Overcoming disabilities at annual Hill luncheon

A series of wrong choices one night — driving too fast without a seat belt — resulted in an automobile accident that would leave 17-year-old Todd Henrie with a lifelong disability.

Accident investigators estimated Henrie entered a 25 mph corner doing nearly 100 mph before he hit a telephone pole that threw him from his car, breaking his back and causing the loss of the use of his legs.

He spent three months in the hospital, and several years learning how to live life again with the aid of a wheelchair. 

Thirty-plus years later, he is now a director in the 309th Software Maintenance Group, and spends most of his free time getting the most out of life in spite of his disability.

Henrie said he struggled for a long time following the accident, thinking his life was over because he might not be able to do the sports he loved, such as skiing.

“We all have the power to choose, but we don’t always have the power to choose the consequences of our choices that we make,” Henrie said. “We all have challenges in our lives, and it’s up to us to make the best of how we deal with those challenges.”

Henrie shared his personal story during the 2015 Persons with Disabilities Awards Luncheon Oct. 22 at Hill AFB. 

With the assistance of specialized equipment, Henrie now plays basketball, participates in marathons, rides bicycles, scuba dives, camps, boats and rides four-wheelers. 

He also recently took up skiing again.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life and haven’t found anything I haven’t been able to do, in different ways,” he said. “It’s probably because I’ve accepted the challenge and I don’t let anything slow me down.” 

Henrie said everybody has his/her own physical challenges or disabilities. “It’s not so important how others label you, but how you label yourself,” he said.

He credits the “angels” in his life, including many people from Hill for his success in progressing to where he is today. 

During his closing remarks, Henrie challenged people to look past a person’s disability and see the real potential in them.

The annual event was hosted by the Hill AFB Persons with Disabilities Committee. Jean Thomas, the committee’s chairperson, said her group’s mission is to recognize persons with disabilities who provide great service to our nation and to encourage organizations to hire more people with disabilities.

Col. Wendy Deemer, IMA to the 75th Air Base Wing and Installation commander, said it’s important to have this kind of recognition for our team members who have disabilities. “You are our heroes. Thank you so much for everything that you do.”

Awards were presented to:

• Outstanding Employee with a Disability Award

— Garfield Vassel, 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

• Persons with Disabilities Support Award

— Paula Godfrey, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center

— Todd Henrie, 309th Software Maintenance Group

• Outstanding Organizational Award in Support of Persons with Disabilities

— 309th Software Maintenance Group

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