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From tragedy to triumph — life rolls on, paralyzed construction worker says


Time now for StoryCorps. Thirty-two years ago, Leslie Harris was working a construction job in Kankakee, Ill. He came to StoryCorps with his daughter, Angie, to remember the day his life changed.

ANGELINE PRESLEY: So what did you imagine your life was going to be like when you first started this job?

LESLIE HARRIS: I was going to basically make a decent living at a decent trade, purchased our own house...


HARRIS: ...And take care of you and build up a nest egg. But at 32 years old, pretty much changed my life - October 5, 1990, a little after 10 a.m., when a piece of steel landed on my back, pinned me against a concrete footing. I immediately knew that I was pretty seriously hurt. I could look down at my legs. I couldn't feel them, so I pretty much knew I was paralyzed.

PRESLEY: What were you thinking through all of that?

HARRIS: I wanted to live. Before that, the only bone I'd ever broken in my life was my thumb.

PRESLEY: I remember seeing you in the hospital, sitting in your wheelchair.

HARRIS: You were 8 years old.

PRESLEY: You were smiling.


PRESLEY: And as a child, I don't remember being sad that you were in a wheelchair. I don't know if you know this, but everybody that meets you walks away feeling better, smiling, laughing. You have a positive perspective. And I know that I got that from you. I see the difference you've made in people's lives. Did you have that before the accident?

HARRIS: I had to learn how to live again. You know, and I learned if you quit, you're done, you know? So the good Lord gave me another day. So I'm going to take it and do what I can. Your attitude is very important.

PRESLEY: We celebrate October 5 as your life day.

HARRIS: Yeah, we have for 32 years.

PRESLEY: I'm going to bring it up.


PRESLEY: You had $7 million.

HARRIS: That was the verdict.

PRESLEY: And today, it's not there.

HARRIS: No. I did some good with it.

PRESLEY: I mean, that's what I watched you do. I watched you help people.

HARRIS: Yeah. I've had several people tell me I'm an inspiration to them. And I said, well, I'm just living my life and getting up every day, you know?

PRESLEY: Have you ever felt like not getting up?

HARRIS: No. From tragedy to triumph, life rolls on. And I'll keep on rolling (laughter).


MARTÍNEZ: That was Leslie Harris and Angie Presley for StoryCorps in Illinois. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Zanna McKay