I don’t remember getting hit.
The field was wet. Maybe an inch of water covered the turf from a storm the previous night. I back peddled to let the runner get in front of me and lost my footing, landing squarely on my backside. I inhaled sharply, as the runner barreled toward me, but he switched course a step away and headed upfield. My elation lasted but a brief moment.
I used to work for a television station in Rochester, New York. I was the sports director and anchor for the weekday broadcasts at WROC-TV. One afternoon, my phone rang.
“There’s someone here who would like to speak with you,” the receptionist informed me.
When I got to the front foyer, I was greeted by a woman I didn’t know. She reached out and grasped my hand. “Hi! I’m, Laurie Rappl.”
I introduced myself and escorted her back to my desk, wondering what I could do for this woman in a wheelchair.
Laurie explained that she had been visiting local media outlets, hoping to get coverage for the New York State Games for the Physically Challenged. But none of the reporters seemed interested.
My first thought was everybody does this story. “You mean Special Olympics, right?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m talking about kids with physical challenges. Kids in chairs.” She tapped her wheels. “Kids who are deaf. Blind.”
She was a ball of energy. Before the accident, she was an avid tennis player, a sport she continued to participate in even after the fall that relegated her to a wheelchair. She also continued to ski. Now, I now what you’re thinking. No big deal. Handicapped people participate in all kinds of activities today. But I met Laurie back in 1986, when handicapped athletes were practically nonexistent.
We became instant friends. I emceed the games she the told me about, watching her almost fall out of her chair laughing when I approached the mic and ask, “Can everyone hear me?” without noticing the one hundred or so deaf kids in the front of the room and the two signers who flanked me.
One morning, I joined Laurie on a mountain on what was a crisp winter day in Western New York. We traversed the run, me on my skies, Laurie sitting in her sled, maneuvering her way down the slopes with short poles that allowed her to steer. During the course of the day she told me how she sometimes attached herself to blind skiers, in order to guide them down the mountains.
I would never ski again.
After I fell on the football field that day, and the runner miraculously passed me by, two other players tackled him and all three of them hit me. I don’t remember much, just the pain. Though today I’d be summarily strapped to a board, someone helped me up. A trainer checked me out. I expected scorn from my partners; there were no other women in the officials organization and many of my cohorts didn’t accept me. Not wanting to appear weak, I finished the game, though I was unable to run or bend down and pick up my yellow flag after I’d thrown it. After the game, I struggled to change out of my uniform. A friend, a local police officer who happened to be at the game, told me to go to the hospital. I mumbled that I was fine. But a short time later, I found myself sitting in the Emergency Room parking lot, not totally aware of how I got there.
“You have a fractured vertebrae,” the doctor said.
“A broken back! That’s not possible. I walked in here,” I said, wincing from the pain.
But the next day I was unable to walk. I was ordered to bed for two weeks and would be fitted with a brace that I would wear for several months. Then there would be rehab. An article in the local paper explained my absence from the airwaves. The morning the story came out my phone rang.
“What happened?” Laurie asked, worry in her voice.
I explained about the football game and how I’d been hit. “It’s a T12 compression fracture,” I said.
There was silence. Then Laurie finally answered. “That’s what I have.”
While our broken bones were the same, our injuries differed in one dramatic way. Laurie’s spinal cord had snapped. Mine was unaffected. So, I would heal and walk again.
Despite the fact that we live on opposite sides of the country, Laurie and I still get together when we can. She remains one of the most impressive people I know. Just a few years ago, I went to Minnesota to see her receive her PH’d. She has traveled the world, working to make the lives of those in wheelchairs more bearable. That’s not to say her life is easy, though she rarely let’s anyone see that side of her. When it’s just the two of us, drinking wine, we kvetch about the discomfort we both suffer, because the pain rarely goes away. You just learn to deal with it.
My problem, for many years, was my inability to ever ask for help. I spent a good deal of my life in careers where I felt I could never admit to needing assistance. Newsrooms and ballfields felt like war zones, sometimes. Much like a bleeding fish in the water, showing weakness was clearly not advised
What I struggle with most is lifting heavy objects.
“Everyone wants to help,” Laurie said one day in a parking lot, when I was attempting to hoist her onto the front seat of my pickup. “Excuse me, sir,” she called to a man walking by. He stopped and stared. “My friend has a bad back. Could you help me into the truck?”
I cringed. Then, as Laurie had predicted, the man flashed a big grin, walked over, and got her into the seat.
“Thank you.” She smiled and waved as the man walked away. “See,” Laurie said, staring at me.
I held onto the steering wheel, still feeling a bit piqued that she’d pointed out that I was the one with the bad back.
But, today, I have no trouble asking for help. If someone as tough and successful as Laurie could handle it, so could I. And, as it turns out, she was right. I have yet to meet a person who has turned down my request for assistance. It seems people really do want to help.
Anne Montgomery’s new YA novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at http://www.amphoraepublishing.com/product/the-scent-of-rain/ and wherever books are sold.