Ron HeagyA speaker and family man, Ron Heagy, 51, from Albany, Ore., has been paralyzed the last 32 years. After diving into a breaker as a teenager, Heagy was grateful he survived despite sustaining a C3 injury. “By the grace of God, my brother swam out to find me,” he says. “It was the day before my 18th birthday.”

Afterwards, Heagy got right back into life, supported by his family and friends. “My family has been a positive influence on my life as they have always encouraged me to continue on.” With their support, he was able to complete a four-year degree in counseling, but after graduation he ran into a problem — he couldn’t find a job that paid well enough.

“I came to the conclusion that it would take a master’s degree to get me off the system and into a better job. I enrolled in San Diego State’s social work master’s program, with little idea of how I’d pull it off,” he says, “and lo-and-behold, I successfully completed my degree.”

Heagy also became a speaker post-graduation, which he loves. “I’ve learned the impact that my life can have on others,” he says. “The main message in my presentations is that life is an attitude. We can change, become better rather than bitter. Things may not change, but we can change. It’s not always easy,” he says, “but it is doable.”

Heagy is also the father of two daughters — one he and his ex-wife adopt