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Utilizing the Gift of Mobility

Wheelchair Recipients Realize Independence

December 2013

Keith Barney and Jeff Griffin in front of an entrance Jeff Griffin (left) and Keith Barney pose outside a Buddhist stupa in Nepal. The two athletes were in Mepal to help wheelchair recipients make the transition to mobility.
© Photo courtesy Jeff Griffin

A few months ago, a pair of Latter-day Saint Paralympians spent several days in Nepal working with a group of fellow wheelchair users. While the two men were decorated athletes and had competed at the highest levels of their respected sports, their new Nepalese friends had little interest in their sporting exploits.

“They wanted to hear all about our families,” said Keith Barney, a BYU-Idaho recreation management professor and a retired competitive skier. “They were fascinated with the possibility that they too could have families one day.”

“While a wheelchair can help a person get from point A to point B, that person may not have the other tools they need to socialize or do things in society,” said Jeff Griffin, a wheelchair basketball player and a full-time seminary teacher. At the request of Church welfare officials, Brother Barney and Brother Griffin designed a program to help individuals worldwide make the most of life in a wheelchair.

 Jeff Griffin in classroom with onlooking students Jeff Griffin offers instruction to wheelchair users in Nepal.
© Photo courtesy Jeff Griffin

Anchored by several principles relevant to wheelchair recipients, the program is especially pertinent as the Church has donated tens of thousands of wheelchairs to those in need. During the classes, the two instructors start with the basics. Included are lessons on spinal cord injuries and common ailments for those in wheelchairs. Also covered are disability rights, intimacy and marital relationships, job-seeking skills and finding joy in the independence that defines mobility.

“We want wheelchair recipients to know that they can have a family, an education and a job,” said Brother Griffin. “They can enjoy a good quality of life even in a wheelchair.”

Prior to their arrival in Nepal, the two men worked with Church service missionaries and local welfare workers to prepare. As instructors, the two men came with instant credibility. Brother Barney lost the use of his legs as a teenager following a hunting accident. Brother Griffin was injured in an industrial accident shortly after his mission. “I had to come to grips with the fact that my world had completely changed,” said Brother Griffin. “My dreams and back were shattered.”

Still, both men persevered, finished college, married, started families, pursued careers and realized their athletic dreams. Several of their students in Nepal were soldiers who lost the use of their legs during combat. They found comfort in learning they could have meaningful lives like those of their instructors.

Keith Barney and Jeff Griffin with children LDS Paralympians Keith Barney (left) and Jeff Griffin make a group of new friends during their visit to Nepal. They are working with LDS Charities to help wheelchair recipients live a full life.
© Photo courtesy Jeff Griffin

The two men don’t use the program as a platform to proselytize. But their efforts do fulfill the gospel’s mission to serve and love one another. “There is no question that the Lord loves His children and will make sure their lives are blessed,” said Brother Griffin. “We saw miracles every day.”

The two men plan to visit with wheelchair recipients in the Dominican Republic next spring. There, they will teach and encourage recipients. They will “lift their vision to be more.”

Jason Swensen is a staff writer for Church News. Story courtesy Church News To donate to the wheelchair initiative at LDS Charities, please click on the donate button on this page. One hundred percent of your contribution will help fund future wheelchair initiatives around the world without regard to race, religion, or ethnic origin.

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