Joe Rhea
Not Your Average Joe

In The Media


Not Your Average Joe
Joe speaks to St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City

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Not Your Average Joe
News Segment on Metro Sports in Kansas City

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On The Radio

Joe on 680AM KFEQ In St. Joe MO 11.5.08 [Part I] - Windows Media
Joe on 680AM KFEQ In St. Joe MO 11.5.08 [Part II] - Windows Media

Click here to hear Joe speak about Priest Holmes on sports radio.
(MP3 8.3KB)

Click here to hear Joe's radio interview with Dr. Beth Halbert.
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Links to Stories

Joe Rhea gives his Bars, Cars and Catastrophes speech

Written Articles

'Annoying' Traffic Laws Protect Lives
Editorial written by Joe Rhea

On Oct. 25, Mardelle Busch wrote that traffic officers should issue warrants and stop giving tickets to "law-abiding citizens." That's nonsense.

More than 45,000 people a year die from car crashes. Most of those crashes result from some form of violation or inattentive driving.

We take for granted every single day why we have traffic laws, and most of us abuse them on a consistent basis. Just because you don't get caught for speeding every time, doesn't mean you're not "breaking the law."

Let me tell you why we have those "traffic laws." More people under the age of 33 die in car crashes than any other cause of death. In a car crash, you are more likely to suffer a catastrophic spinal cord injury or brain injury , both of which are incurable. And remember this, you just don't die in a car crash, you are killed violently!

We throw around the word accident way to often when we refer to car crashes. Accident implies unpreventable events. Most car crashes are preventable. In Missouri the three main causes of car crashes are 1) inattention, 2) speeding and 3) drinking and driving. None of these causes are accidents. Just because you didn't mean to, doesn't mean it constitutes as an accident. Almost all car crashes are preventable and are caused by a driver doing something wrong.

As the lead speaker for the Think First Foundation of Kansas City, a brain and spinal cord injury prevention foundation, I have met more than enough individuals who have survived car crashes and are now left a with permanent reminder of why there are traffic laws.

They are left to sit in their wheelchairs for life, wishing that they would have followed the traffic laws or wishing that the other driver would have done the same.

Traffic laws are laws for very good reasons. Unfortunately we all break them at times, and that is why we need traffic officers to do their job — to write those annoying but needed tickets, so that maybe a life is saved that day. Possibly it could be yours or mine.

This article appeared in the Kansas City Star "As I See It" section, Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Former football player's message to youth: Keep your head up
Written by Derek Samson

Local high school football coaches are filling those August calendars with plans for two-a-day practices. Joe Rhea has a plea — give him 30 minutes. He'll give you one heck of a story in return.

On Sept. 11, 1984, Rhea broke his neck during a football practice at Indian Trail Junior High School in Olathe. He was trying to make a tackle when the top of his helmet met the runner's thigh. Rhea, who lives in Olathe, now is trying to enhance his career as an educational and motivational speaker.

"I know it's sexy to have the big, crushing hit, but I emphasize to keep your head up," said Rhea, also a mortgage broker. "It's a serious matter. You can break your neck, and I'm living proof of it."

Rhea, 32, fractured his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and was paralyzed for a week from the neck down. Fortunately, his spinal cord was not severed, and Rhea learned to walk again. He remains partially paralyzed in his upper extremities but walks with no signs of the injury.

"It wasn't tough, it was grueling," Rhea said. "I had to rebuild my entire body. Imagine feeling the worst you can possibly feel, then imagine having to work out. That's what it was like. I worked my tail off."

Feel like giving Rhea those 30 minutes? Call (913) 486-9180.

This article appeared in the Kansas City Star, Sunday, July 20, 2003
Edition: METROPOLITAN, Section: SPORTS, Page C2

Speaker hopes the story of his injury will help motivate others
Written by Nick Serrano

Sept. 11 drummed up horrifying memories for Joe Rhea years before most people distinguished the day from any other. Rhea suffered his own scare on Sept. 11, 1984 - the day he broke his neck during an Indian Trail Junior High football practice. After being paralyzed for several days, Rhea slowly learned to walk again and regained about half the strength in his upper body. About two years ago, he decided to start sharing his story as a motivational speaker.

He has become a speaker for the Think First Foundation, an educational organization based at Research Medical Center that sends speakers to schools to talk about brain and spinal cord safety. Ron Wimmer, superintendent of the Olathe School District, plans to have Rhea speak in local schools. Rhea attended Olathe South High School.

"He has a motivational story in regard to his personal challenges and what he overcame," Wimmer said. "Oftentimes people respond positively to those kinds of human interest stories."

On the day of his injury, Rhea remembers losing feeling in his arms the instant his head slammed into another player's thigh.

"When I was riding in the ambulance they didn't tell me anything, probably because they didn't want to scare me," he said. "I thought maybe I'd broken my arms or had the wind knocked out of me."

Paramedics took Rhea to Shawnee Mission Medical Center. He vomited when doctors told him he had broken his neck.

He now goes downhill skiing. He plays golf and Frisbee and belongs to a gym where he runs on treadmills and rides stationary bikes. Rhea considers himself incredibly lucky. During the football injury, one of the vertebrae on his spinal cord fractured, a second fractured and compressed, and a third shifted out of place. His spinal cord was bruised.

"If you sever, rip or tear your spinal cord in any way you are paralyzed for life," Rhea said. "But I bruised my cord so they didn't know."

Rhea was a quadriplegic for about a week after the injury. He barely managed to lift his left leg on the seventh day. Eventually he learned to walk again, and now his main disability is weakness in his upper body.

