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16-year-old with spinal cord injury from diving accident determined to walk senior stage

"I just learned you have to work hard for things."
Posted at 6:52 PM, Sep 01, 2021

WHITEFISH BAY — A diving accident this summer changed the life of 16-year-old Ben Iammartino, but not his determination to keep chasing his dreams.

The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, a challenge that Ben is now learning to face.

It started with a call from Ben's friends in June.

"It was possibly one of the most terrifying, scary experiences of our lives," said his dad, Steve Iammartino. "And it has been quite a journey."

Ben was at Klode Park in Whitefish Bay with friends and did what he has done several times before - jumped off the rocks and into the lake for a swim. But this time, something went terribly wrong.

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"Ben had a C5 fracture, which means he's paralyzed from his chest down," said Steve. "And the diagnosis is that he's going to have to work incredibly hard to learn how to function in his new normal."

That's the reality of the situation right now, but spend a few minutes with Ben and his parents Steve and Cathy and you'll see their resilience.

"Right off the bat, big goals, walk that senior stage," said Ben. "That's been the biggest motivator for me, walking that senior stage."

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Setting big goals has always been a part of Ben's life as a weightlifter, something he started doing with his father.

Just days before his accident, Ben is seen on cell phone video lifting 350 pounds.

"I mean, going to the gym five and six times a day, blood, sweat and tears, and I didn't stop, it was what I wanted to do," said the high school junior. "I just learned you have to work hard for things."

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That includes relearning to do certain things. "How to cut my own food, how to prepare my own food, and there's so many little things that no one would think about," Ben said.

Before the accident, Ben's goal was to study psychology in college and be a firefighter.

"I always wanted to help, it was my first thing, always help," said Ben. "So, no matter what I may look like a year down the line, if I'm walking, if I'm in a chair, no matter what - I know that I can help people."

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Through the tragedy and tears, Ben's family has stayed focused on the future without dwelling on the past.

"Ben's personality, his resilience and I know he's chuckling because he doesn't always feel that way about himself. But he's a remarkable young man," said his mother, Cathy. "And so it makes me really proud to be his mom. He's just a special kid."

The GoFundMe page for Ben has raised $33,000 so far with a goal of $50,000. Click here to donate.

The family says registration details are being worked out for a 5K at Nicolet High School on Oct. 17.

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