It doesn’t take much to realize that life isn’t going as planned, but staying positive during unwanted change is a skill you can learn.
Just ask Ben Jantzen, a recent graduate of UNLV, 56 years old. The course of his life has been changed several times, starting with the loss of his relatives and later after a devastating accident.
From Kansas to Vegas
Jantzen grew up in Hayesville, Kansas, just south of Wichita and today is home to only 11,000 people. Living in a small town has always left him wondering what’s out there, but his curiosity didn’t go away until his brother died in a car accident when Jantzen was only eighteen. His mother died four years later, and his father four years later who – which.
“I thought, ‘Life must be more than Kansas,'” Jantzen said.
So he packed his bags to Chicago and made his goal to become a flight attendant. As you quickly know, the competition is high and it often takes months or even years to enter the field. He applied to several airlines before he finally found his own airline and his dream of traveling around the world became a reality. Spend one week in Rio de Janeiro and Berlin the next – a new adventure was just around the corner.
“Follow your dreams and don’t give up. He advises, no matter how many times you shut the door in your face, keep trying.
In 1997, he made Las Vegas his home base where he continued to explore the world as a flight attendant. When he wasn’t working in the sky, he was sailing in the desert with his dream car – the red 1989 Jeep Wrangler.
Jantzen took the trip back to Chicago to visit some friends after nearly a decade of moving to Vegas. The group of friends would jump on the trampoline and take turns showing off their best flips. He decided to go to the back who had landed several times before, so without second-guessing himself, we went for it.
But this time it was different. He did not move his body enough and fell on his head, breaking the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae.
Injury to the c1-c8 vertebrae – where the elevated cervical nerves are located – lead to the most severe levels of spinal cord injury. Jantzen was paralyzed from the neck down.
He spent the next eight years of his life in a nursing home in Las Vegas. He said the first two years were dark and silent. Previously known as someone who was eager to explore life while singing and dancing on the radio, he was very loud, and now he would take refuge in his room alone with the music turned off.
After two years of watching Jantzen live in frustration, his friends gather to step in. They felt it was time to take back the character they all knew and loved, and it was time to help get him back out there.
So I thought, ‘Well, what can I do? Jantzen recalls.
Next to his house was Southern Nevada College. There, Joanna Gazerska, a disability specialist and counselor, helped him begin to answer that question.
Adjusting to college brought a new set of challenges, but leaving his comfort zone paid off when he graduated with a degree in General Studies.
In 2012 Janzten was awarded the MGM Mirage Heights Scholarship to further his education and attend UNLV University. The UNLV Disability Resource Center (DRC) assisted him in applying for and receiving the Nielsen Foundation Scholarship Program for students with spinal cord injuries.
Here he discovers a deeper love for history. As it happened, Jazierska moved to UNLV shortly after Jantzen. She became Jantzen’s teacher and helped him navigate college throughout the remainder of his time as an undergraduate.
In December 2020, he graduated with a BA in History with distinction with honors.
And he asked himself again, “Where do I go from here?”
He said the answer must be to help others.
“Whether it’s civil, LGBT+, or even environmental rights, I can still help others through the law.”
So now he’s ready to chase his latest adventure: the law school application process and challenge the image of a traditional law student.
“There is always a path you must take to try to improve yourself. The most important thing, whether you are in my position or not, is to maintain a positive attitude. Whatever you give to the universe is what will come back to you.”
Jantzen plays his music loud again, explores the Nevada hills in the passenger seat of his 1989 Wrangler, and is now studying for the LSAT.