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Former MidWestOne CEO Charlie Funk returns to Iowa City after bike accident
Despite paralysis, Funk determined to gain back what movement he can
IOWA CITY — Setting physical goals is nothing new to Charlie Funk, a former college and professional basketball player, marathon runner and past CEO of MidWestOne Bank.
But after a bike accident Aug. 8 broke Funk’s neck and damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the chest down, Funk’s physical goals are different: Building his biceps and triceps so he can maneuver in a manual wheelchair, strengthening his core for balance and relearning daily tasks, like eating and shaving, without the use of his fingers.
“There is more I will be able to recover and hopefully as time goes on, I’ll be able to do a few more things,” said Funk, 68, in a phone interview from the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, where he’s been for inpatient spinal cord rehabilitation since Aug. 29.
This week, Funk and his wife, Connie, made the trip back to Iowa City to continue Funk’s recovery.
“It feels great,” Funk said about coming home.
“There’s also a little bit of trepidation because it will be a new normal for Connie and me. It will take a little while to get to the new normal. But I’ve been blessed with a wonderful partner for 42 years. Her life is changing significantly as well. She’s been with me every step of the way and hasn’t complained. I could not be more gratified about that.”
Funk, a 6-foot-6-inch Missouri native who played basketball at William Jewell College in Missouri and then in Europe, was an avid marathoner, finishing numerous 26.2-mile races, including several Boston Marathons.
Funk also loves to bike and was riding with Connie and another couple on Pender Island, near Vancouver in British Columbia, when the accident happened.
“We were coming down a very steep hill, approaching an intersection,” Funk said. “I could tell I needed to slow down more, so I did. There was a dirt road several hundred yards to the right. I thought to myself ‘I’m just going to go down there and slow down and stop.’ It turned out, it was an overgrown parking lot and I crashed head on into a railroad tie.”
Funk flew over his handlebars and landed on his shoulder.
“Five seconds after I landed I knew what the story was because I couldn’t feel my legs,” he said.
Funk was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital, where he underwent surgery. A few weeks later, he was airlifted to Chicago. Funk’s family, including Connie and daughters, Jennie, Emily and Katie, have been updating Funk’s progress on CaringBridge.
“Each day brings new strides forward, for which we are so thankful. My lasting picture of my dad driving home is the way his face looked (determined as always and ever) when he conducted his twice-daily breathing tests. Endurance athletes will smile to learn that the weekend brought two ‘PRs’ (personal records),” Jennie Funk wrote Aug. 21.
This week, Funk has been adding weight to the rickshaw, a piece of equipment that strengthens the arms, and working on balance moving side to side. He’s made several short trips in the manual wheelchair and is relearning how to do day-to-day tasks. While Funk’s arms work, he cannot move his fingers.
“I’m feeding myself now,” he said. “Small steps. Inch by inch. You have to gain back what you can.”
He hopes he’ll be able to resume going to Hawkeye sporting events, but he’s not there yet.
Bill Pringle, a retired Iowa City High band teacher, has been friends with Funk for about 20 years. They met as neighbors and through a shared love of running, spending hundreds of hours together training for races.
“On those hours of running, to keep going and to keep your mind off of how grueling it is, you just start talking,” Pringle said. “Everything comes out. He knows me inside out and I know him inside out.”
Funk is always looking for ways to help someone else, whether it’s students who need winter clothing or a panhandler on the street, Pringle said. But Funk gives quietly without looking for recognition.
Funk, who started working at MidWestOne in 2000 and served as CEO from 2008 until earlier this year, also has been a big supporter of Run for the Schools, an annual fundraiser for Iowa City public schools and Regina Catholic Education Center.
Runners at the starting line of this year’s Run for the Schools, held last weekend in downtown Iowa City, chanted “Go Charlie Go!” after Pringle told the crowd a little bit about his friend’s recovery.
Funk is taking on rehabilitation the same way he did marathon training, Pringle said.
“He’s just done like he always does; put his head down and got to work,” Pringle said “He’s going to be the most mobile and independent Charlie he can be.”
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