In the beloved children’s classic “Heidi,” the climactic passage describes Heidi’s formerly disabled cousin, Clara, after an extended visit to Heidi’s high mountain home, running to meet her father while Heidi dances around her, crowing, “I knew the mountains would make you well! I knew they would make you well!”
Here in the Wenatchee Valley, a real life version of Heidi’s mountain paradise, we are surrounded by stunning evidence of the profound truth of Heidi’s cheer. Among us live giants whose everyday lives take to its utmost extreme the concept of making lemonade from the lemons life deals.
With some, like Glen Frese or Ed Farrar, the challenges they perpetually meet are immediately obvious — both are paraplegics. Yet despite his paralysis, Glen walks, and remains an avid kayaker. Despite his paralysis, Ed is regularly found cycling the Loop Trail.
Mark Shipman has broken his neck twice, yet continues to distinguish himself, at age 66, among Washington’s most prolific alpinists. Katie Kemble, once counted among America’s leading feminine alpinists, should really only have one leg. She has kept going and walks on the one that ought to have been amputated, through a combination of her own medical expertise and an overdose of indomitable determination.
Some might contend that, contrary to Heidi’s rave, it was the mountains that crippled many of these folks in the first place, and they’d be right. But many of ‘Heidi’s children’ have told me that they wouldn’t trade their current situation for their life before their accident. Though they’d never wish it on anyone, they feel they’ve grown in ways that would never have been possible had they not been injured. They’re the poster children for the old saying: “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.”
It is my inestimable privilege to have friends count me among such giants, after my avalanche ride down Colchuck Peak in 2009. Early in my recovery, experiencing difficulty returning to work, I turned to psychologist Glen Frese for help. I went to Glen specifically because I knew he had traversed the path on which I now found myself. He told me that he could process the paperwork to qualify me as a disabled worker, and no one would question it — I’d never have to worry about work again. Or we could work together to create coping strategies to account for the deficits I now faced.
Sitting face-to-face with a man completely paralyzed below his rib cage, whom I had observed walk, I could hardly choose the disability option. Five years later, I’m working, seeing Glen once per month, and functioning at as least as high a level as before I was injured. I draw immeasurable inspiration from the giants among whom I live. I hope you can, too. These are their stories.