PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman promoted Officer Paul Meyer to the rank of Sergeant on Thursday. It was a moment years in the making and many friends and coworkers crowded around him as he sat in his wheelchair.
“I’m super excited about it,” he said to one friend.
“Thanks man, I appreciate that very much Brian. That’s huge,” he said to another friend on the phone.
Meyer will be assigned to the Professional Standards Division, which tracks officers who have multiple complaints or use too much force.
“It’s out of the comfort zone, it’s a whole new challenge and there’s a lot riding on it with the with everything going on so I’m it excited about it.” he said.
As the crowd grew for Meyer and the others who would be promoted, it began to feel a bit overwhelming.
“There's tons of people here man. This is crazy,” Meyer said.
To understand it all, take a step back in time when Paul Meyer lived his dream job as an able-bodied Portland cop.
“Just loving work. I mean it was the best ever. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do the things I was doing. I’d have done it for free,” he said with a smile in his living room at home.
Meyer joined the bureau as a 22 year old, then quickly moved up to special weapons and the tactical team where he worked for eight years.
He loved it all, even the raw weather that lashed his ATV during a training on Hayden Island in 2012. But that day, everything changed.
“We were in a line and I was a couple back from the lead and we were heading back. Then the next thing I remember was a good 10 to 12 days after the accident,” said Meyer.
Background: Officer Meyer paralyzed from waist down %
The top half of a tree the size of a telephone pole snapped in the wind and smashed onto the top of his helmet and back with incredible force. The impact crushed his spine. Surgeons eventually pieced it back together but the nerves were shot. He'd never walk again.
The days of standing with his sons, fishing, were over.
“Yeah, I was a wreck,” he admitted.
It took weeks for reality to sink in. Portland police stationed an officer outside his hospital room, day and night.
“I was never alone. Even through my whole stay in the hospital. I was there 51 days,” he said.
The officers were there in case he needed anything -- and he did.
“Day 15, I tried to go through my first therapy session and I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t make it through. Couldn’t make it through any of it. It just tore me up and I remember the next day calling my wife, bawling. Going, 'I can’t, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how I’m going to work this?' And she said, 'Who is outside? Call them in! I’m on the way.'”
The officer convinced Meyer to ease up, to forget his old fit self, and focus on progress over the next year.
Adjusting to a new life
Meyer said he'll never forget all the support. It allowed his wife, Mary, to leave for hours and take care of their boys while he healed.
“It helped me, too. I was never alone. So if I had a hard time I could call somebody in and we could talk and laugh. It was pretty amazing. Very lucky. Very, very, lucky,” Meyer said.
He'd always had that positive attitude and over time, he applied it to his new reality.
“I could spend time being upset and angry and depressed and not happy about what happened. But all the time I spend doing that, I lose with them. I lose with my family, I lose with my wife, I lose with my kids and I can’t do that. I have no time for that. I need to spend time with them and enjoy life. So that’s what I try to focus on doing,” Meyer said.
But it’s not easy for any of them.
“I get emotional about it still,” said Mary from the family’s kitchen.
Photos: Road to recovery for Sgt. Meyer
The kitchen has been remodeled to allow her husband’s wheelchair to easily pass on each side of the island. She’s still letting go of their life before the accident.
“Mourning the life that we had. And learning how to live in this new state. It’s tough. Paul makes it look easy. And it’s hard every day,” she said.
Everything is different.
“It is overwhelming. Some days are really, really difficult. He's in pain a lot."
It’s impossible to ignore.
“Yeah, there is nerve pain that I still have, said Meyer. "I can’t wear shorts. I’ve got swelling so bad in my legs I’ve got to wear compression wraps from my knee down through my foot."%
But he'd rather not talk about it. There are new adventures to chase, including shooting bows with his boys, salmon fishing and even sky diving.
Mary said it took a year and a half of him lobbying her but she finally agreed to the sky-dive adventure.
“He wants to do this. He wants to live life. And he has an adrenaline habit. And even though he's in the chair now, I think he still needs to rev that,” she said.%
In quiet moments, Meyer knows many officers aren't as lucky as he is. He's visited the police memorial in Washington D.C. where he shaded the name of officer Tom Jefferies, who was killed by a gunman in Portland 20 years ago.
“As I’m shading his name it’s like, my name's not on this wall. And I see all these pictures of all these kids, them with their dads or moms leaving memorials and things, and my family doesn’t have to do that. So it’s just one of those moments. Man, I’m fortunate. I'm very lucky,” he said.
That's why his promotion day was so special.
Meyer had returned to work in the wheelchair, focused on doing his best. He reset his sights on a goal from before the accident: Becoming a sergeant.
On Thursday, that dream became reality.
To top it all off, Meyer stood with special robotic legs to accept the promotion. The crowd cheered and yelled with joy.
And Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman asked Mary to officially give her husband the Sergeant's badge.
A day, years in the making, that left hardly a dry eye in the room.
Published July 6, 2017