LAWRENCE, Kan. — Three years after his life changed in an instant, a KU senior is about to graduate on time and launch a marketing career.
“I’ve definitely learned how to live life in a wheelchair. I came here not knowing much,” Tom Babb said.
Marty Sedlacek knew Babb’s story before he met him after he saw the devastating story on FOX4.
The freshman pledge at KU’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity lost the use of his legs and hands simply jumping into a wave during a winter break vacation to Hawaii. He fractured his C-5 vertebrae.
“I had never met anyone who was paralyzed, never had a friend that was growing up and was kind of nervous to meet Tom,” Sedlacek admitted.
But he said Babb has always had a way of making others feel comfortable with his injury. He described an event with moms of fraternity members who seemed unsure of how to act around him.
“Tom just came up and was like, ‘Hey guys, I’m Tom Babb, and I’m paralyzed,'” Sedlacek recalled.
Babb’s fraternity brothers traveled to Colorado to initiate him while he spent the second semester of his freshmen year rehabbing. He then returned to a renovated fraternity house, where he had to learn to be a college student, in a wheelchair.
“I always tell people I got paralyzed in the best possible time to get paralyzed because there`s a lot of technology, for example, voice assistance,” Babb said.
“I`ll never forget coming into his room and seeing him working on homework. And he`s wearing a hat at his desk, and he`s moving his head around. And I’m like what is he doing? I walk up and check, and he’s got a little sensor on his hat that he uses as a mouse,” Sedlacek said.
For the most part Babb is a normal KU student and Jayhawk fan.
“I think I went to every game this year, and because I’m in a wheelchair, I sat courtside, which is a sweet perk,” Babb joked.
Babb credits his fraternity brothers for lifting him up along the way, sometimes quite literally. But he hopes he impacted their lives as well.
“I’ve been able to expose a lot of these guys to a part of life that a lot of people live that they would not have otherwise seen,” Babb said.
Babb has worked with college professors to understand the needs of students with disabilities on campus.
On April 28, his fraternity will sponsor the 4th Annual Tom Strong 5K on KU’s campus. Past races have raised more than $100,000 to create scholarships for students with accessibility needs.
“I never thought I’d do something like this. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. We’ve built something that is really strong,” Babb said.
This year for the first time he plans to race himself, the last race before he graduates.
“To see Tom graduate, not only in four years, but also suffer the injury, recover from the injury, and learn how to live life post injury and still remain on track to graduate is something that`s completely inspirational and phenomenal,” Sedlacek said.
Soon, he’ll be headed out into the post-college world. But he’s ready.
“I got paralyzed and came into this house and I’ve lived in this house paralyzed. Now I’m going off into the real world. I`m a little scared, but I`m really excited and really motivated,” Babb said.