This I Believe

Ros - San Marcos, Texas
Entered on January 9, 2008

A Helping Hand

As a boy in the fifth grade, I shall never forget the day Sherry Nevius made her way toward my table in the school cafeteria and asked if I would like to arm wrestle her. Little did I know that this girl was about to teach me just how small most of our problems are, and how we don’t even have a clue about how to face the bigger ones.

“Would I like to arm wrestle?” I asked her back, “Are you kidding?”

“No.” was her confident reply.

“Come on, Sherry, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

With a smile she replied, “Are you?”

This was a challenge that was beyond any other I had faced in my eleven years. In my eyes, this was the event of the semester. No girl was going to take me down.

* * *

Two schools shared this packed lunchroom: Metcalf (grades K-8), and Fairchild, which was a school devoted to the mentally and physically handicapped. Since kindergarten I had grown up with the Fairchild kids whose challenges came in the forms of mental retardation, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. There were also deaf and blind kids. Some of the Fairchild students were integrated into our classes at Metcalf.

Sherry Nevius was one of those.

Since birth, she had dealt with cerebral palsy, moving around with the aid of some metal crutches that were braced just above her elbows. The upside to Sherry’s disability: she had arms as tough as climbing rope and a grip that was fiercely alien.

There in the lunchroom she planted her elbow on the table as if to say, “Game on.”

My pride was at stake. I locked hands with hers, took a deep breath and went for it. We were deadlocked for what seemed forever. Kids were going nuts, cheering us on. Her grip was unbelievable. But slowly, ever so slowly, I felt my arm inch over hers until, at last, I laid down Sherry’s hand. I had slayed the dragon, and walked through school for the rest of the week reliving that moment, that victory.

Today, 35 years later, I still relive that moment, but with a very different perspective. You see, I have reconnected with Sherry as we keep in touch by phone and through e-mails. In the years that have past, she has not only acquired two college degrees, but has led a very self-sufficient and fulfilling life. She radiates the kind of positive energy that everyone should own. With all of the challenges that she has faced, she makes everyday living seem a breeze.

Yes, back in 5th grade I really never won the match, for it was Sherry who was chalking up victories right and left against all odds. It was Sherry who, at birth weighed half that of a five-pound bag of sugar, and later narrowly escaped being institutionalized.

And it was Sherry who, no matter how far she had to walk a crooked line in her cumbersome crutches, no matter how great the obstacle, would always–and I mean always–find a way to win.