On the day after Thanksgiving, in the midst of a mundane, everyday task, Todd Gladfelter slipped and fell from a shed roof at his Schuylkill County home.
When Gladfelter, a chainsaw-carving artist, woke on the ground, he couldn’t move, and now a life spent on the move has slowed to a crawl. Gladfelter broke three vertebrae in his neck, leaving him paralyzed on the right side and with only partial movement on the left.
“I see this little piece of hope,” Gladfelter said Monday from a rehabilitation center in Berks County. “With spinal cord stuff, the recovery goes slow.”
Gladfelter, 61, and his wife, Cindy Ross, 65, are the founders of River House, a nonprofit that helps take veterans into nature for healing through hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping. Ross chronicled their work in a recent book, Walking Toward Peace: Veterans Healing on America’s Trails. The couple, who celebrated their 38th anniversary in an ICU this week, are both longtime avid hikers themselves, at one point raising their children in the outdoors while they trekked America’s longest trails. They’ve also acted as “trail angels” for decades, feeding and housing Appalachian Trail hikers passing through the state.
But Ross said her husband’s Pennsylvania German stoicism makes it hard for him to ask for help. So people are doing that for him, through a GoFundMe campaign.
“He listens more than he talks, cares more than he shows, and has a passion for life and hard work like I have never seen‚” Gladfelter’s niece wrote on the fund-raiser website. “He’s the best of us; a kind soul who deserves so much more than the awful hand he has been dealt, and right now, his spirit and body are damaged.”
The fund-raiser, currently at just over $110,000, has a $150,000 goal and is aiming to provide Gladfelter a wheelchair, van, and other adaptive tools while also paying medical bills and for work to make their home more accessible. Gladfelter said the outpouring is inspiring.
“I have to give it my best, because maybe I’ll be able to give back to people someday,” he said.
Ross said she and Gladfelter had planned to cycle the Great American Rail Trail from Washington state to Washington, D.C., for their 40th anniversary.
“I told him he is not getting out of it so easily,” she said.
Gladfelter said his accident has been a reminder that life is short, and he urged others to take advantage of every moment.
“I’ve lived a full life,” he said, “and I’m not done yet.”