'I was in a dark hole:' Crazy socks help paralyzed West Fargo man through crisis

Sometimes, it's the little things that make all the difference, especially when you are trying to learn how to walk again. And how a change in attitude and feeling of "new life" all started with a pair of socks.

Rick Clemenson from West Fargo speaks to WDAY News' Kevin Wallevand about his time judging a crazy sock contest at Sanford Health.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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WEST FARGO — It's been a roller-coaster ride for 59-year-old Rick Clemenson of West Fargo.

"Now we wheel in and put a sheet on the mat," a Sanford physical therapist said to Clemenson on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

"How are you this morning?" another physical therapist asked.

The fact Clemenson is in physical therapy making big strides wasn't in the cards just weeks ago.

After years of unloading trucks, his back just gave up on him, and he sustained a spinal cord injury.


"When I lost all feeling from my waist down, that really scared me. It really scared me," Clemenson said.

The injury led to several surgeries. Clemenson underwent spinal fusions and received a prediction that nearly wrecked him.

"(A doctor at another hospital) told me I'd never walk again. That was devastating," Clemenson said.

Suddenly, Clemenson was wheelchair bound and hospitalized.

"I'm laying in bed and crying," he said.

He wasn't sure he could even go on.

"It's been a challenge. First two days I was here, I was in a very dark hole," Clemenson confessed.

But out of the blue, something changed.


More from WDAY's Kevin Wallevand

"Socks. I don't know. I honestly don't know," Clemenson said, talking about the crazy sock phenomenon that started.

Clemenson's family, nurses, physicians and physical and occupational therapists at Sanford Rehab all started buying and wearing crazy socks.

"It spread through here like wildfire," Clemenson said.

It turned out to be a quiet, subtle way to get him out of his emotional bottom-of-the-barrel state.

"It meant the world to me, that I connected with somebody," Clemenson said.

It worked. On Tuesday, the whole staff on the rehab unit wore the crazy socks, and held a contest with Clemenson as the judge. Contestants had socks adorned in everything from ducks to tacos, Wonder Woman, Pokemon, Santa and pickles.

"It's really been impactful, for not only him, but our patients and families and our staff people," said Rachael Towers, Sanford director of Nursing on the Rehab unit.

Those who specialize in rehab said not to underestimate the power of simplicity.


"When you make progress, all progress is not just physical, and somethings you just also get over the mental barriers and make progress," said Dr. Sonia Thakur, a Sanford physical and medicine rehab specialist.

If you ask Clemenson if all the hoopla around these crazy socks changed his life? "No," he said. It saved him.

"Most days I feel that way. I've been reborn," Clemenson said.

While in physical therapy Tuesday, Clemenson received a challenge.

"Hey, nice work. Nice work," a physical therapist said to Clemenson as he stood up.

On this crazy sock contest day, he got the motivation to stand on his own.

"Just amazed I can do this again," Clemenson said, smiling.

From that dark place weeks ago, to feeling like a superhero.

"For someone who couldn't feel anything from my waist down, and now I can start to feel," Clemenson said,

"That was beautiful," Rick's physical therapist said.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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