Eric Brockchmidt, 26, is no stranger of day-to-day difficulties. Paralyzed in a car accident at the age of three, Eric has found himself accustomed to facing challenges on a regular basis.
To truly understand his hardships, you must know the extent of his injuries. Eric isn’t just paralyzed, he is quadriplegic. Not just his legs, but all four of his limbs are affected. He is paralyzed from the chest area down. He doesn’t have feeling in the outer sides of his arms, including his elbows, all the way down through the outside of his hands to his pinky fingers. His fingers have atrophied over the years as well, causing them to curve in, and not capable of straightening. Considering all of this, it is quite impressive that Eric still has a manual wheelchair, and pushes himself everywhere. He also suffers a plethora of other ailments that are by-products of his paralysis including, upper respiratory problems and a pre-disposition to all kinds of infections.
When Eric, a U of M student, and liberal democrat to the core, found out that Obama was giving a commencement speech at his school, the possible challenges of attending were not even a thought. He inquired as to where to obtain a ticket, made a phone call and waited. He waited for weeks. Just as he was nearing giving up hope, he received a return phone call, just days before the President was due to give his speech. It wasn’t good news. He was informed (later to be determined, misinformed), that to get handicap seating, he would have to have a companion. When he responded that he didn’t have anyone to accompany him, he was told that the tickets would be given to someone else. He decided he wasn’t going to take that sitting down, pun intended (I’m allowed, I’m his sister)!
The day before Obama’s commencement, Eric decided to take his issue to the Dean of Students office. He was overjoyed and thankful to contact Sam Goodin, Interim Assistant Dean of Students. Goodin considered Eric’s plight, was upset that he was wrongfully told that he couldn’t get handicap accessible tickets without a companion, and managed to attain a general admission ticket for him. It was the best Goodin could do the day before the event, and Eric was grateful.
Unfortunately for Eric, handicap parking needed to be reserved by April 16th. Although he’d requested tickets well before that date, he didn’t know until the day before the ceremony that he’d be attending. Needless to say, he didn’t get the parking permit that he needed. When Eric arrived the day of the event, he checked for accessible parking and was expectedly disappointed with the lack there of. The closest parking he could find was about a half-mile away from the stadium. He shelled out $25 for the distant parking. Then the real uphill battle started, literally. He pushed himself in his chair the perilous half-mile, almost completely uphill. Exhausted, finally he made it to the venue.
Eric thought his troubles were finally at an end, but they weren’t. He saw that there were several different lines of people, each to a separate entrance. He picked one and waited with everyone else. Even the waiting in line proved to be effortful since the ground was sloped. When he eventually got to the ticket taker, he was told that he was at the wrong gate and that he needed to go wait in line again at another. Trying to remain calm, Eric all but begged the doorman to just let him in and under the rope to the correct section his ticket was assigned. The man showed sympathy and let him pass.
At last, Eric found a spot to park his chair in the stadium filled with over 80,000 attendees. He couldn’t see much, he told me he “should have brought binoculars.” He was also so far away that he could barely hear the President speaking over the boisterous anti-abortion protestors outside. Even after the hell Eric went through to attend, he was still delighted to be part of the event. After it was all over, he still had to get back to his car. He had to slalom down the hill and use his hands as make shift brakes to slow him and avoid running people over. In the end, he had some nice blisters to show for. It was without a doubt a memorable experience for him for many reasons, good and bad!