Despite a life altered by a sports tragedy, Robert J. “Bobby” Schuster spread laughter, love and encouragement to those whose lives were less — and more — fortunate than his, friends and family say.
Schuster, a lifelong resident of Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood, was educated at St. Ann School before graduating from Badin High School in 1971.
The following year, on May 2, 1972, he broke his neck during a softball game while playing the outfield. He ran into an unpadded light pole and was paralyzed. Doctors estimated he would live 10 years. He beat those odds, and in the decades that followed, he graduated from Miami University and encouraged not only those who were paralyzed like himself, but also gave perspective to people who thought they were having a bad day.
Schuster, whose grace was an inspiration to many, died Sunday at his home. He was 63.
“Bobby was the kind of guy that no matter how bad your day was, his day was worse, but he never told you it was worse,” said nephew Brian Schuster of Mason. “I, being one of his nephews, never once in my entire life heard him complain about him being in the wheelchair or being in the accident, or what could have been, or what should have been, as much as, ‘This is what happened to me, and this is what I’ve got to do to get through it.’”
“You just wanted to be around him because of the positive nature and the attitude, and wanting to talk to other people with other disabilities and really trying to get them out of being sad, to, ‘Hey, look at me. I can’t do anything, but I still have a life,’” Brian Schuster said. “You can still live your life, even though you had a terrible accident happen to you.”
Frank Downie, a Lindenwald civic leader, said the man’s positivity spread.
“For what he went through, I think to be so positive and dynamic couldn’t help but affect everybody,” Downie said. “I just have to say he was a real inspiration to everyone who knew him.”
Nephew Chris Schuster, of Fairfield, said Bobby’s parents, siblings and nephews and nieces took loving and meticulous care of him, but were blessed by the experience, getting to spend time with him. The family had a schedule, with one of his 10 brothers or sisters feeding him dinner and visiting with him daily. On weekends, one of 29 nieces or nephews would help.
Chris Schuster cared for him three hours every Saturday morning for about nine years, and sometimes found it hard to do, especially after he was married and had kids: “But I was wise enough then to know then that I would look back on those days, and I’d give anything to do one more shower, to be honest with you,” he said.
“There’s just countless lessons we learned from Bobby Schuster being on Earth,” Chris Schuster said. “The biggest one for me would be perseverance. No matter how bad a hand you get dealt, you can play the hand, and you can win the game. Just perseverance, and never, ever giving up.”
A highlight of Bobby Schuster’s life happened in recent years when he participated in a Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields event — getting a hit and rounding the bases in front of a crowd.
“Someone had invented a Tee with a bat, and the bat was activated by blowing into a straw,” Brian Schuster said. “Bobby was the first person ever to use this thing in production, and one of his good friends, (fellow Badin grad) Jim Tracy, who’s a former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was the pitcher.”
“It was very rare to catch him feeling sorry for himself,” Chris Schuster said. “I think early on after his accident, he realized that self-pity would never be his friend…. If you’re going to survive something like that, self-pity is not a tool that’s going to help you survive. He taught us self-pity is not your friend, and that you can get through anything with the help of your family and your friends.”
“There’s a selfish part of me that says, ‘I wasn’t ready for you to go yet, Buddy,’” Chris Schuster said. “While I wasn’t ready for him to leave this world just yet, he’s earned his trip to heaven, and I don’t want to be selfish: He’s where God wants him to be, and each minute, I’m feeling a little bit better.”
Bobby Schuster was the second-youngest of 11 children of Harry C. and Marguerite A. (Hinkel) Schuster.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Charles C. Young Funeral Home, 4032 Hamilton Cleves Road in Ross. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Ann Church, 3028 Pleasant Ave., Hamilton.