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Wisconsin woman writes book about being paralyzed

ELLSWORTH — Tasha Schuh is used to getting embarrassing questions about her sex life.

Schuh, paralyzed from the chest down since she fell through a stage trap door in 1997 during a rehearsal for her high school musical, said she understands why people are curious.

“You know, I live in a very small town,” said Schuh, 36, of Ellsworth, Wisconsin. “People would stop me at the grocery store and were, like, ‘Um, how’s that going to work?’”

Schuh isn’t afraid to overshare when she answers.

In fact, she’s written a book, “My Next Move Forward,” in which she tackles everything from online dating to dating in a wheelchair to intimacy and sex.

“I know that this is what people want to know,” she said. “I felt like I needed to be an open book on this and answer those questions so that stereotypes and myths could be dispelled.”

The book will be published by Wise Ink in December; it follows “My Last Step Backward,” which was published in 2012.

Schuh was a junior in high school when she was cast in the chorus of “The Wizard of Oz.” During a rehearsal at the Sheldon Theater in Red Wing, she was asked to move during a scene change. She took a step backward, fell 16 feet and landed on her head on a concrete floor, breaking her neck, crushing her spinal cord and fracturing her skull.

Doctors told her she would never walk — or sing — again.

Schuh, who was crowned Miss Wheelchair USA in 2012, has spent the past 20 years proving them wrong. In addition to being a published author, Schuh is a professional singer and motivational speaker.

“My passion is spreading my message and what I’ve learned,” Schuh said. “I look at how much I’ve overcome and how much I’ve accomplished. Every year has had so much meaning to me, and every year my life gets better, and I just love sharing that.”

Schuh talks to thousands of people each year at churches, schools and businesses around the country. She gave 55 speeches last year — to audiences ranging from a few dozen people to more than 1,000. Her husband, Doug Michaels, serves as her manager. The couple has been married for four years.

They met in 2012 through Christian Mingle, a dating website. Michaels was working as a meteorologist for WQOW-TV in Eau Claire, at the time.

“When Doug and I were dating, I had so many questions,” Schuh said. “We didn’t live together before we got married. We waited until our wedding night to be intimate.

“It turned out (sex) was completely the opposite of what I had feared. A lot of things that I had fears about, I laugh about now and think ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I was so scared about that.’ Now it’s such a beautiful thing.”

Earlier this year, Schuh released her first original song. It’s called “Hope.”

One stanza includes these lines: “Even when it hurts to breathe, focus on the good and see, how beautiful, this life can be.”

“It’s really my story and journey put to music,” Schuh said. “I have felt purposeless, hopeless and many times did not want to continue on. However, today, I’m so thankful that I held on — that I never gave up. The best was yet to come, and I’m so thankful that I persevered even in the darkest of times.”

One of Schuh’s darkest times came three years ago, when her best friend’s 14-year-old son killed himself. Schuh founded the “PITCrew” movement to help, she said.

“I knew I had to do something,” she said. “Most people who are contemplating a suicide feel alone, and they feel that nobody is there — and so the pit crew, like in NASCAR, is a team of people who help the driver win the race.”

Schuh’s fall nearly severed her spinal cord. She can’t move any of her fingers, but has limited movement in her arms and wrists.

When her doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester learned she could move her wrists, they were ecstatic.

“I was, like: ‘Are you kidding me? So I can move my wrists, so what?’ “ she said in 2014.

Schuh includes that story in her speeches. “I speak about the little things in life and about attitude and about how this is such a huge movement,” she says, moving her wrists in a circular motion. “This allows me to do everything that I do today.”

She can drive, move her wheelchair, feed herself, put on makeup, use a computer and sign copies of her books.

“Everyone goes through difficult times,” she said. “We all have them. It’s how we look at them and how we go through them that makes it easier or harder. ... I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to accomplish this much and stay healthy and continue to inspire others — even after 20 years.”


SARAH SEIFERT, The Herald 

Holiday singers serenade an audience at the Chippewa Falls Senior Center with Christmas favorites during the center's annual "Lighting of the Trees" event Friday afternoon.


