United Spinal member Rob Wudlick had no idea he had a knack and a passion for advocacy when he broke his neck in a diving accident six years ago. Yet in the spring of this year, Wudlick, 33, helped secure $6 million for SCI research in Minnesota. How quickly things change.
A year to the day after Wudlick was injured, he found himself testifying in front of the Minnesota Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee for the first time. Up for debate was an initiative to create stable funding for SCI research in the state. Wudlick, a C4-5 quad, had no experience advocating, but he didn’t hesitate to step up when the father of a friend from rehab approached him. “I really didn’t know anything about politics other than the general process,” remembers Wudlick. “I went into it thinking, this is kind of a no-brainer. How would you not support spinal cord research?”
To his surprise, the bill did meet resistance — some of it even coming from within the SCI community.
With that began a five-year journey that culminated this May with the Minnesota Legislature agreeing to allocate $6 million over four years to fund SCI research. Over those five years, Wudlick got a crash course in advocacy and politics and discovered how much he enjoyed them.
“I think the toughest part was figuring out the strategies that work,” he says. “The question was: How do we make our voices heard in the most effective and efficient way? We thought just showing up in committee hearings was how it’s done. Really, it’s done by office visits with key representatives and senators, following up on that, and crafting your message the right way.”
He learned to adjust when strategies failed and also learned the keys to gaining traction in the state legislature.
“We were doing Capitol Rotunda Rallies and a lot of people would show up, and there would be a great vibe, but the whole time that you’re meeting and rambling with each other, you’re not actually out there having your voices heard by the people who are making decisions in the state,” says Wudlick. “So, we shifted our focus away from that tactic and more to having people come in when they can, meet with their representatives and senators, and having people show up at committee hearings that matter.”
In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature enacted the Minnesota Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program, allocating $500,000 a year for research.
As part of the effort, Wudlick, his friend’s father, Matthew Rodreick, and others from the Minnesota SCI community, founded Get Up Stand Up to Cure Paralysis, a nonprofit dedicated to SCI research, in 2014. The organization has grown from 10 to over 60 members and played a key role in the recently passed legislation. More than just a driver for SCI research, the organization is heavily invested in the community, with many resources, including a peer mentoring program that is run in partnership with United Spinal’s Minnesota chapter, MNSCIA.
“Seeing the research grants and then seeing the research carried out has been incredibly rewarding,” says Wudlick. “It took us four or five years to get the bill passed, and now, seeing the results come in, that’s pretty amazing.”
In addition to discovering his passion for advocacy, Wudlick’s involvement has had another unintended effect: “I’ve become a research nerd,” he says. He devours any news and research articles on SCI research and says he is thinking about going back to school in a related field. Even without the credentials, he’s found he can hold his own with researchers. “I was at a peer review as a consumer reviewer last fall, started talking about research with some researchers, and they asked, ‘Where are you from?’” Wudlick recalls. “They were surprised I didn’t have an advanced degree in the field.”
Alter Ego: Gym Enthusiast
An outdoorsman before his injury, Rob has made working out an integral part of his life post-SCI. If he’s not lobbying at the capitol, there’s a good chance you’ll find him pushing himself to the limit in the gym.
“Ever since I came home almost five and a half years ago, I’ve worked out three days a week with the ABLE Program at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation here in Minneapolis. It’s part of the Neurorecovery Network of rehab hospitals and wellness centers and offers cutting edge options. I do locomotor training for 45 minutes, an hour and a half of electrical stimulation, using NMES, and then mat exercises and adaptive equipment, three days a week. “It’s made a huge difference. I can use my joystick most of the time now and have a lot more core stability. I can even do leg presses. I’ve also noticed a decrease in pain, which is huge.
Until recently my insurance paid for it. Now, as part of my advocacy efforts, I’m working to get more reimbursement for adaptive fitness.”
Miracle Inflammation Cure:
I take turmeric pills every day and it has really helped with my muscle and nerve pain. Its active ingredient has anti-inflammatory properties.
Can’t Live Without:
I’ve used the same mouthstick for my iPad since I was injured. I like that it’s lighter than most I see today — that way my muscles don’t fatigue.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I got involved with the local chapter here in Minnesota because I wanted to make a change and get the state to pass an initiative that would allocate money for SCI research. Getting involved with national advocacy efforts and receiving direction from United Spinal’s public policy team has been invaluable.