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Unshakeable optimism in shakeable times

Officer Paul Meyer, who was paralyzed from an on-duty accident, is honored at nation's Top Cops Awards


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brett Williamson follows Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer to his vehicle with boxes of ammunition at the Central Precinct in downtown Portland. Williamson is a Fire & Police Disability Retirement liaison with the city of Portland.If a person can be summed up in a word, Officer Paul Meyer is humble. He’s so humble that if you told him he was, he’d probably shake his head and smile before looking you square in the eyes and telling you all the qualities that make up the wonderful person that you are. The compliment would be deflected just like that — executed so smoothly that you won’t even realize it’s been done.

If you only knew only one fact about Meyer, this might be surprising. For a year-and-a-half, the 44-year-old has been paralyzed from the bellybutton down.

In November 2012, Meyer was participating in an ATV training course for his job with the Portland Police Bureau. The entire day, all he could talk about was how cool it was that he was getting paid to ride ATVs. Later that day, a tree the size of a telephone pole fell on top of him as he was about to ride by at 15 miles per hour. It hit him on top of the head before landing on the back of his quad, catapulting him off the vehicle like a bull. Meyer landed face down in a puddle, the chin protector on his helmet keeping his face just far enough out of the water that he didn’t need to be flipped over before paramedics arrived.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer wipes away tears of joy as he reflects on the many people who have helped him and his family lead a normal life after being struck by a tree while riding an ATV during a training exercise that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

For three months, Meyer was in the hospital while his wife, Mary, scoured the area for an accessible home with the help of their self-titled extended family neighbors. Finally, they found a rental, but it wouldn’t be until the following January that their true Tualatin home’s remodel was finished and ready for them to move back.

“The true healing for me didn’t begin until we got back in here,” says Mary. “There’s been so much going on until this point that now I’m finally...”

“Life’s a little different now, but we’re living it at least,” Paul interjects as Mary trails off.

“It’s been such a whirlwind,” she adds.

In September, Paul Meyer went back to work. As a police officer with the Portland Police Bureau for 21 years, it’s what he loves to do. He’s good at helping people, at seeing where they come from. He thinks it all goes back to what he learned in kindergarten: treat others as you want them to treat you. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Neighbor and friend Tina Schroeder hugs Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer before leaving with Meyer's wife and friends on an outing. Schroeder and neighbors, who are a close-knit group of people, have been supportive of the Meyer family.

As a paraplegic, what he’s able to do at work isn’t the same as what he could do before. But he laughs and says he had too many jobs, anyway. Now, he works in the armory, which was one of his duties before. At 30 hours a week, his life is finally starting to get back into a routine, along with his wife’s and their two sons. And still, Meyer’s striking optimism is somewhat difficult to comprehend.

Throughout his healing and his family’s readjustment, hundreds of people helped out, whether monetarily or through emotional support. To each of these people, his wife and neighbor Tina Schroeder wrote a thank you card, though Schroeder was quick to point out Mary wrote the bulk of them. Meyer says it all comes down to paying it forward.

“I’ve heard a number of people say to me before that it’s too bad that something like this has to happen before we rally up and do this. See, I don’t see it that way at all,” he says. “The way I look at it is that in the greatest time of need, that’s when we come together. That’s when we rally, and that’s when we take care of each other. There’s nothing better than that. That speaks volumes of people, and that’s pretty amazing.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer uses a Freedom Ryder bike made in Tualatin as a form of exercise in his home in Tualatin.

Earlier this month, Meyer was recognized at the nation’s Top Cops Awards in Washington, D.C. The awards are based on nominations and presented to police officers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Meyer, who received an honorable mention, doesn’t entirely feel like he deserves it. He appreciates it, of course, but is continuously trying to earn his spot next to the officers he met at the event who he feels did so much more than him.

It’s this unshakeable attitude that does place Meyer next to the officers who risked their lives for the greater good. For many people, losing the use of legs, as well as core and lower back muscles, would be enough to put a dark cloud over the sunniest days. Meyer is happy to be alive. What he struggles with more than anything is accepting the help bestowed on him and his family.

“One of the hardest things in this whole thing was that in my whole career, it was my job to help people. To be there for others. When things were the worst that they were going to get and they had to get on the phone and call 911, I would come help,” he says. “Now, all of a sudden, people are helping us. It’s hard to accept that stuff. You don’t feel worthy of it a lot of the time, to be honest with you.”

Part of Meyer’s optimism is aimed at showing his sons Russell, 12, and Matthew, 8, that having something bad happen to you doesn’t have to change who you are. Meyer’s disposition was always happy, and he doesn’t see what he has to be upset about now.

Sometimes, things get difficult. Watching his wife lift his wheelchair into the car. Not being able to do the same things around the house. No longer working with his tight-knit squad. Putting on socks. But these are small barriers for a man who still finds enormous amounts of joy from knowing he was perilously close from no longer being a husband, a father or a police officer.

Meyer teared up several times in recounting the events of the last 18 months. Not once was it because of his injury. Every time, it was because of his gratitude for all the support he’s received and his relief that he’s still the person he always was.

“All tears of joy,” Meyer says. “Life is good. Life is good. I don’t complain because I don’t think I have anything to complain about.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland police officers at the Central Precinct catch up with Officer Paul Meyer about his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he was recognized at the nation's Top Cops Awards.



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