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A Detour In Life's Path

May 5, 2010, 10:00 PM by Erica Johnson

A Detour In Life's Path
MADISON, SD - Everyone faces obstacles during their lifetime. Some are easier than others, but for Chris Olson one of those obstacles threatened to throw him off track for the rest of his life.

It's not unusual for 32-year-old Chris to spend hours in front of his computer grading assignments, writing emails and surfing the net. Instead of using his ten fingers to navigate the keys, he's been online with the help of these two sticks.

“Sometimes it seems like a dream, but it happened,” Olson said.

Only the dream is more like a nightmare. In 2001 Chris was getting ready to graduate from college. He had a job lined up and was busy planning a wedding to his finance Tana, but one night in April, after drinking at a local bar, the couple got into a car with Tana's brother at the wheel.

“We made it 12 1/2 miles out of town, we lived 13 1/2 miles. Didn't quite make it home. They always say accidents happen close to home and that was the case for us,” Olson said.

The car rolled. Chris and Tana were both thrown from the car. Tana was killed instantly. Chris suffered major head and neck injuries which cost him the use of his legs and arms.

“I kind of thought I had my whole future mapped out but that was all taken away from me in one night,” Olson said.

After the accident Chris spent the next several months in Denver, undergoing treatment and therapy. When he was sent home, he found his calling was back at Dakota State University where he headed back to the classroom.

“Since then I've tried to make the best of what I have," Olson said.

He began working on a Masters degree in Information Systems, online. Though he spent most of this time at home with his parents working to adjust to life again, he eventually found the courage to come to campus. That's where Chris' new future began, first with a part-time position, then a full-time job teaching computer classes at DSU.

“After years of having to depend on others to do things for me, it's nice that they have to depend on me a little bit for knowledge, wisdom and all that computer stuff that I really like,” Olson said.

Today he teaches five classes, spends two days on campus and is working toward his Doctorate. All that ambition is rubbing off on his students.

“He's always got a positive outlook on life, knowing what he's been through, he still stays positive and he's loving life and what he's doing all the time, just always positive and that's what we enjoy most,” DSU student Kerstin Roesler said.

Which is why his students say even a technical subject like computer programming becomes entertaining in Olson's classroom.
"I definitely wouldn't take a computer class from anyone but him because he would keep me interested and wanting to learn it,” Roesler said.

While Chris might not have planned for his life to include a wheelchair, or re-learning how to use his hands, or even teaching, he admits it's his new calling and one he's grown to love.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction in helping others especially when they have to help me all the time,” Olson said.

Overcoming obstacles, remembering, and moving on.

Chris is also teaching the lessons learned from his experience to others outside his classroom. He speaks at schools about the dangers of drinking and driving and how it's reshaped his life. He's also part of the latest Parents Matter campaign to educate young drivers and parents about preventing drinking and driving accidents.

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