Sauer appointed to top state rehab post
Life can change in an instant. Just ask Tony Sauer of Grass Valley.
Nearly 29 years ago, Sauer had just graduated from Nevada Union High School and was “on top of the world, riding in the biggest race of my life,” he said. Then he crashed at the semi-pro motocross event in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“The next thing I knew, I was laying in the goal post area being poked to see if I could feel anything,” Sauer said.
Sauer, now 46, was paralyzed. But the accident pushed him into a lifelong quest to lead a full life and help others do the same.
For the past four years, Sauer has been running the Nevada-Sierra Regional In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority, matching home health care workers with people who are in need throughout Nevada, Sierra and Plumas counties.
This week, another major turn came for Sauer when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him director of the state Department of Rehabilitation, the agency that assists the disabled in California to get jobs and live independently.
Sauer is a Democrat who worked for former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, so he thought it might be an impediment when he applied. “Socially, I’m liberal, but after being raised in Nevada County, I’m very fiscally conservative,” Sauer said. “I’m not the only Democrat in his administration.”
Sauer’s “extensive background in advocacy and facilitating services for individuals with disabilities makes him the perfect fit for this position,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
After Sauer’s accident, he had to learn live in a wheelchair. “The first six months was pretty intense,” he said.
Determined and with a lot of family help, he earned certificates in cabinetry and millworking at Sierra College.
His credentials led to a career in cabinetry and more school. Sauer later earned a masters degree in management and disability services at the University of San Francisco.
In the early 1980s, he helped start the Nevada County Committee on the Disabled. The group lobbied for and attained a wheelchair accessible ramp to the Grass Valley Library, as well as cuts in Nevada City sidewalks for the disabled that local historical factions opposed.
Sauer later worked for the FREED Independent Living Council, rising to executive director in 1994. He went to work with Davis as the deputy director for the state Department of Rehabilitation from 2001 to 2003 before taking the public authority job.
Sauer will start his new job in a few weeks and he wants to make sure the Department of Rehabilitation is doing for people what was done for him.
“I was assisted to get the courage to go back to school and start over,” Sauer said. “We want to assist others that have bad things happen to them.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237.
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