Symbolic inspiration

Written by on September 17, 2009 at 9:00 am

Walkers have a tough time with hills. Carolyn doesn't let either that or her wheelchair stop her.

It's the last day of the 2009 three-day, 50-mile MS Challenge Walk,, and there are a little more than five miles to go. As a bicycle support crewman, I'm riding up to an intersection when I notice Carolyn coming around the corner behind me. At this crossing, we will be going uphill. I am going to ride my bicycle up that hill, as my legs work fine, I have very good balance, and I can do almost as much on my bicycle as the average person can do on two feet — but Carolyn is rounding the corner in her wheelchair. She is a vibrant young woman who is in a wheelchair because multiple sclerosis has stopped her legs from working.

I have been part of the MS Challenge walk for five years now. I've walked it twice and have been bike crew for three more. Carolyn has been here for years as well. I remember seeing her standing a while back, but for these last couple of years, I have seen her only in that wheelchair.

The road is never lonely when you have the support of your fellow MS Challenge Walkers.

The road is never lonely when you have the support of your fellow MS Challenge Walkers. Photo courtesy Andrew Child.

At this moment, though, all that is on my mind is to make sure Carolyn makes it up that hill. I can see in her eyes that getting up that hill is all that fills her mind as well. She does not want the walker behind her to lend a gentle push up the hill; she is going to get up this thing herself. So off we go. I remember looking at her and thinking, she's so tiny, I hope she can pull this off. I started with my bike in first gear, and she's behind me pushing along. We're moving almost as fast as most of the walkers. But this hill is steep and long, so before you know it, we've gone about fifty or sixty yards. I have to step off the bike and walk because we are moving so slow, I can no longer maintain balance.

Carolyn is starting to labor as she thrusts her hands downward, driving her wheels forward. I can see a look on her face — the look you see on the finest athletes when they are digging deep for that last bit of strength. We go a little farther. The walker behind her says, "Let me know if you want help." Carolyn doesn't respond until she gets through this push, then she pauses for a second in her wheelchair. We are a little more than halfway up. A pretty good size group of walkers has built up behind her. She doesn't appear to know how many are back there, but they are there. So she pauses, still looking straight up that hill. I look at her and say, "Come on kid, you can do this." Carolyn looks up at me and says, "This is my Rocky moment." With a little grin on her face, she starts driving her wheelchair forward again. Over her shoulder she responds to the walker, "I'm okay, this is one of my goals, I have to get over this hill." So we continue on.

The walkers behind her start to clap and cheer her on. I can count each push off her wheels. It is a literal one one-thousand, two one-thousand count as her arms drive that chair forward. It has been several minutes, and we are closing in on the crest of the hill. I turn to see another group of walkers have gathered at the top of the hill, and they're cheering for her as well. We are all making sure that approaching cars will not interfere with her pace. We can hear the cheers of the rest stop at the downside of the hill, and the cheers of everyone both in front of and behind her. She keeps pushing on.

She's really looking tired, but the crest of the hill is now maybe twenty yards ahead. Her pace is slowing a bit so I say "Carolyn, it's going to get easier in just a few more feet," and she digs a little deeper. I can see her eyes starting to well up with tears of joy or maybe relief as the chair starts moving a little faster. There is a roar of excitement from the surrounding walkers as she reaches the crest, then Carolyn is enveloped in hugs as she gets to the top. She sheds a few excited tears, gathers her thoughts, then heads down the hill to the five-mile rest stop. The cheers at the rest stop are even louder as she arrives.

I left at that point, leaving her with another member of the bike crew. I found out a little later that her next feat was even more amazing than the first hill. Carolyn left the rest stop and headed up the next hill, again determined to do it on her own. This would be her second consecutive hill, which was almost as big as the first. I heard she started up the next hill going forward. She tired fairly quickly, so she turned her chair around and climbed the second hill backward.

Carolyn is one of many reasons I take part in the MS Challenge Walk each year. As I watched her climb that first hill, the symbolism hit me. Everyone living with MS has their own uphill battle every day — but I'm convinced if we all stick together, if we all continue to fight and help each other along, we will soon be rewarded with a cure.

I walk for my wife, Patty, diagnosed with MS in 1994. I walked for my first two years but decided to switch to bike crew on my third year, a role I've enjoyed these past two years. If you need water, Tootsie Pops, or anything else, let me know. Patty and I have met so many wonderful people over these past years and together we can hopefully contribute to the cure.

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Nancy Dargis says:

    Yes i have to agree she is a very amazing person. I should know she is my neice and you are right she can do anything she wants to and has shown to all how great she is.I was there to see her at the end and it showed all over her face how proud she was and what she had done.And we were all very proud of her also.
    Great job to all the MS walkers

  2. Sandy Baldi says:

    Thank you for sharing that story. You are as incredible as Caroline!

  3. James W. Leaming says:

    I go on many vacations. I go on cruises and fly all over the United State, but each year I look forward to those grueling 50 miles more than any of my vacations. As I tell everyone, My feet suffer for one lousy weekend for those that cannot walk 10 feet. Seeing people like Caroline and Jeannie Felton inspire myself to walk and my wife Fayla to fix tired sore feet. Thank you Craig for sharing this story. You are a great guy!!

    Jim Leaming