ICCTA Pacesetter Award

2001 Recipient

Lynette M. Gage
Advocate for persons with disabilities
Southwestern Illinois College (1999)
Lynette Gage's story is distinguished by her perseverance in the face of overwhelming physical odds.

At the age of 10, she was thrown from a horse and sustained a brain injury that left her in a coma for three months. Partially paralyzed and unable to speak, she had to re-learn many basic movements, including swallowing, sitting and walking.

Her experiences have led her to become a national voice for people with disabilities. "Because I understand what life is like both before and after disability, I know what it is like to be different and how other people's attitudes affect one's self-esteem," she says.

Lynette Gage (left) accepts her Pacesetter Award from ICCTA past president Linden Warfel.
Lynette Gage (left) accepts her Pacesetter Award from
ICCTA past president Linden Warfel.

"In my public speaking, I encourage people to realize that the difficulties we face in life are intended to make us better, not bitter," says Gage, who was named one of the state's 10 Outstanding Young People by the Illinois Jaycees last year.

Gage notes that Southwestern Illinois College provided a sense of "community and partnership" upon her transfer from the University of New Mexico in 1993. "Southwestern provided the environment, the transition support team, and an extended family that guided, nurtured and encouraged me.

"Because of my disability, I had to take fewer credits per semester, and it took me eight years to complete all the requirements for my associate's degree," says Gage, who received her associate degree from SWIC in December 1999. "I like to tell people that I got my degree in three terms . . . Reagan, Bush and Clinton!"

Today, Gage regularly speaks to educators, civic clubs, and youth groups about disability awareness. More than 2,000 area students have heard her motivational comments about success and self-esteem.

A 1996 graduate of Partners in Policymaking, an eight-month leadership training program for advocates, she is also a member of the Speakers Bureau for the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Gage's volunteer efforts also include serving as vice president of the O'Fallon Jaycees chapter and as a greeter, usher, and member of the hospitality committee of St. Clare Church. In addition, she sits on the boards of the Victorious Missionaries and the Mounted Miracles, a therapeutic riding program.

Outside of the advocacy arena, Gage works as an instructional aide at Marie Schaefer Middle School and as an aerobics instructor for active older adults at the O'Fallon YMCA.

"Whether in the classroom, at a local, state or national meeting, or in her church, Ms. Gage represents the finest ideals of the community college system," said Nick J. Mance, chair of the SWIC Board of Trustees.