Strength in sharing what you can give

  • Published
  • By Mary Lou Gorny
  • Hilltop Times editor
Team Hill members who attended the Combined Federal Campaign launch Thursday, Oct. 14, at the Hill Aerospace Museum, got an enthusiastic message on service from Meg Johnson. Constrained by a wheelchair, Johnson delivered her speech on wings of enthusiasm, fighting an echo in the sound system, but nonetheless holding the audience by the shear enthusiasm of her voice.

Bouncing along red rock boulders near St. George, Utah, more than five years ago, she mistook what appeared to be the last large boulder on the horizon to be a short leap away and fell 35 feet to the floor of a canyon breaking her arms, legs, collarbone and vertebrae.
"Sometimes our lives don't turn out the way we'd like them to be," she said.

The Miss Utah Wheelchair co-owner and motivational speaker first set off on her career 14 months after her accident, competing nationally without the benefit of a supporting Utah organization and won the spirit award at the pageant.

"I bought my own crown," she said and called them up and said, "Hi, this is Miss Utah calling."

Of her spirit award she said: "That means you're cute, but you don't know that much about being in a wheelchair." She demonstrated her reaction to the judges' questions about the Utah Americans with Disabilities Act laws as one of her being dumbfounded.

Johnson had never been around anyone in a wheelchair, never sat in one, never even pushed someone in a wheelchair before her accident and felt she didn't know much about it at the time.

Johnson went on to describe more of her healing process.

The hospital fixed her she said. Then she had to get used to doing nothing.

She had overheard at the hospital, someone saying, "The hardest work of all is doing nothing, because you can never stop and rest."

Her first opportunity to do something other than sit and watch the grass grow in her backyard set her in motion.

The only thing she could think she might be able to do was ask if they needed volunteers at the elementary school half a block from her house. So she called the school and asked if there was something, anything she could do.

Her mother pushed her the half-block there and she would sit outside the second grade classroom and one by one students would come out to the hallway and read to her.

"You're doing really well," she would say. "That's a really big word."

Then each student would mark their name off the clipboard in her lap because she didn't have the strength to lift it and each one would go back into the classroom and call the next person, "Because I didn't have the lung capacity or the power to do that," Johnson said.

Hard to believe, because as she was delivering her message, she didn't sit still for very long, moving and animatedly delivering her message as she rolled around on the stage.

Although her volunteer work might have seemed pretty small and perhaps insignificant to others, "it was none of those things to me," Johnson said.

The girl who had been watching grass grow entered the Miss America Pageant, went back to school and began dating.

Johnson attributes the beginning of that process to the volunteer work this way: "The hospital might have fixed me, but those tiny second-graders healed me."

Her mom had decided that their house would have a ramp that didn't look like a wheelchair disabled person lived there.

She demonstrated with her chair, "Turn, go two squares this way, switch, then go two squares, turn, turn, then go ..."

Once sitting at the top of the path watching the rain sprinkle she decided to make the long descent after her father planted flowers next to the path in the damp soil.
Her three year old nephew watched her descend. When the tiny front wheel of her chair missed the edge and spilled her onto the ground and landed on top of her, pushing her into the mud, he came up to her. "Are you o'tay?" he said. "Are you o'tay," he repeated.

Johnson said that sometimes that's all some of us can do, in some circumstances -- stand by and ask if someone is OK.

"We're not strong enough," she said. But Johnson is convinced that if her nephew had been strong enough he would have picked her up and placed her back in her chair.

The last incident Johnson related was when she was leaving a genealogy library. Her sliding board slipped out of reach and she landed in a puddle next to her van.
A little 100-pound woman, going on in years, approached her and insisted on trying to help her despite Johnson's assurances that she really needed to call her husband to lift her into the van.

"Oh, no honey, I think we can do this," the woman said.

The first try didn't accomplish much except to frustrate Johnson.

The second time, at the woman's insistence and repeated assurances that, "Oh no honey, I think we can really do this," Johnson repeated her request again that they call her husband.

The woman counted one, two, three -- straddled her and and "then she lifted me up and she shoved me into the car," Johnson said.

"You will find that you are at your strongest when you reach down to pick up someone else," she said.

Johnson swears that when that little old woman was walking away there was a set to the woman's chin and a swagger in her motions at the accomplishment.
Yes helping others makes us feel better," she said.

Because she knows what life was like before her injury, she can say with some authority, "We don't have to have disabilities to feel disabled."

"We all have disabilities," Johnson said. "The hardest ones are the ones that are inside that nobody else can see," she said.

Johnson repeated, "We are never stronger than when we reach down and help others."

Bob Evans, master of ceremonies for the event, added his concluding hope that members of the audience would return to their workplaces, spread Johnson's message and remember the law of the harvest: "When you plant seeds you have growth and fruit blossoms."

For more about the various charities go to or contact your CFC unit representative or key worker. The campaign runs through Nov. 17 and the goal which Hill Air Force Base has set this year is $1.3 million.