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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 19.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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My Hero: Ludell Swenson
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Swenson: 'My dad was hoping I would take over the farm. I
was hoping it too.'
Swenson: 'My dad was hoping I would take over the farm. I was hoping it too.'
Credit:Carolyn Fath

Often our heroes are people who refuse to give up. People like Terry Fox, the Canadian who ran more than 3,000 miles on his one remaining leg while dying of cancer. Or France's Philippe Croizon, who this September swam the 22-mile English Channel despite being a quadruple amputee - no arms, no legs.

One of my heroes is a Madison man with similar grit. His name is Ludell Swenson.

Ludell, 51, has cerebral palsy. He communicates by painstakingly pointing at words and letters on a placard attached to his wheelchair. His body is contorted, and sometimes he drools.

Yet he loves life, and lives it more fully than you might imagine. He gets all over town, expertly manipulating his powered wheelchair. Even in bad weather, he'll readily travel a mile or more. A few years back, he came to me complaining that Dane County wanted to make him get a roommate (see "Budget Cuts Take Human Toll," 10/26/06). Dane County backed down.

There is nothing wrong with Ludell's mind. He can read and use a computer. He's even taken a stab at writing his life story. It's posted here.

Ludell was born in Madison and initially misdiagnosed as mentally disabled. He grew up on a farm near Brodhead, with two older sisters. His parents didn't want to see him in a wheelchair, so they would carry him everywhere.

"This was hard on them as well as me," he writes. "They were hoping I would snap out of my C.P. and be a 'normal' son. My dad was hoping I would take over the farm. I was hoping it too."

Ludell's family left the farm and moved to Monroe. He went camping and swimming, bonded with the family dogs and had crushes on a succession of girls. At age 18, he got an apartment and has been on his own since. He was even married once, briefly, to a woman he says abused him.

The narrative of Ludell's life story is choppy and unpolished, but I love how he ends it. He's writing about a caregiver named Tim who took him to see the Grateful Dead and other concerts. In the spring of 1991, Ludell, Tim and another man rented a van for a trip out west. Recalls Ludell, "Oh man! We had a lot of fun, just driving and listening to music all night."

Seems like Ludell Swenson's parents did get a normal son, after all.

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