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Life-changing moment

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In the blink of an eye, Kelsey Peterson’s life changed.

The 27-year-old dance major and yoga instructor grew up on Bay Lake. She graduated from the University of Montana as a fine arts, dance major. This summer, she was in Duluth for a girlfriend’s wedding enjoying time on Lake Superior. On July 4, she dove off a boat into shallow water of the big lake’s Long Island and suffered a severe spinal injury. She is currently paralyzed from the mid-chest down.

The original prognosis was devastating. There was that shattering word — quadriplegic. A young woman with a life all about movement, now imprisoned by her own body.

The doctors, while hopeful and positive, prepared the family for limited movement and independence with her C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae compressed or fractured. No feeling or function was expected below the breastbone. But five hours after her surgery to stabilize her spine and one day after the accident, she moved her arms above her head.

Peterson and her family spent summers at Bay Lake and they actually moved from the Twin Cities to live on the lake for many years. Peterson is the daughter of Spence and Tori Peterson and the great-granddaughter of Charlie and Georgie Bronson, who built on the south point in the First Narrows at Bay Lake in 1935.

Now family and friends are rally around Peterson to help her in her recovery. A Saturday benefit at Bay Lake is raising funds to help with her non-medical expenses such as modifying her housing, transportation and education.

“She has a super amazing attitude and has really risen to the challenge,” said family friend Amy Sharpe of Aitkin. “She is still going through physical therapy with her hands and her arms.”

Peterson is in rehab at Miller-Dwan Hospital in Duluth. She eventually hopes to transfer to the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis later this fall.

Sharpe was recently with Peterson. Sharpe noted Peterson was smiling and spunky the day after everything changed.

“She was surrounded by her brothers and sister and feeling tired but willing to work and do whatever was asked of her...and even push more,” Sharpe reported. “The lead (registered nurse), Jim, remarked that he noted she was a dancer and she responded rapid fire, ‘and a damn good one too!’ That’s when we knew where she was going.”

Peterson has the use of her arms and with both hands can hold a glass.

“She’s in really good spirits,” Sharpe said. “She’s very positive and she’s really working hard. She still considers herself an athlete.”

The rehab is using a lot of different therapies and the family has learned of another yoga instructor who was paralyzed and developed an adaptive yoga program.

“When you talk to her she is very animated,” Sharpe said. “The goal is within two years she’ll be independent. She is very optimistic. She has tons of people sending good energy her way. She is a very charismatic person but it’s going to be a long road.”

Peterson didn’t have insurance. She was working as a bartender as she sought a position in her field. Sharpe said she can now see Peterson working with young people facing the same challenges and fighting the doom and gloom.

“It’s just one of those things how your life can change in a split second and not just her life but the life of her friends and family,” Sharpe said, adding it’s a reminder to everyone else not to take things for granted. As for Peterson, Sharpe isn’t ready to rule anything out regarding her progress or limitations. “She has exceeded a lot of their predictions already.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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