I was born mid-summer in 1955 in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Maryland suburbs. I was lucky to be born from parents who had overcome humble beginnings who had worked hard to become successful. They were determined to give their four children the best chances to do the same.
When I showed flagging efforts in public high school, my parents placed me in a military preparatory school. The discipline and self-determination I learned at that time have helped me throughout my life.
After graduating from Dickinson in 1977 with degrees in history and economics, I traveled the country for a year then worked my way up to kitchen head in a renowned restaurant at an Atlantic Ocean beach resort.
But on July 23, 1980, during my second year in the cooking business, I was hit by a car on my way home from work. My long odyssey began that day with a ride in a state police helicopter to a distant shock trauma unit. I had received a devastating spinal injury (T12)—and this one was really going to hurt in the morning.
For the first few days post-accident, my future, at age 25, appeared bleak. According to the doctors, I would never walk again. I didn’t know it then but, in time, I learned that recoveries must first take place in the heart. This initial part of my recovery occurred rather quickly.
Nearly helpless and having lost total control of my life, I was lying in bed in the spinal injury unit getting my hair washed and my first shave. I hadn’t seen my own face for many days, and so the nurse passed me a little hand mirror to show me how the cleanup was going.
I gazed into that mirror and smiled back at myself because, at that second, I knew I would be OK. After having rested in the hospital bed for so long, I was happy to see my eyes were clear and pearly white and no dark circles, which gave me hope. To everyone’s amazement, I quickly pulled myself back from the looming abyss of depression. Things were going to change.
Within a few months, with a surfer’s body strength, I pulled myself up to stand, and eventually walk, though in an ungainly fashion. I learned that my lower body was afflicted with partial paralysis rather than complete paraplegia. During the first year, I could tell I was going to be a “walker.” Things were going to get better, but a lot of work lay ahead.
Four months post-accident, I began 10 months of physical rehabilitation at a state-run center. Accompanying the physical rehabilitation, I was chosen to attend a blue-ribbon vocational program to achieve computer-programming proficiency through Johns Hopkins University.
During these months, I got my career back on track and experienced a true-miracle recovery. I got out of my wheelchair for the last time, but my overall recovery did not come as easily. It took another 11 years before my leg braces came off for good.
When the programming classes ended in October 1981, I moved out into the world and launched one of the busiest careers possible. Over the next 26 years, I held many different jobs, which include programmer analyst for Blue Cross Blue Shield, stockbroker for Dean Witter Reynolds, vice president and founder of Softpro Systems (a military software contracting company), vice president and founder of a personnel-recruiting firm in Tampa, Fla., systems administrator for a U.S. probation office, systems manager for the U.S. Attorneys Office and president of the family printing empire in the Washington, D.C., area.
After selling the family printing business in 2000, and happily returning to Tampa, I was recruited back into my federal career. The level of satisfaction I get from my present job eclipses all of the others that I have had in the past. I am the systems manager for the U.S. probation offices for the middle district of Florida (there are nine offices and a staff of more than 200 people).
Nowadays, I get around quite beautifully. I take halting steps with no canes, and I walk well with one or two canes. Truly, it’s not so bad after all.
At age 52, I can look back and see that a positive attitude, discipline and humor have helped me every day. I was always looking forward and trying hard, and it never even occurred to me that failure was an option. I got my spirit and optimism from my parents, and I thank them every night in my prayers
Paul Gumpert ’77
921 W. Beacon Ave.
Tampa, FL 33603
(813) 237-0122 (home)
(813) 301-5843 (work)