Long before Christopher Reeve became injured, Joni Eareckson Tada was the well-known quadriplegic everyone knew (especially in the Christian world). Injured in 1967 in a diving accident at the age of 17, Joni (the last of four girls, they wanted a boy so she was named after her Dad) well, let’s just say she’s has managed to live a remarkable life.
Why she’s fearless
We all find our own strength post-injury, and for Joni, her Christian faith, which went from being in the background of her life to the forefront within the first few years of her injury, has been the driving force in her life as a woman with a disability. After really not being comfortable around others with disabilities the first few years of her injury (the paraplegics would tease me in rehab, she says), let alone the idea of missioning to this population, she accepted what she believes is her purpose (which she says is thanks in part to friends and family who read her the Bible when she was in the hospital). Watch her discuss this on Larry King Live (in 2004)
After her injury, painting was the first thing that gave her hope (she paints with her mouth). And then she began writing, and she published her first book in 1976 titled Joni, an autobiography and it was a best-seller. She wrote many more books for Christians with disabilities after that, and has penned 40 books in total. But Joni wanted to help outside of writing. In 1979, she founded Joni and Friends, an international network devoted to people with disabilities. Her network is an incredibly popular ministry (with a huge online component) and they also have an international disability center; both located at their headquarters in Agoura Hills, CA.
And something that really makes my soul happy, ‘Joni and Friends’ spun off an amazing sub-network in 1994, Wheels for the World, which travels the world not only delivering used wheelchairs (plus a Bible) to kids and adults with disabilities, but fitting each wheelchair to the recipient, which we know can make a huge difference in the overall quality of life. Watch a video about the program. Joni has been all around the world in people’s homes, passing out wheelchairs herself.
After her first book was published, Joni was asked to be a part of the televised Billy Graham crusades. She became so well affiliated to this organization in the 1970’s actually that the Billy Graham Foundation made a full-length movie of her life in 1979, Joni, which she starred in (playing herself). Watch Joni talking about the film with Billy Graham (an oldie but a goodie). Have you seen this film?
And a beautiful thing happened to Joni in 1982. When she was 33, she married Ken Tada, who she met at church, and they’ve been together for an amazing 30 years (and still going strong). They both live and breathe the Joni & Friends Network and they’ve learned a lot about marriage over the years. They decided to write a book on their relationship, which just came out in fact. It’s called, Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story (love the cover). Watch Joni and Ken talking about their book
And Joni is on the mend. In 2010, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, but thankfully she’s doing MUCH better (still not completely in the clear) after going through surgery and chemo. Paralysis and breast cancer, oof, Joni definitely knows what it takes to be a fighter (she posts video updates on how she’s doing too). Watch Ken and Joni talk about her latest good news
No matter how you find strength post-injury – religion, sports, art, teaching, cake making, whatever what’s important is that you find it, just like Joni. Maybe religion isn’t your thing, but…if you can find a way to look outside of yourself, the healing that can be found (take it from Joni, paralyzed for 45 years now) is monumental.
Have you met Joni Eareckson Tada? Heard her speak? How has she touched your life?
Watch the videos!