Baby Magic

I must admit the last few weeks have been very difficult for me. As I have mentioned previously, I struggle at times with depression and anxiety. These feelings have been amplified by the events that are occurring throughout the world today. It is difficult to stay positive when the lives of many are crumbling on a daily basis.

It is during these trials that I try to remember the positive things in life. My wife Amanda and I are incredibly fortunate. We are both still working full time. In addition we have a warm home where we are able to seek refuge from the outside world. Moreover, all of our family, both near and far, are healthy. Finally, we have the joy of raising a baby boy, who brings happiness into our lives.

Another thing that I try to do when life seems to overwhelm is look back on memories of happier times. One of the things that triggers memories the most for me is my sense of smell. Fragrances are things that often cause me to recall events in my life. One scent that brings back such good memories is Baby Magic. For those who might be unfamiliar with this product, Baby Magic is a liquid soap for babies. However, I have used it many times for sponge baths while hospitalized.

Amanda and I use Baby Magic to bathe Baby Boy. Each bathtime is filled with memories. For instance, my mind often wanders to times spent at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Once I was hospitalized there for a case of osteomyelitis, which is an infection in the bone tissue. I was in the hospital for six weeks, however, I have fond memories of that time. All I need to do is open the bottle of Baby Magic and I am transported back to that time. I was just a young boy who had no responsibilities. Plus, I was surrounded by a group of wonderful nurses, who were at my beck and call.

I don’t know when this global pandemic that we are currently experiencing will end. I am guessing that we have a long way to go before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are like me and the events of the day have you feeling anxious, just hold on, there are better days to come. Try to hold on to the good that is in your life. You might have to dig deep, but it is there. Take time every day to think of the things for which you are thankful.

This day will end with Amanda and I reading to Baby Boy before he goes to sleep for the night. His hair will smell of Baby Magic and my mind will be absorbing the experience of seeing life through his eyes. His smiles and his cooing will be just what I need to remember that life is good, despite the circumstances.

Happy Little Accidents…

I have never been the most artistic person in the world. Despite this I appreciate art very much. It is enjoyable to stroll through Chicago’s Art Institute. There you can see paintings by some of the greatest artists who have ever lived, such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. I have often thought that I don’t really have any true talents, at least not to the same degree as these artists.

When I was a teenager, my friend Charlie and I would watch episodes of the “Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross. I know he is not even close to being as great as the artists that I mentioned above. However, he seemed to make things look so easy. It was always sort of a desire of mine to try my hand at doing a class where I could learn how to paint like Bob Ross.

He had such a calm demeanor. Bob also seemed to enjoy everything that he did, especially when it came to “beating the devil” out of his brush as he would dip it in paint thinner and then whack it against the leg of the easel on which his canvas was sitting. While watching Bob, art seemed like something that I could do. Why couldn’t I mix up some phthalo blue and some titanium white and paint some “happy little clouds?” I might even be able to add some Van Dyke brown or some yellow ochre and paint some trees. Why shouldn’t I be able to create a world where mountains and streams live happily side by side on canvas? With these thoughts in mind I did indeed take a class with a “Bob Ross Certified Instructor.” What I didn’t foresee was that my color blindness might be a detriment to creating my own world on canvas.

As a birthday gift, Amanda bought us a session with a certified instructor that would show us how to paint in the style of Bob Ross. My sister-in-law Alice tagged along as well. We were all excited to try our hand at creating a landscape with lots of “little happy trees” and pristine mountains. However, as soon as we got started I knew this was going to be harder than Bob made it look on television. For one, I could not tell the difference between the various shades of red and green that were on our palettes. I have always had a difficult time distinguishing between dark greens and reds. Therefore, it was almost impossible for me to follow along as the instructor was telling us which colors we should mix together to create various parts of the landscape that we were painting. Despite my struggles it was still fun trying to create something.

I can safely say that I will never have any my work hanging in the galleries of any great museums. However, it was fun to fulfill my desire to try my hand at painting. I would definitely take another class. I am just not sure if the results would be any different. I’m certain that my painting would still resemble something that a 2nd grader has done. I’ll stick to writing. It is a place where I can escape. I enjoy putting my thoughts into words. It helps me to create a world in which I feel happy. Plus, I don’t have to clean any brushes afterwards. Oh, and just in case you were curious to see my painting. Just take a look below and tell me what you think. I made lots of “little happy accidents” as you can see. However, I am not to worried about it. I am sure Bob would have something positive to say. I don’t think he ever expressed any negativity. That just might be the best lesson he ever taught.

