Here’s something from Cam’s book he wrote with legendary sportswriter Jim Taylor. Yes, yes. yes. And here’s something to snack on with it … Johnny Cake.
“Nic,” I said. “Let’s go really slowly and take our time.”
My grandson’s small hands locked on to my knees and he paused for a second to secure his balance. I slowly
rolled my wheelchair backwards with my feet. Nicholas was almost two years old at the time and was just learning how to walk. He kept a tight grip on my knees then took one tentative step forward. Then another. I wheeled back a little more. Nicholas took another step. We repeated the process. And before we knew it, we were halfway across the living room floor. Nicholas’ big brown eyes twinkled like I had never seen before, and he let out a genuine laugh.
A huge lump formed in my throat. I could not believe what was happening. I was helping my grandson learn how to walk—I, who had rarely walked alone and unaided in my life and needed years of relentless therapy to reach the point where I could take a few tottering steps.
When you have a physical disability, you are not often put in positions of trust. You grow up with people reminding you all the time that it’s you who needs help, so how could you ever help others? The danger is that you may come to believe it.
Lack of oxygen at birth caused me to have cerebral palsy, meaning a part of my brain was damaged. I have used a wheel- chair all my life, my arm and hand co-ordination isn’t that great, and at times I can be difficult to understand. Yet, through the kindness and sacrifice of hundreds of people, there I was, joyously being not only a grandfather but someone who could help my grandson take his first step.
Me, I got lucky. From the time I was Nic’s age, I was surrounded by people who lent their time and support to help me become someone who participates in life rather than watching from the sidelines. I had a job I loved—a reporter and columnist for the Edmonton Journal for thirty-three years—which allowed me to support something I loved so much more—a wife and a family.
And now, a grandson. Yes, I was in a wheelchair. Yes, my means of propelling it was to roll it backwards by pushing on the floor and guiding it by looking back over my shoulder. But I had a grandson. And he was depending on me to help him do this wonderful thing! You think I didn’t mist up?
Every detail of that first attempt is engraved in my memory: Sitting in my wheelchair and extending my left leg to his arms. Watching as he slowly climbs up my leg and pulls himself to a standing position, clutching my pants for balance and, I suppose, a sense of security. Reaching down to put his little hands on my knees and ever so slowly, beginning to wheel backwards, serving as a walker for Nicholas as he pushed me and took his first hesi- tant steps on this great new adventure.
He got better at it with each passing day. A few weeks later, he was walking on his own. I watched it happen and knew I’d played a part in it. Wheelchair be damned. I was rich beyond measure.