Rising to the Challenge

In the documentary “Waiting to Rise,” Rob Roozeboom’s small son asks him, “Dad, why do you walk like that?”

“Because I have muscular dystrophy, son,” he answers.

The boy is unconvinced. “Penguins walk like that,” he observes, “but they don’t have muscular dystrophy.”

At this stage of his life, Roozeboom, 33, can laugh uproariously at that assessment. But as a boy himself, and later as a teen, his disability was no laughing matter.

A new 90-minute documentary, “Waiting to Rise,” tells the story of Roozeboom’s transformation from angry and alienated youth to inspirational minister. It was commissioned by Rise Ministries, an organization Roozeboom heads in Sheldon, Iowa.

As a child in Pella, Iowa, Roozeboom dreamed of becoming a farmer and a college football star. Through flashbacks and family interviews, the documentary describes his nearly overwhelming desperation and despair as symptoms of his limb-girdle muscular dystrophy progressed and his dreams dissolved.

His sister, who has the same disease, says Rob came home from school angry almost every day. “He was pretty much a jerk from junior high all the way into college,” she recalls.

Two influences pulled Roozeboom out of his pit of rage and resignation: the love of a woman (something he thought he would never have), and his discovery and acceptance of religious faith.

In 2001, Roozeboom created Rise Ministries, whose mission is to “teach teens and adults how to overcome adversity in their lives and how to dream new dreams.”

In the early days of the organization, Roozeboom would tell his story of coming to grips with muscular dystrophy as an example to emulate; later, others who had straightened out their lives began to add their own stories. Rise Ministries now includes a radio program, summer music festival, road trips and community assistance efforts staffed by volunteers.

Rise Ministries is now ten times larger than when it was founded, Roozeboom says. He estimates that in 2009, about 15,000 people heard him speak in person, while nearly a million more tuned in to his radio program.

Roozeboom is a member of MDA’s National Task Force on Public Awareness, a group of people with neuromuscular diseases who are leaders in their communities and achievers in their professional fields. Its members serve as volunteer consultants for the Association.

Initially thought to have Becker muscular dystrophy, Roozeboom later received a diagnosis of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens muscles in the hips and shoulders. In his case, it makes walking difficult, staying upright precarious, and rising to his feet from a sitting position without help a major challenge. He can’t raise his arms much above waist height.

Yet he’s resolved that giving in to the disease is not an option. “Rob’s a fighter,” says one of his friends.

Adds his father: “Rob will make a difference in this world as long as God gives him breath.”

The DVD documentary is available for $16.45, including shipping and handling, through the organization’s Web site, www.riseministries.com.

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