A Ryan Bradshaw Original

Boot Heel Fever

If there is one thing that frustrates me the most about having spina bifida, it is the fact that I have to wear leg braces. It is often hard to find shoes that I like that will fit over my braces. It is especially difficult when the orthotist (the person who makes said braces) gets it in his head that he should redesign the braces that you wear to put “less stress on your knees.” However, that is the situation that I found myself in a few years ago when I had my last set of braces made.

Growing up I had braces in all shapes and sizes. Some of these had buckles in places that made finding a decent shoe next to impossible. Despite this it seems as if I have always been able to make the situation work, no matter the style of braces that have been made for me. For years I used to go to Keller Orthotics. They are located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. This is an area of Chicago that I spent a lot of time in while I growing up, as Children’s Memorial Hospital used to be located in this section of the city. It is a neighborhood rich in history, especially during the years of the Great Depression when Chicago was ruled by the likes of Al Capone, Lester “Baby Face” Nelson, and John Dillinger. In fact, just down the street, a block or so from Keller Orthotics, is where John Dillinger was gunned down. It was in an alleyway just outside the Biograph Theater that this event took place in 1934. I remember passing this same alleyway numerous times, as my parents and I made our way to the brace shop for yet another fitting.

Keller’s was, and still is a family-owned shop, where I spent a few hours each year as a child. As a growing boy I needed to get new leg braces fairly often. My orthopedic doctor always referred me to Keller’s, as they were a shop that worked with Children’s Memorial to create orthopedic accessories for children who needed them. Peter Keller was the owner of the shop when I was growing up. He has since passed away. I remember him as a gregarious man with a fairly, thick German accent who always showed a genuine concern for those children with whom he worked. His shop turned out quality products that would last until it was time for a new pair. I think one of things I remember most about going in to Keller’s were the various autographed pictures of Chicago Blackhawks hockey players that adorned the walls of the examination rooms of the clinic. The picture of the late, great Stan Mikita was my favorite. He is one of the most legendary players that ever laced up a pair of skates for the Blackhawks. Stan’s name is one that figures prominently in the movie “Wayne’s World,” which stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.

Keller’s made my leg braces until I was in my early teens. Around the age of 17 I stopped going to Children’s Memorial, as I was no longer a child. Therefore, I had to rely on various other shops that were closer to home to make my braces. This is when things began to take a turn for the worse. My orthopedic doctor here in town began to refer me to other orthotists that were not as skilled in the art of making leg braces. However, there was nothing much that I could do about that, as traveling to Chicago to have my braces made was no longer an option.

Therefore, I had to begin settling for second-rate shops that made braces that were of less quality than those made by Keller Orthotics. This is especially true for the current pair of braces that I have. As noted above, I had very little say in the design of my latest braces. That is why I now am wearing a pair that literally have boot heels. How is a person supposed to find a decent pair of shoes when the leg braces they are wearing have a boot heel that juts out from the bottom? I am now relegated to wearing “old man” tennis shoes such as New Balance. Hopefully, one day soon I will find a shop that will listen to my input and make a pair of braces that suits my tastes. Until then I am stuck with my boot heel braces. Maybe, if I get a pair of bell-bottomed pants I can start a fashion trend amongst the disabled community. Boot heels and bell-bottoms might become the craze with those of forced to wear leg braces. I might just start a “Saturday Night Spina Bifida Fever.” Watch out John Travolta, here I come!

The House Call

This device was both friend and foe for many years.

Growing up I received some of the best medical care that was available for people who were born with spina bifida. I was fortunate to live just a couple of hours west of Chicago, which was home to Children’s Memorial Hospital. If you have read some of my earlier posts, you might recall my fondness for this place. Despite the pain that I experienced in that building, there were also lots of memorable moments.

Many of the memories connected to Children’s Memorial involve the doctors that I was blessed to have had there. First, there was Luciano Dias, who was a kind and gentle man. He had a passion for what he did and that showed in the way he treated his patients. He performed many of the orthopedic surgeries that enabled me to walk. Everytime I went to see him for my yearly check-ups he always showed great concern for me not only as a patient, but as a person.

