On July 4, 1995, 26-year-old Dwayne Scheuneman had been out of the Navy for about four years. While visiting a friend, he took a dive into the pool, hitting his head on the bottom. The impact broke his neck, causing paralysis from the waist down. When Scheuneman awoke in the hospital several days later, he and his friend sat in silence. Finally, his friend looked at him directly and said, “Game on.”
Scheuneman was working for UPS at the time of his injury. His initial concern, he explains, was how he would work and ultimately what kind of work. “I thought about what I was going to do, and how would my identity evolve.”
But he was used to evolving through difficult situations. “I suppose you could say I grew up in tough conditions,” Scheuneman says. He grew up in a bad neighborhood with parents who, at the time, were not, according to him, entirely prepared to raise him or his siblings. He didn’t finish 10th grade. “If I didn’t leave my current situation, I knew I wasn’t going to go anywhere.”
A friend of his had served in the military and, upon his return from boot camp, served as an inspiration. “Enlisting seemed like the best option for me to figure out what I would do with my life,” he says. It was a combination of these factors that motivated him to join the Navy, where he served as an electrician.
As a veteran, Scheuneman’s athleticism and determination served as perfect motivators to overcome his initial concerns of being paralyzed. He continued his active lifestyle through his involvement with the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) and playing wheelchair basketball where he lived in Buffalo, NY. After moving to Florida, he transitioned to track and field for three years, winning numerous awards in these events at the NVWG.
During the off season, Scheuneman was interested in cross training—or just trying something new. This interest was answered one day during a VA hospital visit. “On the communication board, there was an advertisement for a dance company that was interested in working with people in wheelchairs,” he says. So, with an open mind, he grabbed the contact information and began a journey that changed his life.
He had been a preschool teacher for about nine years at that time. When he took a trip to Disneyworld with the dance company and put on a performance there, Scheuneman says “the energy was great as the crowd cheered.” Schools began asking him to come perform for their students. The next few seasons were very busy with performances, so busy in fact he says, “I came to the realization eight years later that I hadn’t gone back to track and field.”
He became familiar with several programs designed to help kids with disabilities involve themselves in athletics, but not dance, so he began to seek out opportunities to introduce kids to dance as a fun way to stay active. In 2005, he started his own dance company, Revolutions Dance, his inspiration for the name being “revolution like the wheels on a wheelchair.”
Revolutions Dance has been active for the past eight years. Scheuneman’s success started with an impulsive idea, but throughout it all, he focused on his abilities. “Now I work with kids, I get to travel, I’ve won awards…I completely changed my life by being open-minded about dance.”
He notes that a lot of the recovery process for paralyzed veterans has to do with focusing on what you can do and that is his advice to them. “However small the things that you can do may seem, they’ll get bigger and bigger if you just keep focusing on what you can do. And it’s also important to be open-minded.”
Currently, Scheuneman is working toward a bachelor’s degree in exceptional education. He wants to work toward a leadership position in school, perhaps even as a principal. He adds that he would like his dance company to grow and become a self-sustaining, lasting program.
Read more inspirational stories from Paralyzed Veterans of America members
Maggie Johanesen is an International Affairs and Security Policy major at The George Washington University.