Matters of Balance

Standing atop the victory platform at the United States Junior Olympics, gold medal winner Diane Ellingson felt indestructible. Her precision when performing on the parallel bars, her grace, strength, and coordination on the balance beam, and her skill in the floor exercises and on the vaulting horse marked Diane as a budding international champion.

But in a split second, her career as a gymnast came to an end. While on a professional tour, Diane misjudged her landing from the vaulting horse, smashed into the mat, and crushed several vertebrae in her neck, pinching her spinal cord. At that moment in 1981, Diane, then twenty-one, traded athletic glory for the uncertainty of life in a wheelchair.

Diane Ellingson’s triumph has come as she has risen above the tragedy and has devoted her life to convincing others that regardless of the extent of their handicap, they can triumph, too. Diane’s own optimism came only after great struggle. She endured risky surgery, pain, and tedium, imprisoned in traction with metal screws driven into her skull to hold her head and neck completely still.

For a highly disciplined athlete like Diane, her helplessness was an ironic agony. The permanent damage to her spinal cord caused her to lose the use of her body from the upper chest down, as well as impairing the use of her arms and severely limiting movement in her hands.

Desperate anger over the obvious truth that she would never rise from the wheelchair caused Diane’s spirits to plummet. But one night as she lay still, surrounded by the trophies, ribbons, posters, and memories of her glory days, she knew that divine comfort was the only hope she had for lifting a grief so heavy. With hot tears and an anguished heart, she prayed earnestly.

“The scriptures reminded me that I could cast my burden on the Lord, so I did,” Diane recalls. “I knew that only he could understand my desperation to live a life that mattered. He knew my terror and anger at the thought of spending my life as a useless burden.”

Then, like a thick fog melting in brilliant sunlight, she remembers feeling the despair literally lift. “I felt a loving assurance that I was not alone, and that my life was acceptable to the Lord.”

Diane’s struggle with the inevitable soon ceased, and her mind and heart became free despite her quadriplegic body. She learned to use her crooked hands and made peace with the wheelchair. She became mobile and as independent as possible. She learned to drive a specially equipped van. She graduated from the University of Utah in elementary education.

After several years of teaching third grade, Diane has responded to the frequent demands for her inspirational speeches and motivational seminars, which she now gives to various groups throughout the United States. A biography that tells about her struggles, Don’t You Dare Give Up!, has been published.

This diminutive woman radiates a large spirit, and her message is simple: “No matter how discouraged you become, no matter how unfair life seems, trust in the Lord and believe in your own worth. Never give up, and you’ll be a champion.”Renon Klossner Hulet, Salt Lake City, Utah

[photo] Diane embraces teaching with her whole heart. (Photo by Ann Florence.)

Side by Side by Side

At three different chessboards, three pairs of children concentrate intently, the older ones teaching the younger ones. Six of the seventeen children of Le Roy and Mary Wirthlin of West Bloomfield, Michigan, have decided to have a Christmas vacation chess tournament. “Whether we’re indoors or out, we love to do things together as a family,” says Sister Wirthlin. “All play either the piano or the violin or both, and all love to read—a fact that is evident in our hefty library fines.”

“The gospel encourages us to be our best and to do our best,” says Brother Wirthlin. The children, nine of whom are still living at home, have been leaders in their schools—academically, athletically, and politically—as well as strong, active members of the Church. Seven of the Wirthlins’ eight sons have become Eagle Scouts, having enjoyed canoe trips and long hikes with the family as well as with the Scout troop, and six have served missions. The Wirthlins’ nine daughters have worked hard beside their brothers and parents on the family farm, less than an hour’s drive from their suburban home, and have been successful at activities like running on the cross-country team and cheerleading.

“Sheep, pigs, chickens, horses, and all the work that goes with them have taught our children the value of responsibility and dependability,” says Le Roy, a vascular surgeon who loves farm life and nature.

Wirthlin wisdom for keeping children productively involved in the right things may be contained in Le Roy’s quip: “We try to keep them as tired as possible. At the point that they’d rather go to sleep than go get a Big Mac, that’s just about right.”

Keeping active, doing things side by side, is the Wirthlins’ idea of fun. If it’s not a chess tournament, it may be some friendly competition target shooting at the farm, where they may also race to see who can clean out a horse stall fastest and best. But for the Wirthlin family, it’s all done side by side by side.

[photo] A roomful of Wirthlins is a roomful of fun.

His Standing Joke

In the Alta Loma Ward, Upland California Stake, Arthur Herrick was a father figure to far more than his own seven children. As one of the ward’s seminary teachers for many years, Brother Herrick was always good for a few early morning laughs as bleary-eyed students met the new day.

The kind of home teacher who always remembered birthdays and special occasions, Art could be counted on. If there wasn’t a father in the home of a family he visited, Art and his companion would give priesthood blessings and lessons and prayers as the mother in the home desired. He stood in blessing circles, attended weddings, and he was there to mourn with those who mourned.

Art and his wife, Margaret, were often favorite baby-sitters for young struggling couples. They felt that it was a blessing to their own children to tend other people’s children from time to time.

Many things to many people, there is one thing Brother Herrick is not. At 5′3″, he is not tall. Yet Art’s sense of humor enables him to be a delight to others and to make light of his height. Before he moved to Orem, Utah, the standing joke in the Alta Loma Ward was one of the members’ favorites. Whenever he was called upon to stand up during meetings—whether to be sustained or released, or to comment—the person conducting would invariably repeat, “Brother Herrick, will you please stand.” To this he would reply with predictable humor, “I am standing.”Nancy Johnson, Rochester, Minnesota

[photo] Arthur is good-humored about not being tall. (Photo by Phil Shurtleff.)