About 45 percent of his upper-body muscles are atrophied. His neck and shoulders are sore every day. His hands are becoming arthritic.

Physical limitations weren't the only problems Rhea faced. He also fell into a depression in the years after his injury, largely because he no longer could pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. His hero is former Royals second baseman Frank White.

"Depression is debilitating," Rhea said. "It really makes you feel worthless and hopeless."

Eventually he overcame his depression and decided to start sharing his story. White attended one of Rhea's motivational speeches several months ago at California Trail Junior High.

"He really gripped them with his message," White said. "The message was just straight from the heart: You always have to keep trying, and you can never give up."

This article appeared in the Kansas City Star, Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Edition: JOHNSON COUNTY, Section: OLATHE STAR, Page 6

Olathe man hopes to inspire others with story of recovery
Written by Mhari Doyle

When Joe Rhea was 14, he had the dream many boys have: to play professional baseball. But in September 1984, his dreams were shattered during a football practice at Indian Trail Junior High. Rhea was seriously hurt when his neck snapped backward during a tackle. Two of Rhea's upper vertebrae were fractured, and another was severely compressed. His spinal cord was bruised and flattened on the right side.

His injuries paralyzed him for two weeks and permanently weakened his arms and upper back.

"Sports was my life," Rhea said. "I knew it in my heart. I had always known that baseball was my sport."

Now 29 and working as a waiter at Paulo & Bill's restaurant, Rhea still believes he could have made it to "The Show."

"Even today, I think I would have been playing professional baseball," said Rhea, who is 5 foot 9 inches and 120 pounds. "Yeah, anybody can say that. But how many people can break their necks and recover?"

Jeff Meyers, the head football coach at Olathe East High School, was an assistant coach at Indian Trail when Rhea was injured. Meyers said the extent of Rhea's recovery is rare.

"The first thing he said after the injury was, 'Where are my arms?"' Meyers said. "Instantly, we knew there was a problem. He's made a miraculous recovery for an injury of that type. I know of others that haven't recovered as well."

Rhea said doctors weren't sure whether he would recover. "But I was brassy about it."

His primary motivation to get better was to prove to others that he was a talented athlete. But often his drive to compete outlasted his body's endurance and ability. In high school, he tried out for the baseball team but got cut because his arms weren't strong enough.

"I didn't give up even though I was depressed," he said. "I thought of suicide, but I wasn't about to quit."

Meyers remembers Rhea as a good athlete with strength enough to help him bounce back. "Joey has proven that he's always had the drive," Meyers said. "He was a very goal-oriented and strong-willed kid."

Rhea has about 90 percent of the strength back in his legs, but his arms, hands and shoulders have never fully rehabilitated. If the recovery had been reversed - his leg muscles atrophying instead - Rhea said he would probably use a wheelchair.

"This is different from being in a wheelchair," he said, because his disability isn't readily apparent.

"When you can't see it, you have to explain why you can't do certain things. And then people think you're just making excuses. ...Obviously, I do have an ego. It was really hard for me... I'm still waiting for the answer for why this happened to me."

With the therapy and recovery largely behind him, Rhea said he needed to make an emotional and mental comeback: "I was hateful. I had no self-esteem."

After a stint at the University of Kansas, Rhea and a few friends moved in 1994 to Vail, Colo., to find work at the ski resort. He began skiing, a sport he could do well, and his attitude started to brighten.

"I met a guy on the ski slope who was skiing on a mono-ski," Rhea said. Skiers who have one leg commonly use a mono-ski — a wider, shorter ski. "We started talking, and I told him my story. And he said that I have to start focusing on what I can do, not what I can't do. He was right."

From that point, Rhea focused on repairing himself emotionally. After some time in California, he moved back to Olathe in 1996.

As Rhea searched for a career, he said, friends and family encouraged him to start telling his story of recovery to others. He wrote a book, Somewhere in the Middle, which hasn't been published.

Rhea said his next goal is to become a motivational speaker.

"I have a story to tell," he said. "You see me and you have no idea what I've gone through. I'm very fortunate for what didn't happen to me. Life's pretty much a good thing."

This article appeared in the Kansas City Star, Saturday, March 4, 2000
Edition: JOHNSON COUNTY, Section: OLATHE STAR, Page 3

KU student very familiar with injury Byrd suffered
Written by Kent Pulliam

Joe Rhea can empathize with Jets defensive end Dennis Byrd - and he can offer some hope. He suffered fractures of his fourth and fifth cervical vertebra playing football in junior high school.

Rhea, a 22-year-old student at the University of Kansas, was one of the lucky ones. He has recovered completely. He plays tennis, skis and even plays intramural football. His only reminder is the lack of upper body strength.

"My situation is rare because I broke the vertebra vertically," Rhea said. "There was nothing damaged to the spinal cord. I do about everything I want to do."

Rhea remembers the date vividly: Sept. 11, 1984. He was practicing on a junior high team at Indian Trail Junior High School in Olathe.

"My first reaction was that I thought I had broken my arms," Rhea said. "I couldn't feel anything."

By that night Rhea said he regained some feeling in his legs. By a month's time he had feeling back in his arms and legs. He did not undergo surgery to stabilize his neck. Because of the type of fracture he suffered, it could be treated by immobilizing his head in a halo device.

Rhea played tennis at Olathe South High School. But he thinks about his neck injury every day.

"My situation is so similar to others who are paralyzed," Rhea said. "I was really fortunate."

This article appeared in the Kansas City Star, Thursday, December 3, 1992
Edition: METROPOLITAN, Section: SPORTS, Page D5