A Chance Meeting

Ruth and Kristin Skating

At this time 11 years ago, I was a 54 year old woman in apparent good health.  I had purchased myself new ice skates  (the first since high school) and was enjoying skating on the lake behind our home.  [I am pictured here with my god-daughter, Kristen who is now 20.]  I had loved skating as a child.  I could be found at the rink a block from our house in St. Paul everyday after school, in the evening and/or on the weekends.  It was a particular pleasure when Mr. Parker (the father of my 1st grade boyfriend) would bring his record player and speakers and we would skate to music, perhaps even holding hands with a boy!  I was on the “performance squad” for hockey at Central High School in the 60’s.  As an adult, there was a period of time when I went to the indoor hockey rink in Eden Prairie during the school day to skate in circles (to music in my headphones, of course) as part of my exercise program.  I have always loved skating.  I still have my skates, but I do not use them often.

At the time this photo was taken I had noticed a small, non-painful lump on the inside of my left wrist.  I had fallen – hard – on the ice a few times and thought it was an injury resulting from those falls.  I was curious, inquiring of most anyone I was with, “What do you think this is?”  No one had an answer.  I finally went to the doctor and the rest, as they say, is history.

The reason I am writing about this is not the anniversary of the appearance of this lump.  It is because of a chance encounter with a young woman whom I had met after that time, almost 11 years ago now, at an amputee golf tournament.

There was a 5 year old little girl at the tournament, a friend of Pat Cooper, one of my amputee mentors.  Tory (the girl) was/is a triple amputee as the result of a lawn mower accident when she was 4 years old.   She was/is missing her right arm below the elbow and both legs below the knees.  I remember her spirit that day – she was as happy as any other 4 year old I have known, playing and interacting with all of the amputees in the room – part of the club.

My chance encounter with this girl from my past was at a theater in Chanhassen.  I was taking my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter to  Frozen, her first experience with a movie in a theater. (There is a story worth telling about that experience too!)  I arrived early so that Tatum could feel comfortable with the surroundings – so early that there was no one else there for the 11:55 a.m. showing.  Tatum was immediately drawn to the video games.  I reminded her that we were there to see a movie and not play games  After paying for my ticket (I did not know Tatum would be free!), I noticed the ticket sales person had a prosthetic right hand.  I lifted my remaining left limb and asked, “How did you lose your hand?”  She answered, “A lawn mower accident, when I was a child.  I have two prosthetic legs, too.”  We then shared conversation about prosthetic devices: the fact that less than 15% of amputees use one regularly; the fact that myo-electric devices are quite fancy, but not all they are cracked up to be; and that the value of a prosthetic device is functionality.  Tory wears the same type of device she wore as a 4 year old – and it works for her.

After purchasing delicious theater popcorn (only canola oil and salt!) and lemonade, Tatum and I went into the theater and enjoyed the movie very much.  I had seen it previously with my older granddaughter, Amy, so I could assure her that all would be well when things looked questionable.  It was a memorable moment of grand-parenting.

Upon leaving the theater, many more people were arriving to see movies at the theater.  As I passed by the front counter I asked the girl who had taken my money her name.  She answered, “Tory.”  I asked, “Did you know a golfer named Pat Cooper?”  “Yes,” she answered with a big smile on her face.  “So did I,” I said.  “ I met you 10+ years ago at an amputee golf tournament at Hazeltine in Chaska.”  “Yep,” she replied.  “I was there.”

I smiled and left the theater with Tatum.  It was nap time.  I will go back to that theater at every opportunity, on the outside chance that I will see Tory and remember those memories from the summer of 2003 when I was a new amputee – and she was already 1 year into the practice.

On the day of my surgery, June 13, 2003, Pat Cooper re-entered treatment for a re-occurance of her sarcoma – 15 years after her above the elbow amputation.  Pat died on August 9, 2004, a remarkable woman, a true friend.

Ruth and Pat Cooper

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