“Let’s go for a walk,” yelled Mayor Nolan Crouse Saturday, as he kicked off the 14th annual Roy Financial Mayor’s walk for charity.
That’s just what Henry Vogelaar, 65, did but as he took the brake off his walker and began to place one foot in front of the other, he couldn’t help quipping, “Easy for you to say.”
Very little is easy for Henry – especially walking. Since a car hit him four years ago near Golden, B.C., even talking is a challenge.
Yet Henry was out there walking to raise funds for charity. Henry’s own pledges were still coming in Saturday, but already amounted to over $1,700. Along with those raised by fellow walkers from the Christian Reformed Church, the money Henry raised was earmarked for the St. Albert Hospice.
There’s no understanding the why or the how of what Henry did as he took that walk Saturday. But walk it he did and by the time he was done, his face was red, his entire body was shaking and his legs ached from the strain.
“I call him my Miracle Man,” said his wife Elaine Vogelaar, as she explained the extent of his injuries.
“On Father’s Day, 2010, they told me that he was not going to make it,” she said.
Though he did live through the initial crisis, the entire right side of his body was smashed. He remained in a coma for weeks with severe head injuries.
“They told me to find a nursing home for him. But Henry was extremely fit and what you have to know is, through the whole thing, there were hundreds of people praying for him. You have to understand how determined he is,” Elaine said.
In all, Henry spent a year as a patient at the Glenrose and Ponoka brain injury facilities before coming home to St. Albert.
At the Mayor’s Walk Saturday, neither he nor Elaine focused on any of that old history. Instead, with a clear goal to walk three kilometres, they put all their energy into putting one foot in front of another.
He had to concentrate on every single step, so much so, that at times, Elaine half jokingly said, “Don’t distract him!” Each distraction meant that if he stopped, he had to restart the thinking engine again. He had to remember how to make his legs work.
At the halfway point Henry took his first rest, as he mentioned, “My legs hurt.”
When he got up from his walker seat, he had to focus hard on getting his feet turned the right way so that once again, he could go forward.
“You can do this Henry!” Elaine kept repeating. Over and over, “You can do this Henry! We’re almost there.”
Between the halfway point and the finish line, friends Leona Nieuwenhout and Cathy Vandermeer doubled back to keep the Vogelaars company.
Now he had a team, but Henry was visibly tiring. He stopped at least five times, saying, “My legs hurt!”
“You can do this Henry!” Elaine said, but every step was harder and at times, even the bumps and cracks in the sidewalk seemed almost too much.
“You can do this Henry!”
Just before the SAMBA clubhouse came into view there was a small knoll.
Henry looked at the hill and at the clubhouse, and asked, “Where’s the tent?’ To him, the Mayor’s Walk tent marked the finish line.
The tent was gone. Everyone had packed up and left. There was no cheering squad. Henry walked for two hours and 36 minutes. The walk was finished.
“We don’t need a parade,” Elaine told him as she settled him into the front seat of their car.
Only then did Elaine show her own emotion. Only then did she falter, but even so, that faltering didn’t happen until she was behind the car, where Henry couldn’t see her.
“I didn’t think he would do it,” she said, her shoulders sagging slightly. “But he did it! “
Walking to the front of the car, she turned to her husband and said, “You did it! You did it Henry!”
During an earlier interview Elaine talked about her view on miracles.
“I’ve come to realize that miracles aren’t the big thing you were expecting. Miracles aren’t the big ta-dah moment. Miracles are in the rabbit you see sometimes on the lawn or the nest in the tree. Miracles are in the rainbow or in the person who laughs with you at the mall. Miracles aren’t always the big thing you thought you’d find. They are in all the little things you find every day and I search for them,” she said.
The walk that Henry and Elaine took on Saturday is a love story. Neither would or could have done it without the other. Elaine spurred Henry on, just as she has every step of the way since the accident in 2010 that changed their lives. Henry walked the walk, and he did it for her.
By any measure, on Saturday, when Henry Vogelaar walked 3.5 kilometres in the Mayor’s Walk for Charity, it was a miracle.