Dwayne Scheuneman knew it was over before he was pulled out of the pool.
His hobby was riding mountain bikes. It was a passion, and it all came crashing down when he dove into a pool and hit the bottom head first. Before he was pulled from the water, he knew he had broken his neck.
Most people would have panicked, but Scheuneman was already thinking about the future. It was a quick acceptance, but he is a realist. By the time he got to the hospital, he knew there was nothing that could be done. Then he set his mind to turning what some might take as a negative into a positive.
But this recent Saturday morning at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy, he sits in a wheelchair, smiling, conversing about his accident freely, and admitting that he has accepted that he will never walk again.
But dancing, he does that all the time.
Scheuneman is approached by a cute little girl who wants to dance. She walks up to him and they dance, he in his wheelchair. She is blind. She smiles.
Today, Scheuneman teaches dance for the disabled children at the Skating Academy. He also works with disabled veterans at the local Veterans Affairs hospital. A few weeks ago, he was honored as the seventh Local Hero of the Year by the Tampa Bay Lightning — and he says his work has just begun.
Scheuneman received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program and will donate the money to REVolutions Dance, Great Explorations, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities/USF Foundation, Tampa General Hospital’s Wheelchair Rugby/Tampa General Hospital Foundation, Hampton Arts Management, Hands Across the Bay, VSA and the Marcia P. Hoffman Institute/Ruth Eckerd Hall.
He not only teaches dance at the skating academy, but also works as a part-time teacher at local schools.
“I was always into musical theater and wanted to teach kids how to dance,” Scheuneman said. “There are so many ways to help kids. I am not letting this get me down.”
The injury might be permanent, but so is his spirit.
“I knew as soon as it happened that it was permanent,” he said. “As soon as I realized what happened, I started to think about what was going to happen next.”
What happened was that he moved from his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to Tampa, where it was at least a little warmer during the winter.
“When I woke up after all the things that happened, my first thought was, ‘game on,’ ” he said. “I was doing all kinds of things and just had to find some new things to do.”
As he spoke, his students started to come into the academy. Some are in wheelchairs, others struggle to walk. There was the blind student. The kids have a song that is their theme. It is a song called “Better Days.” The kids move around the dance floor as best they can. They are actually pretty good and you can’t possibly wipe the smile off Scheuneman’s face.
“This is what I am meant to do,” he said. “Look at these kids. Just look at them. What could be better?”