Flynn guilty plea brings Mueller investigation directly into the White House

WASHINGTON — The investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election hit the White House for the first time Friday as President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador and agreed to help investigators as they focus on other presidential aides.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras said the retired three-star Army general had agreed to provide “substantial assistance for prosecution of another person,” giving special counsel Robert S. Mueller III a critical leg up as he pursues the case.

The documents don’t identify that person. But a former official said Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was the “very senior member” of Trump’s transition team who directed Flynn to contact Russia’s envoy last year, according to the filings. The former official identified K.T. McFarland, who was Flynn’s deputy in the White House, as the “senior member” of the team also cited in prosecution papers.

According to court papers, Flynn “willfully and knowingly” made “false, fictitious and fraudulent” statements to FBI agents when they interviewed him at the White House on Jan. 24, four days after Trump was inaugurated, as part of the investigation into whether any of the president’s aides had assisted Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count on Friday.

“Guilty, your honor,” Flynn, 58, said in a softer version of the gravely voice he used to denounce Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and lead chants of “Lock her up!” As he exited the federal courthouse, passersby heckled him by shouting, “Lock him up!”

The former Army intelligence officer had impressed Trump with his explosive criticisms of Democrats and hard-edged views on fighting terrorism. Now he poses a potential threat to the White House.

Flynn’s cooperation is “going to open the door to a whole avenue of information,” said Bradley D. Simon, a former federal prosecutor in Washington and New York. “Obviously, the president and those in the White House have to be deeply concerned about today’s developments,” he said.

“Flynn has been a live torpedo in the water for months,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington Law School. “We all agreed that he had the range to hit anyone in the White House. The question is whether he had the load to do any damage. We still don’t know the answer to that question.”

Mueller has not charged anyone with helping Russian hacking or other election-related misdeeds. But for the first time, he has charged a former White House official in a case centered on high-level communications with the Russian government. Mueller thus sent a clear warning to those still in the crosshairs.

The single charge against Flynn, who agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, stands in sharp contrast to the harsh case filed against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, who refused to cooperate. They were charged Oct. 30 with a dozen counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

Flynn was released Friday on his own recognizance. Manafort’s lawyers this week asked a judge to approve a bail package that would allow him limited travel in exchange for pledging properties worth $11.6 million.

It’s not clear whether those Flynn spoke to about his conversations with the Russian ambassador are also at risk.

During the campaign, Trump put Kushner in charge of outreach to foreign governments, and Kushner has since served as a senior adviser to his father-in-law on a broad range of issues, including the Middle East.

McFarland was deputy national security adviser under Flynn but was ousted by H.R. McMaster, Flynn’s successor, in April, and later nominated as ambassador to Singapore. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination in September but it has not come up for a Senate vote.

In a statement Friday, Flynn cited his 33 years of service in the Army, including five years in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called it “extraordinarily painful” to have endured “false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts” in recent months.

“But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and through my faith in God, I am working to set things right,” he added. “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country.”

Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, downplayed Flynn’s promise of cooperation. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” he said in a statement released by the White House.

Cobb also downplayed Flynn’s importance, saying that he was “at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration and a former Obama administration official.”

The Obama administration fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 for what it said was mismanagement. He became one of Trump’s closest aides during the campaign and the transition, both as a surrogate and as a policy adviser.

After the election, Trump named Flynn national security adviser, one of the most senior positions in the White House. But Flynn was forced to resign weeks later when the media disclosed he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador in Washington.

The charge Flynn pleaded guilty to Friday focused chiefly on those contacts. According to court papers, Kislyak contacted Flynn on Dec. 28 after then-President Barack Obama announced he was imposing sanctions on Russia in response to its meddling in the U.S. election.

The next day, the filing says, Flynn “called a senior official” — apparently McFarland — on Trump’s transition team, who was with other aides at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, to seek guidance. They discussed the potential impact of the sanctions on Trump’s foreign policy goals.

After the call, Flynn called Kislyak and “requested that Russia not escalate the situation.” Flynn then spoke again with the senior official in the transition team “to report on the substance of his call … including their discussion of the U.S. sanctions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated the next day that Russia would not retaliate for the U.S. sanctions; Kislyak called Flynn to share the news, and he informed the transition team.

