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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog: “When We Borrow Mobility,” November 1, 2019

My husband Geoff is a professional skier with a T7 complete spinal cord injury but watching him ski is a little like watching an eagle soar upriver. He rips down mountains with the ease and grace and swooping arcs only a bird is capable of as very few other animals reflect smooth, carved turns in the jet stream. Geoff will tell you that skiing is where he feels most able-bodied, most in tune with the ground, most capable, most independent, and most friction-free.

However, his new mono ski arrived this week, and it was the last thing, quite honestly, I wanted to help him assemble. I had more pressing weekend chores to focus on like helping our daughter pull together a last-minute costume for a Halloween party as hers had not arrived from Halloween’s godmother, Amazon Prime. I also had to make an appetizer in the form of jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese and dressed in strips of puff pastry to resemble mummies. This was important work which had a timeline of noon, but Geoff went to the garage any way with his pieces and parts that I had unpacked from the box for him.

Geoff will also tell you that a sit-down ski is akin to a person’s shoe or ski boot. The proper fit in the seat is essential or all sorts of bad mojo can happen from skin issues to terrible falls. The assembly of his mono ski before leaving for his work trip at the end of this week was essentially more essential in his mind than the homemade bank robber costume or my mummy jalapeno poppers. Geoff needed someone’s hands and legs and the ability to lie on the floor to work on the bottom of his old ski to unscrew the custom seat.

I said what every mother says from the history of time when we want our kids to do some dirty work, “Go help your dad in the garage; he needs you.” There was push back certainly because our son is like most kids believing that as long as he made his bed, put his laundry away, and brushed his teeth, he could spend his Sunday morning bouncing on the trampoline. “But, Mom,” he whined, and I actually said the words:

“I don’t want to hear your whining. Your dad needs your legs right now. Are you really going to say, ‘I don’t have time to help my dad?’” Even though this is what I was actually doing.

I reminded him that the garage was cold so to put another layer on and went back to dressing my mummies. An hour or so later they reappeared together happily, a team of hands, one skilled set and one still learning; a patient man with a less patient 9-year-old, but together they assembled Geoff’s new ski. Here’s the thing, they both ultimately loved the time in the garage working on a piece of equipment that ultimately allows them to rip around Loon Mountain as father and son this winter, way more aggressively than their wife and mother.

Borrowing mobility from friends and loved ones is something we all must do– it’s part of life and some of us are more graceful than others while learning this life skill. I’m still learning as I have my foot in a boot for the next 4-6 weeks. When sitting in the doctor’s office nine weeks after making the appointment only to learn from an MRI my heel was fractured, I told the doctor that I wasn’t leaving until he could tell me what was wrong. I used the “husband in a wheelchair” explanation to emphasize my urgent need to be fixed- that I could no longer handle chronic foot pain as I was my husband’s legs too and, well, moms have a hard time resting.

So then yesterday, while my super capable husband spent the morning substitute teaching at our school at the top of the ONLY set of stairs in our entire building, he became trapped when someone folded up the lift and took the keys. He heard my voice in a nearby hallway and yelled my name. He had tried calling a few of us, but all of our phones were on silent. Oops. Poor guy. I helped him down the stairs, which he doesn’t really need but there was an awkward gap between the railing he would normally grab onto while bouncing down the stairs backward. So, I sent an email to staff, reminding them not to take away others’ mobility– to be aware that if the lift is down, it’s probably down because someone used it. I’d like to think it was an oversight and not done on purpose as a joke by a teenager who thought it would be hilarious. But if I do learn there was a young person involved, you can bet I’ll be inviting them over to help Geoff with a project requiring someone else’s mobility, a life lesson in empathy.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver, and Greta who are 9 and 8. Please check out her novel True North, website, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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