I’m on vacation in sunny Rhode Island, preparing for another glorious beach-filled day of swimming and children and laughter. Exactly 14 months ago, my friend Carol Kana re-introduced me to the sport I had grown up loving so much through her membership and relationships at the local YMCA. You see, Carol had Polio as a child, rendering her legs poorly developed and had been confined to braces and a scooter during her adult life.
You may think this tragic, but she not only thumbed her nose at her disability, she darn-well gave it the middle finger. Carol’s toughness stemmed from her can-do attitude and former career as a probation/ corrections officer. Her way of feeling ‘whole’ and able-bodied was to help those that were physically challenged around her to also be successful and live a full life like hers. I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of this mission of hers many many times.
She spent her time advocating for the disabled community in and around Connecticut; attending hearings, educating public servants on the laws regarding treatment of the disabled, and ensuring that each and every restaurant, store, and public building was accessible to all who wanted to attend. Her fierce letter writing, phone calling, and public speaking made her a force to be reckoned with, and MAN, she got results!
I had the great honor of meeting Carol through our mutual friend Alan Gunzburg, himself a visually impaired Greenwich resident who also advocates for persons with different abilities and impairments. Carol volunteered to drive me to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and on errands when I fell and broke my foot last year, keeping me unable to walk with my guide dog easily around town. When my Guide Dog was attacked by a loose dog this year, Carol immediately found me an attorney and threw me into her handicap van to march ourselves into the Darien Police Station for answers to our questions and to press charges against the negligent owner. God forbid you be on the WRONG side of Carol’s wrath!
Her love of swimming and the YMCA re-introduced me to a sport I hadn’t participated in since high school, where I was a competitive swimmer and diver. Because I couldn’t run on my broken foot last year, Carol picked me up three days a week to participate in gentle ‘Aqua Fit’ classes with a wonderful enthusiastic friend and instructor, Betsey Culman at the Y. It became a wonderful social network for me of local ladies who all loved the water, and I have Carol to thank for it.
Once I became fit and healed enough, that humble beginning of splashing about in the water with a flotation belt on graduated to full on swimming, then spinning on a bike, then running, and finally, my first triathlon, all thanks to Carol’s encouragement and introduction to the Y. She would call me after each and every race to check in and congratulate me.
Her cancer diagnosis this year came as a shock to all who knew her, and especially Carol. I knew when she told me that it was stage 4 Colon Cancer, there was a great chance we would lose her. However, Carol stoically handled several months of Chemo, even traveling to Florida in between treatments, and eventually returning to her beloved swim class. She explained to me that the doctors were thrilled with her progress and that the tumors were shrinking. All good signs, I thought.
Last week she had looked frail, but her spirits were up, and she was excited to be finished with her final round of chemo, and looking forward to her new handicap van that was due to arrive this week, after a year long arduous battle and wait. Betsey and I were planning a lunch to honor Carol’s service in the Greenwich Community and her volunteerism at the YMCA in early September. It was to be a surprise, and we were planning an award to thank her for all she’s done for each and every one of us.
People often ask me what inspires me to do these triathlons, take on business ownership as a blind woman, and bravely go into Manhattan alone each week with my guide dog at my side. It’s Carol. It’s people like my friend Carol, who defy odds and give a big middle finger to their disability, and LIVE their life fully. Not for themselves, but to see the joy on OTHER people’s faces. Carol’s joy came from helping those who didn’t have a voice or the ability to be their own advocate.
A great advocate, friend and role model has been lost in our town. There will be a giant hole in our hearts and this community without Carol, who lived her life by caring for others up until her very last day. Thank you Carol for sharing your life, your heart, your courage, and determination with us. I feel very blessed to have had you in my life, even if it was certainly not as long as either of us would have wanted. God bless Carol!