Another wonderful doctor that I had gave my parents some great advice after I was born. He told them simply to “take me home and love me just as they would any other child.” This doctor’s name was David McLone. He was my neurologist for several years. Dr. McLone was a man with a great deal of compassion. His advice to my parents was some of the best that they would receive during a time of great uncertainty and fear. When I was born in 1977, not much was known about spina bifida. I am sure my parents were scared and unsure of what was in store for them. However, by the grace of God, they had some of the greatest doctors on whom they could rely for encouragement.

Besides Dr. Dias and Dr. McLone, there was also Dr. William Kaplan. He was another doctor who looked at me not as just another patient. He truly cared about working to improve my quality of life. Dr. Kaplan went above and beyond to ensure that I received the best treatment that I could.

As I noted in my last post, one of the most common problems that people who were born with spina bifida have is bowel and bladder incontinence. There are various procedures that I have had to help with these issues. Dr. Kaplan, who was my urologist while I was growing up, performed a few of these operations.

For instance, in 1986, he implanted a device called an artificial urinary sphincter. This device had a tiny pump that was inserted into my scrotum. From this pump there was a line that ran to a valve that was placed around the neck of my bladder. This allowed me to have control of my bladder. Every time I needed to urinate, I’d simply squeeze the pump a few times, which then released the valve at the neck of my bladder. The only problem with this device is that if you pumped it too hard it would lock the valve around the bladder. This was something I’d learn the hard way.

One summer day shortly after having the artificial urinary sphincter implanted, I was in the bathroom at home using the toilet when I put too much pressure on the pump and it locked up. What was I to do? I had to pee and my bladder was locked up tighter than the Hoover Dam!

Not knowing what else to do, my mom called Children’s and they suggested that we come right away to Chicago. As you might recall from earlier in this story, we lived two hours west of Chicago, and I had to pee! Therefore, we got in the car and made our way into the city. Dr. Kaplan was informed what had happened and he asked my parents to drive me straight to his house. Here we were making a house call in reverse. Fortunately, after two hours of torturous travel on a full bladder we arrived at Dr. Kaplan’s house.

He then instructed me to lay down in the foyer of his home where he proceeded to perform a miracle, at least in my eyes. He was able to get the pump of the artificial sphincter to release the valve that was holding back the floodgates. I then proceeded to relieve myself right there on the floor in Dr. Kaplan’s foyer.

This was a moment of great joy, as I finally had found relief. However, I was not sure about what had just happened either. Dr. Kaplan took it all in stride. He acted like it was just another day at the office. I am pretty sure his wife was not pleased about me using the entryway of their home as a toilet, but she was gracious. I also now had a story to tell.

Life is never dull when you have a body that operates in ways unlike most “normal” ones do. However, not many people can say they have urinated on the floor in the homes of one of their doctors. I am proud to say that I am perhaps one of the few.

Bleeding Cubbie Blue

In celebration of the of the Major League Baseball season getting underway this week the following is a story that I shared on Facebook a few years ago after one of the best days of my life:

So, let me tell you my story.  It all began at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, November 4, 2016. I was awake this early in anticipation of the day before me.  My brother Cory, my niece Clair, and I would be setting off at 4:30 a.m. to be a part of the Cubs World Series victory parade and rally in Grant Park.  We decided to leave this early so that we could catch one of the earliest trains into the city, as we knew that there would be millions of people attending the rally.

We arrived in Elburn, Illinois at a little after 6 a.m. and promptly caught the train that would take us into downtown Chicago.  On the way we sat in nervous anticipation of the sights and sounds we would encounter as we made our way to the rally.  We arrived in Chicago a little after 7 and we hopped off the train. Almost as soon as we left the train, there was singing and people waving banners.  It was going to be a party!

On excursions such as these I usually take a wheelchair, as it makes getting around so much easier for me.  So, I in my wheelchair, and my brother and niece on foot, set out for Grant Park, which is nearly a mile from the train station.

On our way, we saw thousands of others headed in the same direction.  The streets were a flurry of activity, as vendors were selling t-shirts, beads, and flags.  Street musicians were there providing a soundtrack to the city that was oozing with World Series euphoria.  Was this really happening, or had the last two weeks just all been a dream? The Chicago Cubs, my team, our team, had finally done it.  They had become champions, and we were going to celebrate!

