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The power of positive thinking; Paralyzed Perham man hopes to be an inspiration to others

Bob Sim is beginning a new stage in his life as a motivational speaker. He became paralyzed from the chest down after a 2010 motorcycle accident, and now welcomes the opportunity to share what he has learned about living through life's difficult times. Connie Vandermay, Perham FOCUS

"The only thing that handicaps people is a bad attitude," according to Bob Sim. "It's truly what I believe now."

That means a lot coming from Sim, as the Perham man has been constrained to a wheelchair since 2010, when a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Sim, now a quadriplegic, has limited movement in his shoulders and arms.

Shortly after his accident, when he realized the true extent of his condition, Sim started telling people he was going to be a motivational speaker.

"I figured I have a story to tell now," he said in a recent interview.

And now today, almost three years later, he's begun his journey toward motivating others.

Sim's story begins the day after his 51st birthday, on April 11, 2010. Thirty miles outside of Menahga, he was nearing the end of a day-long motorcycle ride when he drove straight through a curve.

The motorcycle hit the ditch, the front tire jammed in the melting spring snow, and the bike stayed upright while Sim flew over the handlebars, crashing headfirst into an underground cement cable marker.

His helmet cracked upon impact, and he suffered a depressed skull fracture in his forehead. His spinal cord snapped in two places and the organs in his abdominal area were damaged.

"I'm lucky to be alive," he says today.

Sim was transported by helicopter to North Memorial Health Care, a level one trauma center in Robbinsdale, Minn., where he spent six weeks in a medical-induced coma while undergoing four reconstructive surgeries.

He was then transferred to Bethesda Hospital in Bloomington, Minn. to begin a rehabilitation program - the start of a long road back to Perham, where his wife Kathy and son Christopher (then in high school) lived. He also has a married daughter named Cassandra who no longer lived in the area.

At Bethesda, Sim began communicating with his family again, and recalls how much of an inspiration his older sister was.

"She helped me see the light, as far as how to take things in. She put it in perspective so I wasn't thinking 'Why me?'" Sim said.

By talking to family, Sim experienced an attitude shift. It was exactly what he needed to stay positive through the months ahead.

Sim's road home included a short stay at Sanford Health in Fargo, where he began more intense physical and occupational therapy. And a longer stay at Frazee Living Center while he waited to improve enough so that his trachea could be removed.

At the beginning of 2012, Sim was transferred to Perham Living, which, to this day, is where he is - and where he wants to be.

Sim is a very active resident of Perham Living. He helps the nurses in a new employee training class called Person First, and he's on the community council and resident council, positions he said have "given me opportunity to be a voice for residents."

And though Sim is probably the youngest Perham Living resident, he said, "For me, it's not so bad at all."

"Since I don't like to play Bingo, but I have a big mouth, they let me call Bingo," he said with a laugh.

He also spends time each day playing with the new residential dog, Duke.

Sim is also active outside the Perham Living community.

A couple months ago, he began working with Freedom Resource Center, a Fargo-based disability rights organization that serves people of any age, with any disability. The group has connected Sim with various motivational speaking opportunities.

For example, he was a source of inspiration for a couple feeling down because of financially hard times. He also spoke to a young quadriplegic man in Fargo who no longer wanted to work through his rehabilitation program.

In both these incidents, just through talking and sharing his own personal experiences, Sim saw attitudes change in the others.

"There's a lot of things you don't need in this life and you can still be happy," Sim explained. That's his message, simple and clear.

Sim also shared his message before the Perham Rotary recently, and, alongside his wife Kathy, shared his story at St. Henry's Catholic Church.

"With a positive attitude, I believe all these opportunities have come my way," Sim said.

"I'm available to talk to singles, groups, it makes no difference," he said. "Anyone who thinks they need a lift."

Those interested in having Sim speak should call Perham Living at 347-1800 and talk to Sue Sailer.