Karina Bartow's "A Walk to Remember"
In on ongoing "Times Like These" segment, where we highlight lifechanging moments from our authors' lives, we're sharing Karina Bartow's A Walk to Remember. Karina is the author of Forgetting My Way Back To You, and her story is truly inspirational.
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks has been my favorite book since I read it after seeing its film adaptation in 2002, but at the time, I didn’t know if the title would ever relate to my life. At ten months old, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a neurological disorder that affects my nervous system and fine motor skills. My neurologist told my parents that instead of walking at the typical age most toddlers do, I might be able to walk when I reached my late teens at best, after puberty finished taking its toll.
He also predicted I’d be a fighter, and whether those were empty words or not, they proved to be undeniably true. In fact, that fighter in me wanted to debunk his theory about how long it’d take me to learn to walk. I didn’t tell anyone, but I set the goal to walk before I even hit thirteen, in order to smash everyone’s expectations.
I practiced at home with my parents standing several feet apart from each other while I tottered between them, and I advanced to the point of crossing our small living room. The night before my thirteenth birthday, I wanted to try again and again until my disability vanished, and I could move on to be a regular teenager. To my disappointment, however, it didn’t happen.
On an average Thursday morning in 2004, the week after I turned fourteen, I was stretching and walking laps with my walker in my adaptive physical education class. A substitute aide was assisting me that day, and my dad, who worked as the school’s head custodian back then, came into the unoccupied gymnasium to check on us over his break. Being the proud dad that he is, he seized the opportunity to flaunt my advancement, as marginal as it was.
“Do you want to show her what you can do?” He grinned at me.
I agreed but remained nonchalant about it. We both knew I’d make it ten feet or so and need him to catch me.
When we reached that mark, he assured me that I could stop and lean back on him whenever I needed to. I didn’t feel out of steam yet, though, so I continued forward. Before we knew it, I’d gone to the other end of the gym, and again, Dad—with surprise in his voice—told me I could stop at any time. But I was rolling, so I kept moving! We rounded that corner and the next two, until I completed a full lap.
Wiped out by then, I sank into my wheelchair with no shame. My delighted aide hurried to get me some water, and after I recovered, I noticed the tears running down my astonished father’s face. It touched me to see his joy, but to be honest, I didn’t feel that surge of emotion. I still don’t quite understand it, but once I took off that day, I just knew I had it in me. I wasn’t going to stop, and I never have since.
That said, it didn’t cure me. Gravity isn’t my friend, and up to now, my stride isn’t effortless by any means. All the same, that momentous morning led me to many more milestones. Mike Stoll, my school’s head football coach, soon took the lead in training me to build my strength and stamina, and in the process, we formed a close bond. He became a father figure to me, even inspiring the protagonist’s dad in my most recent novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You.
He also set into motion further walks that I’ll never forget. As part of my workout regiment, he and my dad took me out to the track once spring came, posing me with the challenge to walk one-hundred meters. With the track team also there to practice, it daunted me to take on the feat in front on so many older kids. To my pleasant surprise, they rallied behind me and cheered me on the whole way. Coach had told me I could take a breather, but how could I stop with support like that?
My so-called dashes became a weekly tradition, which carried into football season. The players showed me the same kindness the runners had, with the captains asking me to lead them out for their final game. I’d never walked on grass before, much less grass that was pitted by cleats. I wouldn’t call it the prettiest or most graceful performance, but it was truly “a walk to remember.”