Seventh grade was probably Paul’s best year in a lot of ways. After a few tough years filled with surgeries and some setbacks, Paul suddenly thrived for a year. As human nature has it, we quickly adjusted to the new normal, but I don’t think we ever took good health for granted. The previous years had taught us that some medical issue was always right around the corner. But during that time, Paul was on a roll.
Paul participated in track for the first time. We had two PT students who volunteered to coach him. Somehow Kathie always found people to coach or mentor or whatever we needed and it was always a win/win. It was not cool to have your parents as coaches, he listened much better to someone else. We still have great relationships with a lot of those PTs who helped us out with track, swimming, or whatever other sport he was into. Many attended Paul’s celebration or reached out to us since then and we love many of them like family.
While he was racing, I would go around the track to get photos with a new camera and telephoto I had bought for the season. The best part was hearing the comments of the other parents as I was walking around to get a good angle. I remember one meet in Monroe particularly, but they were all kind of the same. As he was lining up at the starting line, he was the only wheelchair athlete, so he was by himself. People would be asking “What is that?” Then, the starting gun went off and he would get going. His racing wheelchair didn’t look like wheelchair, so it was not obvious what it was, especially across a field. As he came cruising towards the stands it dawned on people what it was and I heard a lot of “How cool!” and “That is awesome!” Everyone always stood up and cheered, no matter what school they were from.
I always looked for other handicapped kids that would see Paul and hopefully be inspired. Seeing kids his age realize that a handicapped kid could be an athlete was a remarkable experience for me. I could tell it affected people. After the season was over, he got a cool poster from an old PT he had worked with briefly years ago. We didn’t even know she was watching and she had photographed him and made a poster out of it for him. I know others that saw him were inspired, and it motivated all three of us. Paul had become a movement of some kind. He was The Man.
After a tough eighth grade year full of surgeries, Paul did return to the track his Freshman year at Verona and had some great moments there, too. He missed most of the beginning of the season, but raced enough to go to Sectionals and State. Here, Paul was the one that was inspired by the other wheelchair athletes in Shot Putt and track events. He had real coaches who were patient and motivated him to push hard, even though he wasn’t feeling the best on most days. During the State meet, thousands of people in La Crosse were on their feet cheering him on. It was electric. These are people and events that Kathie and I will never forget. We can’t begin to express how grateful we are to the coaches and teammates for those memories. I hope they feel the same and that Paul sticks with them for a while, too.