But Karen was patient and over time we danced together more and more often. She had her own small business, was physically active, intelligent, beautiful, bilingual, a little OCD, and she could often beat me at Scrabble.
During the summer of 2005, she accompanied me to Paris for the IETF meeting. We spent my non-meeting time at Paris plage where we danced to the bands along the Seine. Our dancing was even featured (and replayed) on TF1, the French television station. In subsequent years, Karen joined me for my annual pilgrimages to the Pays Basque where we surfed, danced, and hiked the Pyrenees. She was much more fearless than I walking up to the edges of gaping precipices while I cowered several yards away. (Yes, I have a fear of heights. It's not a problem with a hang glider strapped to me or if I feel I'm protected in some way, but out in the open, the edge could give way, there could be an earthquake, I might get distracted and slip - you get the idea.)
We danced several times a week, hiked, surfed - a very active life.
Then, a few years later, Karen started having hip problems. Her left hip swelled and she was in great pain after any significant activity. She saw doctors who diagnosed hip bursitis. A first cortisone shot worked and she was fine for several months. A second shot worked for a few weeks. The third did nothing. Her ability to walk, dance and to be physically active diminished quickly. Ultimately there was no more dancing.
As a couple, you plan to grow old together. But somehow you never envision just one of you declining so rapidly. Somehow you think it will be gradual. Somehow you think both of you will decline simultaneously. Karen's sudden disability was a shock. It was difficult for me to see our very active lifestyle come to a complete halt, but it was ever harder for Karen.
The doctors were at a loss. They proposed surgery, but the surgeons couldn't find anything specific to cut (though one wanted to do surgery anyway). Karen's condition continued to deteriorate to the point where she couldn't walk a hundred yards without pain. If we stopped and I did several minutes of massage, we might get another hundred yards. Instead of walking, we had to drive everywhere and I had to find parking very close to our destination.
If we travelled, Karen needed a wheelchair to get through airports.
And then a friend recommended a physical therapist. I sat in on the sessions. In the first, the therapist had Karen sit in a chair and asked her to stand. Karen stood up easily. The therapist then asked her to stand up without putting her knees together. Karen couldn't stand up - she was stuck in the chair unless she put her knees together. "But this is how I was taught to stand up," Karen protested. "I grew up wearing miniskirts in the 60s and you had to keep your knees together at all times."
Karen and the therapist jokingly called the problem 'the miniskirt syndrome'. Officially, it's hip adductor syndrome.
They worked together for several months and while Karen got progressively stronger (and she could stand up with her knees apart), her pain didn't diminish and her walking didn't seem to be improving much. The therapist suggested Karen see Jeff Moreno at Precision Physical Therapy. Jeff specializes in gait problems and works on correcting posture and muscle imbalances. He gave her exercises, making it clear that after decades of sitting, standing and walking incorrectly, it would take time to retrain her body. With her incredible sense of commitment, Karen went to work. If she got discouraged, she never showed it. She did her exercises faithfully and continued tirelessly as Jeff added more and more - month after month after month.
Eighteen months ago, Karen was in a wheelchair during our annual trip to France. When we returned to France six months later, she was able to walk about ten minutes without stopping for massage, and succeeded in making airport connections without a wheelchair (after several stops). Returning from that trip, she signed up for the 2014 Big Sur International Marathon (21-mile walk) which was to take place less than a year later. I was skeptical.
We began walking four to five days a week, slowly increasing distances, with regular massage stops. When we arrived in France in September of 2013, Karen could walk a mile without stopping. Just before we left seven weeks later, we did our first walk into San Jean Luz along the beautiful sentier litoral (coastal trail), five miles away. This was a dramatic improvement, but getting to Marathon distances in 6 months seemed unlikely to me.
Upon our return to the States, we started a formal training program. Each week, Karen got stronger, walking further, faster. Unfortunately, her son's destination wedding interrupted her training and then Tax Season hit. After several setbacks, we got the training going again, but we were behind schedule by several weeks. We pushed a little to try to catch up and so delayed the prescribed taper. On the Sunday before the big day, we did 14 miles at a 3.8 mph pace. Unfortunately, she suffered from shin splints during the last half mile. We did the taper the last week and Karen carbo-loaded for the first time in her life. The shin splints were still present each of the taper days.
On Race Day, we got up a little after 3am. Karen ate her race breakfast, I massaged her legs, and she stretched. I delivered her to the bus at 4:30am then went back to the hotel to watch as the results popped up. Highway 1 is closed for the race and spectators are only permitted at the finish line in Carmel. The tracking program was the best way for me to keep an eye on her progress.
At about 7am the tracking program showed that she'd crossed the start line at 6:31am - results appeared to be delayed by about 30 minutes). I was nervous. The next tracking point was at 4.8 miles and indeed, at about 8:25am, her time popped up - just under an hour twenty minutes. A rapid calculation showed she was averaging 3.4 mph, the pace we'd discussed - a pace at which she could finish within the required time - a pace which she could walk comfortably, saving any push for the end (if she made it that far).
The next tracking point was at 8.2 miles. At her current pace, she should have been there by 8:50. I expected a delay, but by 9:30, no results had posted. I was very worried.
The subsequent tracking point was at 10.6 miles. Maybe they had just missed her 8.2 mile passage. At her somewhat leisurely pace, she should pass the 10.6 mile mark by 9:30 or so. But by 10:15, there were still no results.
I packed everything up to get ready to go find her, saddened, knowing how disappointed she'd be not to have been able to accomplish what she'd trained so long for. I decided on one last pit stop before shutting down my computer and just before I clicked on shutdown, both mile point results popped up. She was right on track - like a clock - exactly 3.4 mph. But, she was only halfway there. The next tracking point was 17 miles - a big gap.
I checked out of the hotel and drove to the finish area, very lucky to find parking. I booted my laptop, connected via my Audi's hotspot and waited. Less than 15 minutes after she passed the 17 mile mark, the results appeared. I couldn't believe she was still at EXACTLY 3.4 mph - unbelievable! She was going to finish! I quickly calculated the time for her arrival at that pace - 12:40. I bought roses and made my way to the finish line. The forecast rain which had held off all morning never came, but some light mist was falling at 12:25. I had decided I'd pull out the camera about 12:30 to be prepared for her finish. As I watched the finish line, I saw her coming. She wasn't walking, she was running! I fumbled with the camera and clicked off two unfocused shots before she was in my arms at 12:29. She had jogged the last four miles and beat my projected time by more than ten minutes. I've never been so proud of anyone in my life.
She wasn't even tired. Aside from two damaged toenails, she's perfectly fine.
We were on a plane for France the next day and she had no problems walking. It's raining here but beautiful weather is forecast for Sunday. I can't wait to go hiking in the Pyrenees again. And of course we'll be playing disc golf Sunday morning, doing the thé dansant Sunday afternoon, and we'll be Salsa dancing Sunday evening.
You think your life is headed downhill and then it's not. I'd call her recovery a miracle, but it's not. It's the result of her work ethic, her dedication, and her unwillingness to give up.
My wife is the miracle!