If you dare to place an obstacle in front of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alumna Tiffany Eickhoff, prepare for it to be broken down with fierce perseverance … and a smile.
Eickhoff is described as being “relentlessly cheerful” and someone who always wants to try new activities. Her latest endeavor has been participating in 5K races and a 10K race, accomplishments which underscore her dogged determination. Her mantra: “I don’t care if I’m last. I just want to cross the finish line.”
A St. Louis native, Eickhoff earned a bachelor’s degree in applied communication studies from the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences in 2014. She was born with spastic diapelgic cerebral palsy. But her disability is not what defines her — it serves as the foundation for her boundless motivation to continuously achieve new goals.
“Everybody was put on this earth for a reason,” Eickhoff said. “My goal is to inspire others to show people that no matter your differences or abilities, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
While at SIUE, Eickhoff put her mind to completing her coursework and conducting research on disability services. She found a strong mentor in Duff Wrobbel, professor in the Department of Applied Communications Studies.
Every day, Wrobbel is reminded of Eickhoff’s determination when he looks at two tests thumbtacked on a board above his desk. After a failing grade on one of her exams, the two worked together, and Eickhoff achieved 81 percent on her second test and 104 percent on the third. Wrobbel keeps the two high scores as evidence of his former student’s determination to succeed no matter the obstacles.
As part of her academic journey, Eickhoff participated in the university’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities program.
Her work in the program, with Wrobbel and associate professor Sarah VanSlette, resulted in a published academic journal article, “Enacted Assessment of Disability Support: A ‘Lived’ Method for Assessing Student Life.” Prior to its publication, Eickhoff and Wrobbel traveled to Texas to present the paper at the prestigious Texas A&M Assessment Conference.
“The things she doesn’t know how to do, she figures out,” Wrobbel said. “She’s great at getting people to work with her, and she has a knack for social media. It seems to me that it would make perfect sense for her to pursue a career involving disability advocacy via social media.”
Professionally, that’s what Eickhoff strives to do. She is searching for a role in disability advocacy and awareness. While indeed on the pursuit of finding such a position, she has also made dramatic changes to her lifestyle, which has led to tremendous physical advancement and personal fulfillment.
According to Eickhoff, she used a motorized wheelchair almost exclusively during college. These days, most of the time, she walks using one cane.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve had to use a walker, canes and a wheelchair to get around at different times,” Eickhoff explained. “When I graduated from SIUE, I was at a heavy weight, and I decided I needed to take my health back. Over the past 2 1/2 years, I have lost more than 70 pounds. I’ve also become active in a small group fitness class through Blueline Fitness Stl.”
“When I started, I could barely walk,” she said. “I would shuffle my feet and could barely get up steps. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I can essentially do everything others can, with occasional modifications. I can do burpees standing up, dead lifts and back squats. I can even do pull-ups.”
Eickhoff now boasts the completion of one 10K and five 5Ks, the latest of which she ran in Springfield, Mo., on Saturday, April 1, to benefit Camp Barnabas, a camp for children and teens with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities.
“When I started my fitness journey, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Eickhoff said. “As I kept progressing, I thought, ‘how about do a race? There’s no reason why I can’t.’ So, I made that goal and worked to achieve it.”
Eickhoff’s perseverance has allowed her to become an inspiration to anyone who has heard her story. The moral of her story is, don’t try to put an obstacle in her path. She will overcome. She will succeed.
“Every time I see that finish line, it’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” Eickhoff said. “But once I start, I don’t stop. I may fall, but I will always get up.”