We slowly made our way towards Lake Michigan.  We then walked past the lions that guard the entrance to Chicago’s Art Institute.  They were standing there proudly with their Cubs helmets on greeting the masses as they strolled passed.  As we got closer to Grant Park, the crowds really began to thicken, for we all had to pass through a security checkpoint before gaining access to the park.  We inched along with the thousands of others that had gathered until we finally reached the entrance to the park.

One of the lions outside Chicago’s Art Institute adorned with his Cubs hat.

Hundreds of thousands of people were lined up along the parade route, while hundreds of thousands more began to find their places for the rally inside the park.  Cory, Clair, and I made our way down a rather steep, and muddy hill into the park. This was kind of fun in a wheelchair. I don’t know how Cory was able to keep ahold of me and the chair.  We eventually made it down the hill, with the help of a fellow Cubs fan. Some people are still very kind, a lesson that I was to be reminded of yet again a short time later.

We staked out our spot, which was nowhere near the stage, but close enough to a video board, that we’d be able to catch all of the events of the rally there.  Cory and Clair then went to get some food from one of the many food trucks lining the streets outside the park. The smells in the air were amazing! As I was sitting waiting for their return I made some small talk with a police officer, who was standing inside the security fence that lined the interior of the park.  We chatted for a bit and then I was approached by a very kind looking gentlemen, who was very busy, yet took time to speak to me.

This gentleman asked how long I had been a Cubs fan and how long I had been at the rally.  He then asked me who was at the rally with me. I explained that I was with my brother and my niece.  He asked where they were at, and I replied that they were getting some food. He asked if they would be returning soon, and I said yes.  That is when I knew that this man had something in store for us. Something that would be like Christmas, my birthday, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.  

I quickly sent Cory a text letting him know that he had better return quickly, as our day was going to be getting better than we had ever expected.  Cory and Clair returned in a matter of minutes, upon which the kind gentleman opened a gate and led us down a long aisle that led directly to the front of the park.  On the way he checked to make sure that I was not embarrassed by being wheeled along in front of thousands of others who were not being afforded the same treatment. He did all of this for me purely out of the kindness of his heart.  Cory, Clair, and I were now approximately 30 feet from the stage. The stage that our Cubbies would be speaking from in just a matter of hours! We thanked the man for allowing us access to this part of the park, and he went about his tasks making sure that everything was ready for the rally to begin.  

I assume by observing him that this man was the director of the event, as he went about making sure that others were doing their assigned tasks.  I wish I knew how to thank him, as he gave us all an experience that we will never forget. In the few hours that we spent at the rally I had to keep asking myself why would someone do this for us?  We did not deserve this this type of treatment. We were just there to watch the rally and soak it all in as best we could. The simple answer, there are still humble and kind people in the world. I fall short of this every day.  This man taught me a lesson by giving me an incredible gift. It may not seem like much to others but I spent the day just appreciating being with family, enjoying the beautiful, blue sky, and getting to experience something that is truly once in a lifetime.  I was a part of history today, a beautiful, blue humbling history. GO CUBS!

My brother Cory, me, and my niece Clair at the rally. We were really this close to the stage.

Roger That!

In a few previous posts I have written about my time at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.  It perhaps is a place that I could write dozens of stories about, as there were all kinds of people that I met there as a young boy.  I was exposed to individuals from various ethnicities, religions, and family backgrounds.  Children’s was a place that taught me that we are all people and that we should treat each other with respect.  It also was a place that showed me just how funny life can be. 

As I’ve noted before I was often at Children’s for extended periods of time.  During these stays I had the opportunity to experience things that other children my age would never experience.  For instance, there were times when naval recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station, which is just north of Chicago, would come by and visit patients.  I remember one time a particular recruit came to visit me.  He was a pretty good artist and he made a drawing for me.  This is a picture that I still have stored away somewhere.

When these young sailors would come by for a visit it would make me feel very special because they gave me their full attention.  I felt like I was important to them.  These feelings are something that I will never forget. 

I also had some interesting roommates along the way during my stays at Children’s.  One that often comes to mind when I think of those days is a little girl by the name of Courtney.  She rarely had family come to see her, which always made me feel sorry for her, as it can be terrifying to be in the hospital all alone.  This is especially true for a young child. 

