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Diving accident: The day at the lake when Stauner's life changed

On a summer evening in 1983, Mike Stauner was visiting at a friend's cabin on Ely Lake near Eveleth. He and his friends were taking a sauna after dark. Four others had jumped or dived into the lake. Stauner, then 20, was the last to go.

On a summer evening in 1983, Mike Stauner was visiting at a friend's cabin on Ely Lake near Eveleth. He and his friends were taking a sauna after dark. Four others had jumped or dived into the lake. Stauner, then 20, was the last to go.

"I dove deep, and it was calling for shallow," he said, recalling the accident that changed his life.

He hit the lake bottom hard, breaking his neck at vertebrate C6.

"It was like getting electrocuted," Stauner said. "I went into the fetal position."

His friends found him on the bottom of the lake and rescued him.

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"I said, 'Can't move. Can't breathe,' " he recalled.

He was taken first to the hospital in Virginia, then by ambulance to St. Luke's hospital in Duluth. He had surgery five days later, but there was no repairing the damage. He remains a quadriplegic, with little feeling in his hands and feet. He has use of his shoulders and triceps.

After surgery, Stauner was transferred to Miller-Dwan Medical Center for physical therapy.

"I was told, 'You'll never live alone. You'll never drive again,'" Stauner said. "I didn't really care for what they were saying."

A physical therapist at Miller-Dwan -- he cannot recall her name now -- realized Stauner was willing to push himself harder than some patients. He worked with her 4ยฝ to 5 hours a day, building up his upper body so he could power his wheelchair.

"I pushed and pushed up and down that incline," he said.

Stauner was scheduled to do therapy at the hospital for nine months but was out in just over three, he said. Then it was off to the Courage Center in Minneapolis, where he lived for another five months as he continued to adapt to his new way of living.

Along the way, he vowed he would not use a motorized wheelchair but push his own. Twenty-three years later he's still rolling under his own power and still living on his own.

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"It's kind of a deal I have with myself," he said. "Yeah, it's a hell of a lot harder, but you have to go with the feeling of accomplishment."

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