Jen Onsum Motivates at UWL

Karley Betzler, Staff Reporter

On the last day of November, students filled a lecture hall in Centennial. Many sat towards the front of the room and chatted as they waited. They grasped white, red, and yellow pins that read “fightin’ the stigma”. Hope Hickman, President of Students Advocating Potential Ability (SAPA), introduced the speaker of the evening, Jen Onsum. 

Hickman went on to say, “[Onsum] is an amazing person.” Onsum thanked Hickman then turned to the audience. “How are you?” Onsum asked. The audience murmured a response resembling the word ‘good’. Onsum joked about finals week closing in on the students. “An active mind is an elite mind,” Onsum stated. “If you’re able, please stand up.”  

Then, Onsum instructed the audience to jog in place, turn side to side, and take deep breaths. Onsum asked everyone to sit down again and began to ask questions that she stated she would answer throughout her speech. “Do you think [disabled individuals] can travel the country and beyond?” Onsum then asked, “What is the good life and how do you achieve it?” Onsum added, “It’s so simple. Anyone and everyone can live the good life.”  

Onsum and her older brother both have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, otherwise known as SMA. Onsum explained, “My muscles don’t have the ‘umpf’ that they need.” Because of SMA, Onsum is in a wheelchair and has spent lots of time in and out of hospitals. She hasn’t let SMA limit her. Onsum stated, “I’ve accomplished more than anyone ever thought I could.”

Onsum explained that her sense of determination originates from her parents. She recalled having a childhood where she was never sheltered or seen as fragile. Onsum described a time when she was and in the hospital, yet still expected to catch up on her homework.  

Onsum ran through her life leading up to her becoming a motivational speaker. During high school, Onsum played many sports and was an accomplished member of DECA. She attended the University of St. Thomas where she earned a degree in journalism. Onsum recalled being told it would take her seven years to complete her degree; Onsum completed it in five.  

Onsum remembers college as a time when she learned to advocate for herself. “I was on my own.” Onsum said. Onsum joined the sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma where she said she learned, “who I was and the person I wanted to be.”  

Onsum also recalled winning the title of First Runner Up to Ms. Wheelchair USA 2014 as being a “distinct honor.” Onsum reflected on her this experience, stating, “Through this I realized my purpose in life is to help others.”  

Onsum spoke to the audience about things they should always remember in life. Her first point was to be fearless. Onsum stated, “Fear can be a monster.” Onsum also expressed the need to take chances and be grateful. She ended with the note, “It only takes 13 muscles to smile.”  

“This world’s not made for people with disabilities.” Onsum went on to add, “That’s not always a bad thing.”