SALINA, Okla. (BP)–YoYo Collins had big plans when he graduated from college in December 1976.
Although he first worked as a janitor and substitute teacher in Tulsa, he planned to do one of two things by June 1 of 1977.
“Either I was going to go back home to Salina [in Oklahoma] and work with my dad on improving my pitching skills so I could try out for the Tulsa Oilers AAA baseball team or I was going to pack up everything and move to Libby, Montana,” said Collins, who noted he fell in love with the mountains when he had crossed the Rocky Mountains as a 17-year-old on his way to Idaho.
A physical education major, Collins said he was in the best physical condition of his life. A baseball pitcher at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, he eventually hoped to coach baseball or basketball at the college level.
But those dreams turned into a nightmare on May 14, 1977.
Collins and some friends were on a camping trip on the Illinois River, when Collins decided to cool off in the water.
“I knew the water was shallow, so I planned to barely skim the top of the water in a shallow dive, then get out, dry off and join the others for some music,” Collins remembered.
But when he tried to swim to the top of the water, he couldn’t move anything. Rescued by friends and taken to a hospital, Collins was told he had a fracture of the fifth cervical vertebra and a dislocation at the fifth and sixth vertebrae — and a completely severed spinal cord.
“He will be doing little more, if any, than he’s doing right now,” a doctor told his parents.
For the first four months after the accident, Collins said he didn’t believe the doctors who said he would never get out of the wheelchair.
Church wasn’t a big part of his life when the accident occurred.
“I became a Christian when I was 9,” he said, “but I quit attending church by age 15 or so.”
Collins said his life began to turn around when a wrestling coach gave him his Bible and a book, “The Power of the Subconscious Mind.”
Before I read the book, my mind was of the opinion everything I accomplished had nothing to do with God,” Collins said. “That book helped me understand everything is from God, whether I can see it or acknowledge it. God was part of my life in spirit and truth whether I liked it or not.”
About the time, Collins realized he was going to have to come to grips with the fact that he was going to live his life paralyzed from the collar bone down. Also, a local schoolteacher named Sandi was becoming more important in his life.
Shortly after the accident, Sandi had assisted YoYo in some of his rehabilitation exercises and tried to encourage him to find a life for himself.
“YoYo was the first living tragedy Salina ever had,” Sandi recounted. “The whole town was pulling for him.”
As the two became closer, YoYo asked Sandi for a date. “You realize, when you went on a date with YoYo, it was a major deal,” Sandi recounted. “You had to pick him up, get him in the van, unload him and so forth.”
One day, Sandi said, it dawned on her that she had fallen in love with YoYo.
“This scared me because I didn’t know if he loved me,” Sandi recalled. “I had made a mistake with my first marriage, and I wasn’t planning to remarry until my children, Rhonda and Rodney, were grown.”
Then one night on a dinner date, YoYo told Sandi he had grown to love her and asked her to be his wife.
The two were married on Oct. 14, 1980.
Several months before their wedding, Sandi approached YoYo about singing and sharing his experience in church.
“I don’t remember ever not singing,” YoYo said, “but I had sung in church very little. My commitment was pathetic,” but he began “to embrace without question and hesitation things God was bringing into my life. I began to desire the will of God for my life. Before, I was playing around with God.”
Now, 20 years later, YoYo sings and shares his story in 200 concerts, schools and conventions each year.
Those 20 years of ministry, as well as the story of YoYo’s accident and YoYo’s and Sandi’s romance have been put into a book written by the couple and titled, “Good as Grape Juice.” The title comes from YoYo’s response when people ask him how he is.
YoYo said his big “break,” so to speak, came when he was asked to sing at the Oklahoma youth evangelism conference. “There was no way for that to happen except by the hand of God,” he said.
The Collinses say, while they are called “evangelists,” mainly because they are itinerant, their ministry is different from most evangelists.
“Most evangelists do revivals, which means they have to set aside a week,” YoYo explained. “We do concerts, schools and conventions, which means we can take on more commitments.”
At schools, YoYo is limited by what he can say about God and is forced to sing patriotic songs rather than Christian songs. But, in sharing his story, he tells students that what lies behind them and what lies ahead of them isn’t nearly as important as what lies within them.
The success of his ministry, YoYo said, lies in Sandi’s ability to create a schedule.
“When we first started the ministry, I called pastors, told them about YoYo and asked if they would allow him to sing and share in their churches,” Sandi said. “Opportunities multiplied as we met more and more pastors.”
One of the most important parts of their ministry is time spent with pastors and their wives, the Collinses said.
“We love to fellowship with them, listen to them if they want to share any problems or concerns, pray with them or just be there for them,” Sandi said.
“We believe part of our ministry is to be a sounding board and ministry tool for pastors and families,” YoYo added. “Our gift is more a helper and encourager to churches and pastors than evangelism.”
The Collinses said the Lord has provided all of their needs over the years, including a home on the lake and a van for YoYo to drive. YoYo has driven more than 750,000 miles as a quadriplegic over an 18-year period.
“He’s probably the only quadriplegic who has driven from Oklahoma to Alaska and back,” Sandi laughed.
YoYo said his advice to anyone with a recent injury, including a broken neck, is to realize it will not always be as bad as it seems now.
“And begin to seek God for a new beginning,” he said. “He is our hope; he’s always there and desires good things for our lives.”
And Sandi’s advice for someone who is in love with a quadriplegic?
“My answer is always the same,” she said. “Marry only if it is God’s will.”
Sandi said she has two less hours in the day than most women, because it takes an hour to get YoYo ready for the day and another hour to get him ready for bed.
“He can shave himself with an electric razor and brush his teeth with an electric toothbrush,” she noted, “but everything else I have to do.
“But we thank God for a full and blessed life, for each opportunity, blessing and person he has placed in our path,” she said. “The Lord has seen us through the good times, the trials and the tribulations.”
“Today, God has given me a direction,” YoYo said. “A better direction than the one I had chosen for myself.”
Collins can be reached at (918) 434-5949.