Proud to farm
LITTLE ROCK, Iowa -- Rural Sibley, Iowa, beef and grain producer Ryan Odens is among six farm families across the state of Iowa to be honored with the 2011 "The Way We Live" award.
The honors, to be presented during the Iowa State Fair later this month in Des Moines, seek to recognize farmers who love the land and the product they produce. Recipients are dedicated to animal agriculture and exemplify farm values derived from hard work and a love for what they do.
That Odens, who farms with his brother Nick, is able to farm today is nothing short of a miracle.
Nearly 11 years ago -- on August 11, 2000 -- Ryan Odens was alone in his truck when he hit the shoulder while making a curve, over-corrected and lost control of the vehicle after the right rear tire blew out.
The series of events caused his truck to barrel roll and then roll end over end. Odens was ejected.
The injuries he sustained in the crash were significant. He fractured the top five vertebra in his neck, both wrists were broken, his shoulder was hyper-extended and he suffered a spinal cord injury at T-3 and T-4 in his back. Doctors were certain he'd never walk again.
The accident followed a series of tragedies in the family, including his mom's diagnosis and battle with lung cancer, and the sudden death of his father in 1997 at age 44.
Those days spent in the hospital after the crash, Odens found himself asking "Why?" His minister responded that "God will never put more on you than you can handle."
Odens said he thought those words were "a bunch of B.S." at the time, but they may have just fueled him to fight all the more. The then-23-year-old had both spunk and determination.
Today, Odens walks with a limp and often uses a cane to steady himself. A wheelchair is used as needed to cover longer distances, but is most often utilized in the shop of their rural Sibley farm.
Thanks to the Easter Seals Iowa Rural Solutions program, Odens is able to do most things today that farmers do.
He can get in and out of his tractor cab and combine thanks to hydraulic lifts, has a four-wheeled Gator to be his legs around the farm yard and has automated cattle gates that allow him to get in and out of feed yards at the push of a button.
Odens is a so-called poster child for the Easter Seals program, having traveled to 38 states and nearly 50 major cities to speak on behalf of the organization and help raise funds so Easter Seals can assist others in leading productive lives. In 2006, Odens became the first farmer -- and the first Iowan -- to be named the organization's national spokesperson.
The Easter Seals program nominated Odens for this year's "The Way We Live Award," because of his passion for farming and determination to live out his dream. Odens and his brother are fourth generation farmers, growing crops on 1,300 acres near Sibley. They also have a cow-calf operation and own Odens Brothers Trucking, a grain hauling business.
While Odens is humbled by the state award, he said his family, friends and the Easter Seals program deserve the credit.
"It's more about the way other people have lived for me -- because of everything I've been through," he said. "That's what it means to me, anyway."
If doctors, therapists, friends and family hadn't given 110 percent to Odens in his quest to walk and be able to farm, he said he probably wouldn't be where he's at today.
Odens also credits State Sen. David Johnson, along with Reps. Mike May, Duane Alons and Danny Carroll for their support of the Easter Seals Iowa Rural Solutions program.
"They've had to fight every year (for funding)," Odens said. "I put more of a face on how it helps people."
In government, as in the overall economy, finding the dollars to support programs like Easter Seals is becoming increasingly challenging, he added.
Because the Easter Seals has provided equipment necessary for him to continue in the day-to-day farming operations, Odens said he sometimes forgets about his limitations.
Two years ago, while trying to hitch a trailer, he lost his footing and took a bad spill that fractured his hip. The incident set him back a bit, but he said he continues to make progress.
"I can do almost everything but the heavy lifting," he said. "I always want to be better, but it could be a lot worse. You've just got to deal with what you have in life.
"When I was young, I had my life planned. I'm reaching my goals, just not in the way or the order I had planned."
Odens said while the accident forever changed his life, he looks at it more as a blessing than a curse, and for that he is viewed as an inspiration.
Yet, he is quick to point the praise in another direction -- toward those who donate to Easter Seals.
"To have the compassion to give and to help -- that says more about people to me than anything," he said.
Odens credits all who have been in his life and encouraged him along the way.
"They've helped me carry on the legacy, the tradition, the family farm," he said. "I'm basically living my dream being able to farm, and my father's dreams are living through my brother and I."