Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Glade Sun

May 14, 2014

ABACUS COLUMN: Alexandra the Great

CROSSVILLE — It was a bright, sunny Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. My wife and I had driven from Fairfield Glade to Cincinnati the day before and, on this day, to the Ohio State University campus. We were there to honor one of our seven granddaughters. On this special day, she would become the first of many grandchildren to graduate with a college degree. There would be 10,200 diplomas awarded to undergraduate and graduate students from 92 countries. This column is based on her incredible courage and determination. Her life is a lesson for us all. 

Alex is 23 years of age, she is the middle daughter of three and has a younger brother. Her siblings are all healthy, active members of our 11 grandchildren ensemble. With courage and determination, Alex has steadfastly faced the debilitating and life-threatening malady of cerebral palsy since birth. The cause is unknown; the result for Alex was a paralyzed left side from head to foot. She has endured multiple operations since birth, deadly epileptic seizures, and the knowledge that her difficult, handicapped life could end at any moment. Her parents and siblings, to their credit and from her infancy, would not allow remorse or self pity. There were many difficult years to travail when her attractive sisters were healthy, active in sports, and dating. Alex has a Mona Lisa smile that brightens into a sunrise when she is happy. Through those difficult teen years we seldom saw any smile; only the clenched teeth of frustration and determination. Denny Anderson and we were witness to her determination five years ago in Fairfield Glade.

Between Alex's senior year of high school and freshman year at Ohio State, she flew alone from Ohio to Knoxville. She would stay with us for a week. Alex had become a one-armed golfer in high school and played two years on her high school team. She wanted to improve her game with a week of long and grueling practice sessions with our friend Denny, who was an accomplished one-arm golfer due to polio. I watched as they would hit as many as 200 balls off the practice tee in a session. Try that one-armed some day to test your internal fortitude. After a week of 9-hole golf, Alex and I played a short nine holes the day before she flew back to Ohio. Six years ago, I could hit my tee shot 50 to 75 yards farther than today. At the end of the round Alex remarked, "Grandpa, you and I could make a good team. With your drives and my chipping and putting we could be tough to beat." Not only did she play high school golf, she was typically candid about the obvious weakness in my game due to lack of practice.

A few years ago, classmates found her unconscious and lying on the floor of a science lab classroom at OSU. Rushed to the infirmary, she survived yet another bullet the malady has fired at her. But on this college graduation day, Alex would walk with her college classmates with no assistance. Attired in her decorated mortar board cap, black gown and white bejeweled beach sandals she would twice traverse more than the entire length of Buckeye Stadium. She would climb more than half the steep steps upward to sit through the two and a half hour graduation pomp and ceremony with her classmates and join them with diploma in hand on the return march down the steps and out of the stadium. 

On the eve of her graduation, her parents hosted a dinner at an upscale restaurant. Alex told us of her plans to return to school for her graduate degree after a year of work experience. The Mona Lisa smile, missing for many years of pain and suffering, was evident. She was the same determined, soft spoken and focused granddaughter we knew; yet now she was a confident, self-assured young woman. She was no longer Alex; she was Alexandra The Great.

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