October 15, 2010. This is an important day for me. It’s the day that my life changed.
I can remember some things about that fateful autumn day. I remember being on vacation, coming from Tennessee, to visit family and friends in my home state of Indiana. I remember getting on the road to spend time with my cousin Anna. I can also remember the drive through the countryside and passing the tall cornfields as I headed towards my destination.
And then…I remember waking up in a strange bed in a room I had never seen before. My mom and sister were there and they were the first to tell me where I was and why I was there. Through my disorientation I heard them say that I had been in a horrible car wreck and I had been Life lined to a hospital in Indianapolis. They also told me that I had suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.).
Processing this was unbelievably confusing. But as I became more aware of my situation, I made an even more shocking discovery. I didn’t have any feeling in my hands and feet. For me, the thought of never being able to play the drums again, the instrument that helped define who I was, crept into my mind. To say that I was concerned would be the understatement of all my years on this planet.
Fast forward twelve days later. I was now being admitted to a rehabilitation hospital. It was here that I started the hard work of putting my life back together again. I had to re-learn how to speak, walk, coordinate and balance my body. I also had to re-learn how to think clearly. The therapy I was given was crucial to my recovery. However, I’m convinced that a visit from some dear friends at this facility helped me more than I could have ever imagined.
Carolyn, Kristen and Kristen’s daughter, McKenzie came from Tennessee to visit me at the rehab center. They knew how passionate I was about drumming so they brought me some gifts – a pair of sticks and a practice pad. What a comfort it was to have familiar parts of my life back in my room and in my hands! I don’t know why but those sticks and that practice pad became an integral part of my recovery. Along with my structured physical, occupational, speech and psychological therapies, I started tapping and I created a personal drum therapy for myself. It just felt natural and right to participate in my recovery in this way. Those sticks and that pad? I guess you could say they were a Godsend.
As I worked on my drumming during those tough months after my accident, my technique started to soar! I was now able to play 32nd and 64th note paradiddles, flams and drags. At this point, I couldn’t walk without losing my balance. But here I was I was, effortlessly playing those rudiments at lightning speed! Somehow, some way, drumming was doing something to me. And what it was doing was healing me.
Four months into my recovery I was still struggling with carrying on conversations and “not bumping into people” due to the effects of my brain injury. Yet, there I was, playing drums at Whole World Fellowship Church in Oakton, Virginia. Music was working on me from the inside out. As I sat down on the drum throne, I felt that sense of balance, coordination and control. I knew now without a shadow of a doubt, that drumming was helping me and would always be a help to me.
As a T.B.I. survivor, I’ve suffered short-term memory loss, deductive and inductive reasoning deficits, fatigue, severe headaches, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the reduction of my ability to multitask. But my resolve is found in my walk with The Lord who has strengthened me for over thirty – three years. It’s also been found in my love affair with drumming.
The “hidden blessing” following my wreck is this: I have overcome tragedy and have risen in triumph! Lying in that first hospital bed, I was consumed with worry and fear about my condition. What would life be like for me, a person with Traumatic Brain Injury? Would I get my life back? Would I be able to drum again? Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m still living with struggles as a result of my accident. But thanks to my strong Christian Faith, I have gained a deeper understanding about myself. I have seen God use the gift of music to help me. And as I live this “new normal life”, a life that now includes Traumatic Brain Injury, I rejoice over this profound truth. I am a Survivor–Thriver!
Gary “Porkchop” Schopmeyer
About Gary Schopmeyer
Gary Schopmeyer has been playing drums since the age of seven. After studying Percussion Performance at Indiana State University, Gary went on to play with many Christian acts as well as popular Tennessee musicians Billy London (Stephen Bishop), Cactus Moser (Wynonna Judd), and noted Nashville guitarist San Rafael.
After suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2010, drumming, along with other therapies, helped him recover and move forward with his life. Gary has proven that he is a “Survivor-Thriver.”
In 2013 Gary released his debut country CD Little Ditty Doodles and his autobiographical film Timber, Tones, Tricks and Other Things: A Percussionist’s Perspective. In addition, Gary “pays it forward” by conducting his “THOR” (The Heart Of Rhythm) Workshops to help children and adults with mental and physical challenges through drums and rhythm.
For information on Gary’s recordings, film, and workshops, visit his site at