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Finding Magic and Friendship Through Adversity

Saralee Perel and Bob Lobel / 2010

    When I was a little girl, I would turn real events into fairy tales where wishes came true. But as in many tales with happy endings, the characters had to overcome daunting obstacles to realize their dreams. I still make up fantasized scenarios from real events.

     Last month, I imagined myself back in time. The year was 1985. I was watching my favorite sportscaster, Bob Lobel, on a Boston TV station. I loved this guy’s down-to-earth appeal and his (often goofy) humor. I adored his Christmas getup – the red nose and antlers he wore each year to benefit Children’s Hospital.

     Oh all right. I had a major crush on him.

     In my fantasy, a figure appeared who said, “Twenty-five years from now, you’re going to meet Mr. Lobel at a dock in Hyannis. You’ll give each other a hug that will be so deeply moving, neither of you will want to let go.”

     Wide-eyed, I said, “Why on earth would that happen?”

     “Both of you will have suffered the same spinal cord injury.”

     “We’ll be in an accident together?”

     “Neither of you will be in an accident.”

     “A spinal cord injury that happens out of nowhere?”

     “Yes.”

     “Will we be able to walk again?”

     “That will be up to both of you.”

     “Shouldn’t it be up to doctors?”

     “Doctors can only do so much. The rest will have to come from within you . . . deep within you.”

     Then the figure in my fairy tale faded away.
January 22, 2003:

     I was having emergency surgery because I couldn’t walk. The surgery stopped my spinal cord from being completely severed. I had no accident. This had never happened to anyone I’ve known.

     My neurologist said, “In two years, whatever shape you’re in, you will always be.”
January 22, 2005, at that two-year marker:

     I could only walk a few yards at a time. That was that.

     August 1st, 2008:

     I bottomed out. My dark thoughts frightened me. So I made a decision. I was going to choose despair or hope.

     I chose hope.

     I walked, fell, crawled and used trees to pull myself up. It took a long time to re-learn how to walk.

     May 20th, 2010

     While watching TV, I heard, “Legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel is learning to walk again.” The clip showed Bob performing demanding physical therapy exercises.

     I was awestruck to hear that the same thing happened to him that had happened to me.

     I gathered my courage to e-mail him. He replied right away. “I’m stunned there is someone else who has had this. I’m very excited to be in contact with someone who knows what it’s like. I’m so eager to talk with you. Where are you? How are you? All that stuff. Maybe you could call me?”

     Oy vay. I hadn’t expected to actually have to talk to the guy. But I feigned adulthood and called.

     We talked for hours. Our e-mails went from “Sincerely” to “Love” within days. I didn’t know how badly I needed this kind of connection until Bob, aka Lobie, came into my life.

     Hence, I’ve only just learned this truism: Connection is a mighty force.

     Sometimes we cry, but not because we’re sad or happy. Lobie wrote, “It’s a ‘knowing’ crying. Does that make sense?”

     “Oh yes. We ‘know’ the same fears, the terror inherent in climbing one curb, the constant vigilance for danger, the pre-planning of every movement. But there’s also beauty in this kind of ‘knowing.’ Beauty in ‘knowing’ the very same deliriously victorious sensation of walking five more inches than we did the day before.”

     One night he wrote, “Tonight with friends, I remarked on the Saralee connection and how it feels like it’s always been there. It’s like discovering something I’ve been looking for. It’s all about this connection we share. And the best part is that the magic has only just begun.

     Today in rehab, I could do things I couldn’t before. Something is working. I will stop at nothing to improve my condition. Love, Lobie.”

     June 10, 2010:

     He mentioned, “I’m going to Nantucket this weekend for the Boys and Girls Club.”
Yes! I made a plan.

     June 11, 2010 Hyannis Harbor:

     I was riding my disability bike at the harbor when I heard, “Saralee!”

     I pedaled to Bob Lobel, got off my bike, grabbed my cane and hobbled to him. We hugged for so long we didn’t want to let go. Both of us were crying. Not one word was said.

     Before boarding the ferry, he said, “I see rainbows at night.” I asked him what he meant. “It means that you being in my life opens windows that needed to be opened.”

     “And you’ve opened windows in my heart that I didn’t even know were closed.”

     We have found in each other the connection we sorely needed, the courage to try, the love of helping one another.

     And the best part is, of course, that the magic has only just begun.

     Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com. Legendary broadcaster Bob Lobel will occasionally provide play-by-play on the Cape League’s Game of the Week webcast package this season, including July 5 at Brewster.