It was around Easter one year when Courtney and I were roommates, and to help her feel better, my mother and father went out and bought her an Easter bonnet and a small purse.  These are two things that I am sure she had never had before.  When she saw them her eyes lit up as if they were the greatest things she had ever seen.  I can remember Courtney calling her parents and telling them about the gifts she had received.  It was heartbreaking to learn that just a few weeks later her brother had gotten jealous of the gifts she had received and proceeded to fill her purse with dirt.  I would like to know what became of Courtney along with some of the other people that I met while I was in the hospital.         

Despite the pain I was often in when I was in the hospital, the nurses and doctors always seemed to make things better.  I think this was because they knew how to treat children who were suffering.  Plus there always seemed to be plenty of things to do to keep one’s mind off of the pain.  For instance, you could make your way up to the ninth floor where there were a few arcade games to play.  Or, there were often magic shows put on by a local magician by the name of Danny Orleans.

Growing up I was a huge fan of Matchbox and Hot Wheels toy cars, and the gift shop at Children’s was always a treasure trove for these.  I can remember several times when I was hospitalized that my parents and I would go to the gift shop where I was allowed to pick out one or two Matchbox cars.  I still have many of these stored away.  They will always bring back great memories.     

Then of course there was the tutor who you went to if you were in the hospital for an extended period.  She was kind of a crotchety old lady who would look over her wire-rimmed glasses at you as she spoke.  You would think having to do school work while hospitalized would have been torture.  The tutor that I had while at Children’s made it all worthwhile though.  I am sure she had been a teacher in the Chicago Public School System since around the time that Al Capone ruled the city.  However, despite her gruff exterior she was actually charming in her own special way.  I think she had a good heart and truly cared for the children with whom she was working.  I just wish her memory had been a little sharper, because she never could get my name correct.  For some reason she always called me Roger, which to this day is one of the nicknames that my family uses for me.  I never really had the heart to correct her.  This woman, I am certain, has long since passed, but the memory of her will live on every time someone calls me Roger.       

Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois shortly before it was demolished. Just inside those doors on the left were two stone elephant sculptures. I wish I could have gotten one of those before they tore this place down.

Dew Shine

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra

As winter slowly melts into spring here in Northwest Illinois, my thoughts are turning more and more to being outdoors and to soak up the sunshine.  The sun is something that we do not see much during the winter. One of my favorite outdoor activities in the spring and summer is bicycling. I have a Sun HT-3, which is ahand-powered trike.  It is a pleasure to ride for hours, just taking in the sights and sounds of the outdoors. 

Here in my hometown of Sterling, Illinois there are various bike paths on which I enjoy riding.  A few of these run along the Rock River, which can be beautiful around sunset, as you can see in the picture below.  The park district has done a great job maintaining these paths for all cyclists to enjoy.

Sunset along the Rock River

On occasion my wife Amanda and I will also load our bikes into the back of our SUV and drive to other cities where there are great paths to explore.  Chicago has a great bike trail that runs along Lake Michigan. This is perhaps one of my most favorite paths on which to ride.  There are so many things to see, and best of all, there are places to stop and eat. 

Another city nearby that has a great trail system which to explore is Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is home to two lakes, along which you can ride. One of these paths takes you through various neighborhoods of the city with lots of beautiful homes and well-manicured lawns.  However, the best parts are along Lake Monona, where you can catch views of the city’s skyline.  Then after you are done riding you can stop in at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and have one of their delicious cheeseburgers andsome deep-fried cheese curds.

There are times when my trike has needed repairs and thereis no better place to go than a shop we have right here in Sterling.  I cannot say enough about the staff at Mead’s Bike Shop, especially the owners, Bryce and Marcy Mead.  Their customer service is second tonone. 

When I was looking for a bicycle, Bryce took the time tohelp me order my hand trike.  His teamthen assembled it when it arrived. Thanks to Mead’s I have spent hundreds of hours riding and enjoying theoutdoors.  However, without the help ofanother organization I would not have been able to purchase my trike. 

A few years ago I was looking for a bicycle that I couldride where I could use my hands to pedal, as the strength in my legs is not the greatest. That is when a friend of mine told me about something called the Challenged Athletes Foundation. 

