From birth, Marshall Allen’s life had never been easy, but it became incredibly more difficult on July 2, 2001.
That was the day the captain in the Fort Worth Fire Department went for a bicycle ride in the country.
The 6-foot-4 body builder, considered by many a superman, recalls that a storm the night before had left the roadway cluttered with fallen branches. As he tried to “bunny-hop” one of the limbs, he crashed into a ditch, causing his huge body to fold over his shoulders and head.
Allen immediately knew that he was paralyzed. Allen was rescued from death, but he was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
This would be one more major challenge for a man who had battled against the odds all his life.
When he was born in Holbrook, Ariz., in 1957, his Anglo mother turned him over to a Catholic adoption agency. The first two families that adopted him brought him back.
Despite his troubles in school with other students and faculty, Allen succeeded and became the first black firefighter in Salt Lake County. He joined the Fort Worth Fire Department in 1979, and for years he was a swingman, a person who rotates from station to station.
His heroic story is beautifully told in the book, Swingman: What a Difference a Decade Makes, by Alexandra Allred, and in a moving documentary by award-winning filmmaker Mark Birnbaum.
It’s an incredible story of struggle and triumph.