But in his Jan. 24 interview with the FBI, Flynn “falsely stated” that he did not ask Kislyak about the sanctions, and did not remember the follow-up conversations, the charging document says.

Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about talking to Kislyak about a United Nations resolution passed last December criticizing Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The Obama administration was planning to abstain from the vote, a rare move by the U.S., which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions critical of Israel.

On Dec. 22, Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of the transition team — apparently Kushner — to contact officials from Russia and other foreign governments “to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution, according to court papers.

Flynn called Kislyak the same day and asked Russia, which holds a veto in the U.N. Security Council, to oppose the settlement resolution. Kislyak called back the next day and said Russia would not vote no, the prosecution document says.

A version of the resolution passed later that day after the U.S. abstained.


Marc Wehrs / Olivier Douliery, Abaca Press 

Flynn


J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2, 2017. 


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Eagle Point moving forward against railroad, public hearing may be set for 2018

The town of Eagle Point has not yet signed an agreement to close 95th Avenue as railroad company Progressive Rail requested, town chairman Dennis Ferstenou confirmed at a meeting Thursday. Instead, the town will continue to pursue a traffic study before agreeing to shutter the road.

The matter is ultimately in the hands of the state’s Commissioner of Railroads. The town has until Dec. 11 to submit its rebuttal, and eventually a public hearing will be held.

Progressive Rail wants to close 95th Avenue so workers will have a stretch of land long enough to assemble mile-long trains, the railroad’s director of public affairs, Jason Culotta, told the Herald Monday.

But closing 95th Avenue would route much more traffic to 105th Avenue, which is dangerous for pedestrians, Ferstenou said — 105th is roughly a mile north and provides access to an entrance to O’Neil Creek Campground and several residential driveways.

“With the campground there and so many people walking along 105th, I think there would be quite an impact on safety,” said Roxy Kuss, an Eagle Point resident who owns land near 95th Avenue.

“I think, where’s the haste to close this when it hasn’t stood the test of time?” Ferstenou said.

Culotta said the company believes the road can be safely closed, but that the railroad is hesitant to pay for a traffic study without knowing it would benefit the company.

“The railroad would have to eat the costs (of closing the road),” he said.

“We’d have to create a cul-de-sac on either side, pave it and finish it off. (The traffic study) is just a tough thing for us to say we’ll pay … I’d like to actually get a cost.”

Culotta said he has reached out to engineers for the cost of a traffic study, but estimates the study could cost up to $40,000.

In addition to the cost of a traffic study, town residents and officials are worried the sand business will take a dive and the railroad will abandon plans. Progressive Rail initially agreed to conduct a traffic study in 2015, when it had proposed a ten-track railyard over 95th Avenue, but abandoned the construction plans when its business slowed.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the town of Eagle Point and our neighbors, the city and county ... all of a sudden to close this road when there’s so much uncertainty about whether the sand business will hold up,” Ferstenou said.

Culotta doesn’t think the railroad’s business will see another dip. “With the maturing of the sand industry, I think it’s much more stable in 2017-2018 … it was a younger business back then,” he said.

Several town residents expressed concern at Thursday’s meeting that the railroad might pursue closing 105th Avenue if its original petition is denied. Culotta dismissed the possibility; closing 105th would not give the railroad a long enough stretch of land to assemble the trains, he said.

Eagle Point town clerk Laurie Hebert expressed concern the railroad might eventually attempt to build the multi-track railyard it proposed in 2015.

The public will have an opportunity to comment before the final hearing. Ferstenou encouraged Chippewa County residents to contact the town with their comments.

Although a final hearing may be imminent, Culotta said the railroad is looking for other options. “We would like to continue to keep communication open (with) the town,” he said. “There may be other solutions that make sense.”

Town of Eagle Point attorney Ben Lane also said compromise may be the final word. “With any court case … both parties may not get what they want. If there’s something in the middle of what we both want, we can prepare for that too,” he said at Thursday’s meeting.

To submit public comment on the potential road closure, contact the town of Eagle Point at 715-288-6770 or at townofeaglepoint@centurytel.net.