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Beth led us to unexpected places after her spinal cord injury.
“I always knew I was just going to get stronger and get back to my life as soon as possible,” she said.
On May 10th, Beth drove us in her little blue car to the Michigan Wheelchair Games. Three years had passed since her injury and one year since her first swim meet in the same 25-yard pool. She competed using the forward freestyle stroke for the first time. Not a smooth endeavor and quite a bit slower than her backstroke. She dropped 30 seconds off of her 50 back race compared to her time one year before.
I drove home from Michigan so Beth could rest. But first, she sang and danced in the passenger seat to her favorite John Mayer song. “I am invincible, as long as I’m alive!” Déjà vu.
I loved our road trips.
One week later, we attended the Ohio Wheelchair Games. Two weeks after that, Beth competed in Bowling Green at her first outdoor meet. She accepted my help to wheel over the grass to GTAC’s team camp. Her friend on the team was not in sight, so she picked a spot out of the way. She liked being outside and rarely complained about the heat. Hot weather raised her body temperature and I monitored it with a forehead gauge. She claimed to sweat a little, but I never saw it.
Beth alternated her arms for the 100-meter backstroke instead of the double-arm technique, while the other swimmers in her heat swam a 200-meter event so she wouldn’t have to finish the race alone. Her swim times varied more from meet to meet than they did for her able-bodied teammates. She unexpectedly swam her fastest times by far in the 50-meter traditional forward freestyle race. She touched the wall at one minute and 28 seconds, still 15 long seconds away from the most difficult American Record in her S3 classification. I suspected that the swim parents with stopwatches fudged (improved) her time a little.
Maria graduated from high school with honors in late May. We hosted a big graduation party on our backyard deck with John’s flowers and walkways providing a colorful backdrop. Maria chose to attend Tiffin’s Heidelberg College to major in education and take advantage of their acclaimed music program. She had intended to be a teacher ever since she toddled into her dad’s classroom. Since her sister’s injury, she decided to teach young children with a disability. She would be a passionate advocate for her future students.
Always on the go, Maria babysat often, worked at a video store, took voice lessons, and performed in community theater. I loved her energy and enthusiasm. We all lived in the same house, but some evenings I didn’t see her. We met at Taco Bell sometimes to catch up over burritos and fountain drinks.
Meanwhile, Beth made big plans for a summer to remember.
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