Sledding
By
Robin L. Silverman  

     One day in early December, we woke up to discover a perfect, freshly fallen snow.  "Please Mom, can we go sledding after breakfast?" my eleven-year-old daughter Erica begged.  Who could resist?  So we bundled up and headed over to the dike on the Lincoln Park golf course, the only hill in our otherwise flat prairie town.    

     When we arrived, the hill was teeming with people.  We found an open spot next to a tall, lanky man and his  three-year-old son.  The boy was already lying belly-down in the sled, waiting to be launched.  "Come on, Daddy!  Come on!" he called.     

     The man looked over at me.  "Okay if we go first?" he asked.      

     "By all means," I said.  "Looks like your son is ready to go."

     With that, he gave the boy a huge push, and off he flew!  But it wasn't only the child who soared the father ran after him at full speed.

     "He must be afraid that his son is going to run into somebody," I said to Erica.  "We'd better be careful, too."

  With that, we launched our own sled and whizzed down the hill at breakneck speed, the powdery snow flying in our faces. We had to bail out to avoid hitting a huge elm tree near the river, and ended up on our backs, laughing.

      "Great ride!" I said.

      "But what a long walk back up!" Erica noted.

      Indeed it was.  As we trudged our way back to the top, I noticed that the lanky man was pulling his son, who was still in the sled, back up to the summit.

     "What service!" Erica said.  "Would you do the same for me?"

     I was already out of breath.  "No way, Kiddo!  Keep walking!"

     By the time we reached the top, the little boy was ready to play again.

     "Go, go, go, Daddy!" he called.  Again, the father put all his energy into giving the boy a huge send-off, chased him down the hill, and then pulled both the boy and sled back up.

     This pattern went on for more than an hour.  Even with Erica doing her own walking, I was exhausted.  By then, the crowd on the hill had thinned as people went home for lunch.  Finally, it got down to the man and his son, Erica and me and a handful of others.

     He can't still be thinking the boy is going to crash into someone, I thought.  And surely, even though the child is small, he could pull his own sled up the hill once in a while.  But the man never tired, and his attitude was bright and cheery.

     Finally, I could stand it no longer.  I looked over at him and called, "You have tremendous energy!"

     The man looked at me and smiled.  "He has Cerebral Palsy," he said matter-of-factly.  "He can't walk."

     I was dumbstruck.  Then I realized that I had never seen the boy get out of the sled in all the time we'd been on the hill. It had all seemed so happy, so normal, that it never occurred to me that the child might be handicapped.

     Although I didn't know the man's name, I told the story in my newspaper column the following week.  Either he or someone he knew must have recognized him, because shortly afterward, I received this letter:

               Dear Mrs. Silverman,

                  The energy I expended on the hill that day is nothing compared to what my son does every day.  To  me, he is a true hero, and someday I hope to be half the man he has already become.