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

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

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...

PRESLEY: Yeah.

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.

HARRIS: Yeah.

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.

HARRIS: OK.

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).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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.

Zanna McKay