all your endeavors (public speaking, corporate training, teaching, writing), which one do you find most fulfilling and why?
A. I enjoy speaking to large audiences so that I can have a significant impact and motivate a lot of people at one time. Motivational speaking is much more a thrill for me than doing any training programs.
Q. Since you discovered Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and realized the power of attitude control, what strategies work for you to maintain a positive attitude?
A. Someone gave me the poem, “Don’t Quit” when I was in the rehabilitation center. (The poem appears at the end of the interview.) The author is unknown. This poem has been front and center in my home and office reminding me on a regular basis that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we plan. My main strategy to maintain a positive attitude is to never give up hope.
Q. You’ve done an amazing job with all the daily tasks and activities you had to relearn. What skills are you still working to master?
A. Walking. I walk on a daily basis with a walker around the house for exercise.
Q. What are your audiences most curious about when they have the opportunity to ask questions after your inspirational presentations?
A. I have had most unusual and thoughtful questions from members of my audience after an inspirational presentation. Some of them include:
What surprised you the most after your accident?
What did your accident teach you?
How were you able to be so positive after all that has happened?
Q. What do you typically focus as inspiration for your audience?
A. Each audience is different. I focus on their needs including challenges, obstacles and fears. I tell many stories and make many relevant points to the stories followed by advice that they can use.
Q. How do you see yourself today?
A. Looking back teaches me how far I’ve come. It is amazing when I look at photographs and videos of the early days. I also wrote a memoir that has not yet been published. As I read those chapters and listen to the audio tapes that I kept in the hospital and at home early in my recovery, I am reminded of my persistence, dedication and progress.
Q. What adaptive devices do you use?
A. An adapted van with a ramp, kneeling option, power seat and hand controls, a manual wheelchair, a four-wheeled rolling walker, crutches, canes, and leg braces.
Q. What remains your biggest challenge today?
A. Fitting everything into my life that I want to get done.
Q. You’re living in a “laboratory” these days. What’s your absolute favorite part of the universal-design home?
A. The kitchen is my favorite room because I love cooking as well as eating. I have total independence in preparing food and serving it. The Universal Design Living Laboratory is a national demonstration home and garden. It is the highest rated universal design home in North America. We are going for green certification in the coming months. We are currently finishing the basement and planning to open our home to the public later this summer as a fundraiser for spinal cord injury research at The Ohio State University.
Q. What differences exist in the home that also make it convenient for your husband?
A. The entire house was built with universal design principles; therefore, all of the features make it convenient for both of us. For example he has a showerhead mounted high on the wall since he is 6’4″ tall. My shower head is on an adjustable bar that I use from a shower chair.
Mark likes the grab bar in the shower (use it for balance when cleaning legs and feet). The lighting throughout the home is much better. He doesn’t have to squeeze around Rosemarie’s wheelchair when he wants to move from one area to another in the kitchen or bath. And he likes that Rosemarie doesn’t have to summon him to get items from drawers or cupboards. And because the garage is directly accessible from the home, he doesn’t have to be as diligent in clearing a path to Rosemarie’s vehicle in winter snows.
Q. How much input did you have in the home’s interior decoration?
A. Mark and I had total input in the home and garden design. We hired many interior designers, lighting designers and worked with interior designers from many of the manufacturers.
Q. You’ve been the national spokesperson for disability insurance. Let’s talk about disability insurance. What exactly is it, and why is it important?
Disability income insurance is a product that anyone who has an income and works full time needs to protect their income should they become sick or hurt. The person’s income is their most valuable asset. Disability income insurance is the only way to protect it.
Q. What do you and Mark do for fun these days?
A. We have many friends and family and go to dinners with them and celebrate life events. When the weather is nice, we bicycle throughout the state, as well as in our neighborhood. Since I travel so much in my speaking business, I often extend my travel a few days and take Mark with me on vacation. We have also gone skiing in the past. We like to go to music concerts, outdoor events and festivals.
Q. Your story is amazing. What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned and how did you learn it?
A. Believe the impossible is just likely possible. I learned this lesson on vacation when I saw a man in San Francisco at the shore who was piling rocks of uneven sizes on top of each other. I wondered how these rocks stayed balanced as he continued to place one rock on top of the other. It was then that I realized that what I was seeing was possible, yet I thought it was impossible. Then I realized that I had a screen that was filtering my thoughts. Perhaps I was thinking that there were a lot of things in my life that were impossible for me to do. I needed to take away that screen because there are a lot of things that were possible for me to do if only I believed they were possible. I needed to see more possibilities.
In her inspirational book, Take Back Your Life, Rosemarie shares the life lessons she’s mastered through 20 syndicated articles. Watch a video in which Rosemarie Rossetti shares her story, followed by the poem that motivates her to live each day to the fullest.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit—
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.