Against All Odds
WCCO TV reporter Darcy Pohland followed her dream and wouldn't take "no" for an answer
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This article was pulled from the Minnesota Monthly archives in remembrance of Darcy Pohland, 1961-2010.
Published July 2002
IT'S A MONDAY MORNING in the WCCO-TV newsroom, and reporters, producers, and assignment desk editors are gathered in a stark, white-walled, windowless office to determine the day’s news agenda and divvy up assignments.
Two white boards covered with markings hang on the walls. On one is listed the long-term projects reporters and photographers are already pursuing for newscasts in the days, weeks, and months ahead. But this morning’s meeting is about filling up the other board with the stories the “Hometown Team” will be covering for today’s noon, 5, 6 and 10 o’clock news reports.
Of the names of reporters that appear on the board—Caroline Lowe, Bill Hudson, Alan Cox, Trish Van Pilsum, Kevyn Burger, Pat Kessler, and Darcy Pohland—Pohland’s would seem the most unlikely to be listed among them. Television newsrooms use the term “stand up” to refer to the stock convention of reporters appearing on camera in some germane location to wrap up a story, either live or on tape—but Darcy Pohland cannot stand up. She cannot walk, and has only limited use of her hands.
In a medium where highly paid consultants tutor anchor people and reporters on what to do with their hands while they’re on the air, or when to look down at their scripts, even how often to blink, Pohland is an anomaly.
“Let’s face it,” says Pohland, “it’s a visual medium and you have to look good on camera. If you’re not just perfect, you don’t get a job.” The thing is, perfection can be defined in many ways.
DURING THE SUMMER OF 1983, Pohland was a college intern with WCCO-TV’s Washington, D.C., bureau. She’d studied journalistic theory college at the University of Minnesota and George Washington University, but this internship offered a chance to learn to both shoot and edit videotape—practical, hands-on skills she’d need to land her first reporting job at a small market station, the traditional starting point for aspiring on-air reporters.
But one night that summer, in a moment of youthful exuberance and impulse, Darcy dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool, breaking her neck. The broken vertebrae severed her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the chest down.
Darcy faced relearning the quotidian tasks of day-to-day living. Eating, traveling, caring for herself, even managing to brush her teeth became Herculean challenges. Forget the more arcane skills needed to report the news for television.
After the accident, “I thought there was no way I’d ever be a reporter,” she says. “I always believed I’d be able to use my education to work in TV. But not as a reporter.”
She underwent extensive and difficult rehabilitation followed by successful hand surgery to maximize her severely compromised manual dexterity. “It takes a full year to do and it is very painful,” she says. “It’s bad enough to have limited use of your hands when you’re paralyzed. But then to have one of your hands in a cast—well, you can imagine.”