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New Memoir: It Rained in the Desert

Jocelynn Dettloff has written a memoir about her life after a spinal cord injury.

Book Signing Event

Book signing with author Jocelyn Dettloff, Sunday, January 12

1-3 PM

Spirit Dreams, 1430 Lake Drive SE in Grand Rapids

Author Jocelynn Dettloff

Author Jocelynn Dettloff /courtesy of Jocelynn Dettloff

Cover of the book, It Rained in the Desert

Cover of the book, It Rained in the Desert /courtesy of Jocelynn Dettloff

Jocelyn Dettloff remembers being calm after the fall.

She lay in the sand of Dune 45 Sosoussvlei, one of Namibia, Africa’s biggest sand dunes and thought about where the closest hospital might be. She already knew she couldn’t feel her legs or anything else from the chest down. But otherwise, nothing seemed to be broken. Just before this reflective moment, she’d been sand boarding. It’s like sledding on sand instead of snow.

“Growing up in Michigan I went snow sledding all the time, why would sand be any different?” she says. But, things were different that day. “I knew I was going too fast, but I couldn’t slow myself down. I saw a mound of dirt and thought it might stop me. It stopped my sled, but not me.” She flew off the sled, something she doesn’t remember, and injured her spinal cord. She had to wait for almost four hours for a rescue plane to take her to Windhoek the capital of Namibia. She was in the hospital there for three weeks until she was evacuated to Detroit and then to her hometown of Kalamazoo for two days before she arrived at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids for long-term rehabilitation. After rehab, she stayed in Grand Rapids and began to establish her career.

Her newly released 275-page memoir, "It Rained in the Desert, One Woman’s Story of Spirit and Resilience" recounts the day of the accident.

“It isn’t a book about spinal cord injury, wheelchairs or disability, It is for anyone who has experienced loss, an obstacle or an injury,” she warns. “Crappy things happen to people all the time and it comes down to how you choose to deal with things.” She dealt with life after injury, much like she did before, with a sense of adventure.

Dettloff is a competitive wheelchair tennis player and over the years would tell her injury story to other athletes.

“I’d always win for having the best story,” she laughs. People often encouraged her to write a book. “English was my major in college (University of Michigan) and I’ve always been an avid journal keeper.”

Ten years ago, she started to focus on putting words on paper for a book. She went back to her old journals and discovered a side of herself she’d forgotten. 

“I was angry, depressed and pissed off. All the emotions were right there,” she said. “I’d forgotten how hard it was when I was first injured, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.” She encourages other people who are newly injured to write.

“I tell them that they’ll never go through this ever, ever again,” she says. The book recalls her life from the accident in 1997 to 2010, a point where she felt she was quite satisfied with her life.

“There isn’t really a finish line. There is a lot of grief that lies dormant in an accident or loss, and it’s triggered by all kinds of experience and events," she says. "This April it will be 17 years for me and there’s still stuff that bothers me. That’s not to say my life isn’t good, because it has been.”

Dettloff works as the annual fund director at Mary Free Bed and previously worked at Disability Advocates of Kent County, also in fund development.

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