This organization helps provide sportingequipment to disabled individuals.  So, I wrote a grant, which they accepted, and thus I had a shiny, new trike.  One on which I have had many adventures.

Perhaps, one of the most fun rides that I have had since getting my trike, at least in hindsight, was with my nephew Dalen a few summers ago.  He and I decided to set out one warm and sunny afternoon.  We had no particular goal in mind.  We were just out for a joyride.

About 30 minutes into our aimless journey, Dalen asked if we could stop at the store so that he could get something to drink.  Thanking that he was just going to go in and grab a bottle of Coke, I agreed and we stopped at a store just down the street.  Little did I know that he was going to come back out with a four-pack of glass bottles of a soda he was into at the time called “Dew Shine.”  I am not sure what he was thinking when he bought those glass bottles, as we had no way to carry them while riding.  However, this is typical of Dalen, to not think ahead. 

So, there we were a few miles from either one of our homes with 4 glass bottles of soda and no place to put them.  I suggested that we each carry two bottles and make our way towards his house. However, in doing so we would need to ride along a fairly busy highway.

We started out quite well but it was difficult to hold two glass bottles between my legs and for him to carry two and hold on to the handle bars of his bike at the same time.  So, we pulled over at a nearby gas station where we each downed a bottle.  We then carried on a little further before the chain on my bike slipped off.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix and we were back on our way.  However, a short time later, the chain slipped off of Dalen’s bike, which wasn’t as easy to fix.  We did eventually get the chain back on his bike, and made it home shortly thereafter.  This was the last time he and I ever rode together. 

This was a great 22-mile ride along Lake Michigan in Chicago


A Mother’s Perspective

For today’s post I asked my mother to contribute a story in which she gives her perspective on raising a child with spina bifida. What follows is her story.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 NKJ)

On March 13,1977 the Lord blessed my husband Tom and me with our third son, Ryan Thomas Bradshaw.  Little did we know on thenight that he was born that our family’s life would be changed forever.  Ryan’s birth and the years that have followedhave taken us on an amazing but sometimes perplexing journey.  Through it all we have been there for eachother with God as our guide.

A week or so before Ryan was born I told my mother that I just felt that something was wrong with the baby I was carrying.  Her response was, “Oh, you’re just tired of being pregnant.”  That was true, but I still felt uneasy.  Because my second son had been born so quickly they told me when I went into labor with this third child I should not waste any time getting to the hospital.  So, when labor started early in the morning on March 13 we took our 4 and 5 year old sons to their aunt and uncle’s and headed to the hospital. 

I labored all day and around 5:00 PM the doctor told me we should consider a Cesarean Section as the baby was beginning to show signs of stress on the monitors.  Almost immediately my labor became very intense and the baby started crowning.  Forceps were used during delivery and as Ryan came through the birth canal, however, the myelomeningocele that had developed on his back ruptured during the delivery.  So, Ryan and my husband were rushed 130 miles away by ambulance to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  So, my feeling that there was something wrong with my baby was true. 

We had so much to learn over the next few months regarding what was in store for Ryan and our family.  Because Ryan has already written about his birth defect I will not. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, life in this family has been an adventure.  The growing up years were not always pleasant for my boys but a good sense of humor helped in many situations.  You may wonder how our family stayed intact with two other boys to care for, jobs and a home to maintain.   

I believe there are three things that contributed to maintaining a “healthy” family unit.  First, and foremost, knowing that God is in control no matter what happens.  The Lord has answered many prayers on Ryan’s behalf and for the rest of us.   Then, we had strong support from extended family and friends that made all the traveling and overnight hospital trips possible.  Last but not least, as has been said many times; love conquers all. 

Me in one of my first pairs of leg braces.

Air Jordan

I’ve heard it said that one should never meet their heroes. I believe there is some truth to this, as it does diminish some of the mystique surrounding their persona. However, as a 14-year-old boy I did meet one of my heroes and it something that I will remember for a lifetime.

It was Saturday, January 11, 1992. I awoke at 9 a.m. and was hardly able to contain my excitement about the day’s events. I got dressed, did some last-minute packing, and then walked out of the house to get into the car. As the car pulled out of the driveway, my family and I were filled with anticipation as we began our drive toward Chicago.

