Lisa Friedkin’s pioneering husband is no longer with us, but his mission continues
On March 12, 1992, Shawn Friedkin’s life changed in a split second. That’s when he was driving his convertible, with the roll bar up, from the small Dade County town of Medley to Miami for business. A truck cut him off, sending Friedkin’s vehicle rolling four times onto a grassy area. The car settled upside down, and Friedkin couldn’t feel his legs. At Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he would spend the next three months, Friedkin learned that the accident crushed his spinal cord. He was 27, and he would never walk again.
Friedkin, who died from cancer in March 2021, spent the 29 years after his crippling accident moving forward.
Within five years of the accident, he would start Stand Among Friends, an FAU-based nonprofit, initially to raise funds for neurological research and to support those with spinal cord injuries. Over the next two decades, it would evolve into the Disability Center at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, which supports individuals across a spectrum of disabilities, helping them to find work, offering vocational evaluations, and teaching them how to use the latest assistive technologies. Friedkin advocated on their behalf on Capitol Hill and on public television, all to help fulfill his organization’s mantra: to live a life without limits.
“The most important thing to him was people being able to live their lives fuller,” says Lisa Friedkin, Shawn’s wife of more than 33 years. “People would come to the center, and we would work with them. We would reach out to companies, and we would put them together. We would work with individuals doing résumés and mock interviews and finding them employment.”
Shawn Friedkin was 56 when he died earlier this year, survived by Lisa; their two daughters, Sydney and Bennett; and his son-in-law Jeff. Because of his drive, his persistence, and his ability to speak up for millions of people that didn’t have a voice in an able-bodied world, his impact continues to be felt. Rep. Ted Deutsch eulogized him on the floor of the House of Representatives, adding, “His positive impact leaves a lasting legacy through the lives of all the people he helped personally. … Our lives are better for having Shawn a part of them.”
Lisa met Shawn in 1982, at Syracuse University. She was a sorority sister in her sophomore year; Shawn was a freshman in a fraternity. “We met at a Greek party,” Lisa recalls. “He asked me to dance, and I said no. And he turned to me, and he’s like, ‘you don’t want to break my heart, do you?’ And I’m like, oh my God, how pathetic. But it worked, because I danced, and we had our first date a week later. And we danced the whole rest of our lives.”
Lisa describes Shawn as hardworking and resilient; While the tragic event of 1992 caused him to “reinvent himself,” he found ways to remain active.
“He rode a hand cycle. He did four marathons. He converted a Harley Davidson to be accessible. He played wheelchair tennis. He had a dune buggy that was hand- controlled. He had a sports car that was converted. He was still able, through an elevated lift, to reach things, and fix the thermostats in the house, and just keep going. He did whatever he could to make it work. …”
With the help of a bionic technology called ReWalk, Shawn even experienced the sensation of walking again.
“They brought it to the center, and Shawn was able to use it,” Lisa says. “That was five years ago—a lot of tears in Stand Among Friends that day.”
Lisa and Dawn Friedkin, Shawn’s sister, now head up Stand Among Friends, and they vow to keep their founder’s mission alive.
On Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30), or at any time, consider a tax-deductible donation at standamongfriends.org/donate.