It’s About the Attitude

Tim Caldwell turns tragedy into triumph

By Mike Savicki


Tim Caldwell’s story begins like so many we hear told on the nightly news or read about in the local paper. In an instant, life can change. In the blink of an eye, everything can be taken from us.


Two days after his twelfth birthday, while riding home late at night as a passenger in his father’s car, tragedy struck. The pair was involved in an accident. Tim’s father, Sam, didn’t survive the crash. Tim walked away with a slight concussion and bruises. It was two days before Christmas.


The pain of the loss and Tim’s struggles to grow up without a father became too much. By the time he enrolled at Appalachian State University, the Cornelius native had turned to alcohol to numb the pain. His escape grew into an addiction. Tim says it became easier for him to exist in an altered state devoid of grief than to live with the pain and realty of his loss.


“Faith has a way of appearing when you least expect it,” Tim says. “It exists in all of us but sometimes we just don’t know it is there.”


Tim’s faith appeared when he was at his lowest. Early one morning, while sitting on a friend’s couch after being awake all night, he looked down and saw his hands shaking uncontrollably. He wondered who he had become. He thought about his father. At that moment, Tim made the decision to get his life in order and sought help.


In late December 2002, two and a half years after he became sober, tragedy struck again. Driving home alone from the Christmas holiday, Tim fainted behind the wheel. His car flew off an overpass and crashed on the highway below. This time Tim didn’t walk away. When he was awakened by a police officer, Tim learned he had sustained a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed.


“I had put myself and my family through the ringer for years and when this happened,” he offers, “things were just starting to go pretty well. But waking for the second time was like reliving a bad dream.”


How would you cope knowing you would never walk again? Where would you find the strength to live after surviving two horrific accidents?


It’s now nine years later and Tim says the skills he first learned in recovery have given him the tools he needs to live completely after the second accident. He knows he is lucky to be alive and says he has done more with his life since becoming paralyzed than he could have ever imagined. At age 34, he’s just scratching the surface.


Words like motivational and inspirational take on new meaning when you look at Tim. He is strong, confident and collected. In 2010, he earned both his MBA and MSMR from the University of Texas at Arlington. He then returned home to be with his family and friends. On top of it all, Tim is a world class wheelchair basketball player and one of the nation’s few wheelchair bodybuilders.


What we would do if we were in his shoes?  Would have the strength to get through a single day, let alone get on stage and show our strengths to the world?


“My accident woke me up to the fact that life is short and if you want to do something with yourself, the time to do it is now,” Tim concludes. “If you sit back, wait and hope for something good that you think might come along, then you might find yourself waiting a long time. And if you are asking yourself the question ‘why’, then you are asking the wrong question. What you should ask is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Life is all about attitude.”


This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2012.