Our immediate destination was the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Upon our arrival at the Hyatt we were greeted by a doorman who took our bags and escorted us to our complimentary room. After depositing our bags in the room, we went off for a walking tour of the area and to get a bite to eat.

It was an enjoyable afternoon taking in the sights and sounds of the “Windy City.” Our walk took us a few blocks south of our hotel, before we stopped and ate lunch, which was also compliments of our hosts for the weekend. As we left the restaurant, we decided to go back to the Hyatt to rest up for the events that were to occur that evening.

At 5 p.m. we left our hotel room to go down and get a taxi that would take us to our much anticipated event. After a brief ride, we were there! We were standing outside the Chicago Stadium where my family and I were to be Michael Jordan’s guests for the evening.

I felt rather important as we entered the stadium through the doors which the players entered each night. While were waiting for our escort, we saw John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong enter and head toward the locker room.

When our escort arrived, we were given VIP passes and were led out onto the floor. How exciting it was to be walking right next to the court! On the floor the Luvabulls (cheerleaders) were warming up, camera men were preparing their gear for the night, and Bill Cartwright was practicing lay-ups. Soon we were joined by another staff person who worked for the Chicago Bulls. This individual escorted us down to the locker room.

As we were making our way toward the locker room, we walked past several other players and the Bulls mascot, Benny the Bull. He was standing just outside the locker room door. The one we were about to enter!

As we entered the locker room, my legs felt just like rubber because there sat Michael Jordan along with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. Michael greeted me with a handshake and there were introductions all around. We visited for a few minutes while Michael and the rest of the starting five signed some basketball cards and other memorabilia for me. Game time was rapidly approaching, so we had to return to the arena to find our seats. I was privileged to have a seat at the end of the Bulls’ bench.

Throughout the game a few of the players talked to me and made me feel like one of the guys. As the game ended, I realized that this was an evening I would never forget as long as I live.

Just this past week Lebron James surpassed Michael Jordan on the list of the NBA’s top career scoring leaders. There has been much debate as to whether Lebron or Michael should be deemed the greatest of all time. In my opinion there is no contest, Michael will always be the greatest. Now if I could just sell all of those unopened Wheaties boxes with his face on them that I have stored in my basement. Anyone interested?

Michael and me in the locker room of the Chicago Stadium
The letter from the “Starlight Foundation” confirming our invitation. The “Starlight Foundation” was the organization that granted me my wish to meet Michael Jordan. Those toll charges to and from Chicago have more than doubled now and I am sure it is probably closer to $50.00 to park at the Hyatt these days.

The Summer of Ryan

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.– Thomas Merton

The “Summer of Ryan” began innocently enough.  It was 2004 and I was employed as a teacher’s aide at a small, private school near my home in Illinois.  Working at a school meant that I had summers off to do whatever I wanted. When school let out in May, I decided I was going to spend the summer focusing on things that made me happy.  I declared that it was going to be the “Summer of Ryan,” which is an idea that I borrowed from Seinfeld.  If you have never seen this television show there is a character by the name of George Constanza, who is quite self-centered.  In one particular episode of the show, George declares that he is going to have a “Summer of George.” So, being rather self-centered myself, I thought I’d take a page from George’s book and indulge myself in the pleasures of a carefree summer. To this end, I bought tickets to several Cubs games and enjoyed traveling back and forth to Chicago.

I must have gone to at least a dozen games that summer.  It was a thrill to be at Wrigley Field, taking in all of the sights, sounds, and smells of this historic ballpark.  I had the pleasure of watching some of the greats of the game, such as Greg Maddux, play that summer. I also enjoyed listening to the vendors hawk their wares throughout the stands.  It was a chorus of “HOT DOGS, HOT DOGS, I HAVE HOT DOGS HERE,” along with “COLD BEER, COLD BEER, WHO WANTS A COLD BEER?!” Of course, there was the ever-present organ music between innings as well.  Finally, there were all kinds of great smells in the air, from cotton candy to warm, soft pretzels. It was truly a feast for the senses.

If only I had known that my “Summer of Ryan” would turn into my winter of discontent. If only I would have remembered the proverb that “pride goeth before a fall.” For you see, my arrogance in thinking that it was all about me led to a disastrous fall. One that would take years from which to recover.

See “The Winter of My Discontent – Part 1” for the next part of the story.

Wrigley Field – the setting for much of the “Summer of Ryan.”

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