Bob Bardwell to share his inspirational story at Peterson event

Bob Bardwell
By : 
Scott Bestul

Bob Bardwell never had aspirations of being a motivational speaker as a child. However, through a series of completely unpredictable events, that is exactly what he has become. Bardwell, a nationally-renowned and highly-sought speaker for over 30 years, will share his story at Grace Lutheran Church in Peterson Sunday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m. 

At the event Bardwell, founder of Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch in Stewartville, Minn., will share highlights of his incredible personal journey, and the ministry that has resulted over the ensuing 45 years. The event is free to the public and refreshments will be provided.

Bardwell grew up loving the outdoors, developing a passion for camping that fully bloomed at Horn Creek Ranch in Colorado, where he worked as a camp counselor. “It changed my life and my heart,” Bardwell recalls of his summers spent at the camp. He saw the impact that going to camp has on a child, and desired to be a part of that reality. 

By age 25, Bardwell had completed four years of Bible College and Seminary in Minneapolis. He had already determined that he would someday run a youth camp and ranch of his own.

Those plans seemed to come to a screeching halt one fateful day in 1973. Bardwell was at a construction site outside of Rochester, spending his last summer of heavy construction work before seeking employment with a full-time ministry. Busy repairing a steel cable, Bardwell never saw the bucket of a Caterpillar that a co-worker accidentally dropped on top of him. “In a split second I was unconscious, my lungs collapsed, my ribs crushed, and my spinal cord severed, leaving me paralyzed from the neck down,” he recalls. 

Bardwell spent seven hours in surgery and remained in intensive care for six more days. He regained feeling in his arms while in St. Mary’s Hospital for the next five months, truly lucky to be alive. But now he had to learn how to live life as a paraplegic; his new reality as a man paralyzed from the waist down. 

“When disaster strikes, and our plans seem to be laid to ruin, we have the choice to become a victim or a victor. I know that pain, sorrow, and disappointment are inevitable, but misery is optional,” Bardwell shares. 

Through despair and recovery, three years after his accident, Bardwell’s dream of opening a camp began to take shape. His father Lester Bardwell purchased a chunk of land west of Stewartville, thus laying the foundation for a non-profit, non-denominational, independent Christian camp with a mission of “Spreading joy and changing lives.”

Bardwell says he never could have imagined the scope of the ministry that resulted from the opening of Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch, but he maintains “If God is in your dream, no request is too extreme.” Specializing in programs for youth and families, physically and mentally handicapped people, and members of the military, Ironwood Springs serves over 15,000 people annually. 

In addition, Bardwell also serves as the founder of the National Wheelchair Sports Camp, which serves physically challenged children and adults from across the both the country and the globe. This annual event gives participants a full week of activities, speakers, and fellowship that they can’t get anywhere else. Bardwell also helped to bring one hundred wheelchairs to Ghana, Africa, leading to the very first Paralympics in that nation.

Several years ago, a new endeavor for the ranch was birthed when a Colonel Chaplain contacted Bardwell, wishing to start a weekend retreat for both veterans and active military and their families. Six years into the program, retreats take place throughout the year at the Miracle Lodge, and are free to participants due to the generosity of donors. The ranch also sponsors a Disabled Veterans Turkey Hunt in the spring, another way to love and honor those that have served their country.

Aside from the plethora of incredible programs hosted at Ironwood Springs, perhaps the most incredible offering is the man himself. Bardwell is just getting ready to publish his second book, called “16,500 Extra Days and Counting,” referring to the number of days it has been since he miraculously survived that fateful construction accident. “We’ll probably have it updated when it gets to the printer,” he laughs, referring to the additional days that will elapse before it hits the shelves. 

Bardwell’s first book, titled “The Marathons of Life” is an inspirational autobiography, an ideal read for someone who needs encouragement. The title also alludes to the actual marathons that Bardwell has participated in – over 100 to date. He has also been inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. 

Despite having seen countless miracles throughout his life, Bardwell considers one of the greatest miracles of all to be his family. Bardwell and wife Jode have four daughters, three of whom are triplets. One of those girls will be getting married the weekend after his speaking engagement in Peterson. 

More of Bardwell’s accomplishments and the programs available at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch are able to be viewed at their website, “I count my blessings every day,” Bardwell says, keenly aware of the opportunities he has to impact people’s lives. “No matter where I go, it’s always about encouraging people. I speak to all different kinds of audiences, and I include my faith in all my stories. I make sure He gets all the glory,” he states with an appreciative glance upward. Bardwell’s life illustrates the theme that he has shared many times in his presentations: it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.