Dr. James ‘JR’ Harding, a surviving two-time quadriplegic,
seeks to lead by example
Thursday October 31st, 2002
FSU graduate Dr. James ‘JR’ Harding is running for a city commission seat.
While it may be easy to become immersed in daily activities and complain about a lack of good fortune, it is possible to come across a person who has overcome so much that it could cause one to realize their own fortune. One FSU alumnus is such a person. Dr. James “JR” Harding has overcome not just one, but two life-shattering experiences. Both events left him temporarily unable to care for himself, as well as permanently disabled. Because both events would have been enough to cause quadriplegia, Harding considers himself a “surviving two-time quadriplegic.”
“What I mean by a surviving two-time quadriplegic is once in 1983, when I tried to walk away from a fist fight, I was body slammed onto concrete, instantly becoming paralyzed and changing my life forever,” Harding said. “The second time was in 1998 when I was completing my doctorate here at FSU. I went through a windshield, broke two legs, a shoulder and my neck for the second time. That’s what I mean by a surviving two-time quadriplegic.”
Harding’s injuries were so devastating after the first accident that a Catholic Priest gave him last rights. He held on, however, and taught himself how to live and cope with his paralysis. He eventually graduated college and moved to Florida to obtain his masters degree at the University of West Florida. He then matriculated to FSU in 1994 in pursuit of his doctorate in Higher Education.
“Actually, I didn’t know a whole lot (about FSU),” Harding said. “I knew they had a great football team. My professors over at West Florida said this was the right town for me, the right town for my make-up, and that it would match whom I was and where I wanted to go. And, occasionally when you listen to your professors, they’re right.”
After coming to FSU, Harding seemingly found his voice. Between his arrival and 1998, he served on the FSU Alumni Board of Directors, the Governor’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Working Group, the Tallahassee Transportation Planning Advisory Committee and the Florida Board of Regents, which, at the time, was in charge of all 10 public state universities.
Then, in 1998, Harding’s second nearly fatal accident occurred. It meant having to go through rehabilitation all over again to cope with his quadriplegia. It is the FSU community that Harding credits with helping him through the ordeal.
“It was priceless,” Harding said. “My professors drove to the hospital, told me not to worry about my dissertation and assured me I was going to graduate. Not only did I not worry, but they hooked up my room with computer access and Internet access. Kids volunteered every night from 5 to 10 (p.m.) so that when staff had left, I had someone there to help me to learn to write again, learn to eat again, learn to push my wheelchair again.”
With the help of those volunteers, and through his own sheer will, Harding again learned to live with his quadriplegia. He again set out to live a life with a schedule that would make a fully able-bodied person cringe, and in 1999, he received his doctorate in Higher Education. That was not the end of Harding’s story, however, or his association with FSU.
“Since graduating from FSU, I have been gainfully employed with the Department of Education (and) I’ve received a presidential appointment to represent all folks with disabilities at the national level,” Harding said. “I’ve worked on the Florida building codes, the transportation codes and I’ve helped folks with similar circumstances receive the educational training and skills they need to get into the workplace.”
At the invitation of Dr. Mark Zeigler, Harding often comes to speak to classes for the purpose of telling his story.
“From hearing JR’s story, I hope students realize how lucky they are and how lucky JR is,” Zeigler said, “t hat no matter what life serves up, you can push through and achieve whatever you want to. And that, by JR’s example, we can all dedicate our lives to serving others.”
It is motivation on which Harding tries to have his lectures focus.
“Most of it revolves around overcoming barriers — reaching out, communicating, involving your friends and your neighbors in your life and collectively overcoming issues,” Harding said. “The over arching goal here is anything is possible.”
Harding claims that the treatment he has received from FSU has inspired him to want to give back even more. In order to accomplish that goal, he has made himself a candidate for City Commission seat three, up for election in February.
Harding says he wants to help put his life experience into the decision-making process for the people of Tallahassee.
“For me, it is intellectually personally satisfying to make those kind of decisions, because I’m not going to run a marathon, I’m not going to build a building, but I can use my head and I can make good decisions based on community input,” Harding said. “And because this town reached out to me in my time of greatest need, I would like to repay that favor.”