“Matters of Balance,” Ensign, Dec. 1992, 63
Standing atop the victory platform at the United States Junior Olympics, gold medal winner Diane Ellingson felt indestructible. Her precision when performing on the parallel bars, her grace, strength, and coordination on the balance beam, and her skill in the floor exercises and on the vaulting horse marked Diane as a budding international champion.
But in a split second, her career as a gymnast came to an end. While on a professional tour, Diane misjudged her landing from the vaulting horse, smashed into the mat, and crushed several vertebrae in her neck, pinching her spinal cord. At that moment in 1981, Diane, then twenty-one, traded athletic glory for the uncertainty of life in a wheelchair.
Diane Ellingson’s triumph has come as she has risen above the tragedy and has devoted her life to convincing others that regardless of the extent of their handicap, they can triumph, too. Diane’s own optimism came only after great struggle. She endured risky surgery, pain, and tedium, imprisoned in traction with metal screws driven into her skull to hold her head and neck completely still.
For a highly disciplined athlete like Diane, her helplessness was an ironic agony. The permanent damage to her spinal cord caused her to lose the use of her body from the upper chest down, as well as impairing the use of her arms and severely limiting movement in her hands.
Desperate anger over the obvious truth that she would never rise from the wheelchair caused Diane’s spirits to plummet. But one night as she lay still, surrounded by the trophies, ribbons, posters, and memories of her glory days, she knew that divine comfort was the only hope she had for lifting a grief so heavy. With hot tears and an anguished heart, she prayed earnestly.
“The scriptures reminded me that I could cast my burden on the Lord, so I did,” Diane recalls. “I knew that only he could understand my desperation to live a life that mattered. He knew my terror and anger at the thought of spending my life as a useless burden.”
Then, like a thick fog melting in brilliant sunlight, she remembers feeling the despair literally lift. “I felt a loving assurance that I was not alone, and that my life was acceptable to the Lord.”
Diane’s struggle with the inevitable soon ceased, and her mind and heart became free despite her quadriplegic body. She learned to use her crooked hands and made peace with the wheelchair. She became mobile and as independent as possible. She learned to drive a specially equipped van. She graduated from the University of Utah in elementary education.
After several years of teaching third grade, Diane has responded to the frequent demands for her inspirational speeches and motivational seminars, which she now gives to various groups throughout the United States. A biography that tells about her struggles, Don’t You Dare Give Up!, has been published.
This diminutive woman radiates a large spirit, and her message is simple: “No matter how discouraged you become, no matter how unfair life seems, trust in the Lord and believe in your own worth. Never give up, and you’ll be a champion.”—Renon Klossner Hulet, Salt Lake City, Utah