When Brian and Carrie Walker tell a story, they do it as a duet.

There’s the one they’ve told for more than 20 years, about the time he challenged her to a race during indoor track practice at Deering High School.

“I beat him,” she said.

“I let her beat me,” he said.

They’ve been together ever since.

Now, the Portland couple are learning to trade off parts recounting another day that changed their lives – when they found out in October that he’d never walk again.

“Just a freak, freak …” he said, trailing off.

“Accident,” she finished.

They had been staying with his parents in Island Falls for his cousin’s baby shower. Brian Walker, 39, had just come back from taking their 8-year-old son, Nathaniel, for a ride on his four-wheeler when Walker’s sister asked if he would take her for a quick spin, too.

The siblings were less than a mile from their parents’ house, on a road where Walker had driven his ATV a hundred times, taking a turn he’d made at much higher speeds, when they hit a tree stump and were launched over the handle bars and flew 20 feet into the woods. Walker’s sister yelled to ask if he was OK. He wasn’t.

“I could feel my legs, but I couldn’t move them,” he said.

She called 911 on his cellphone, but the service was bad and she was disoriented by the concussion she sustained and couldn’t communicate where they were. Soon, a passing truck stopped and the driver called for help.

Meanwhile, a half-hour had passed and Carrie Walker was getting worried about why they hadn’t come back from what was supposed to be a short ride. She decided to go look for them and grabbed her keys. As she walked out the door, an emergency vehicle with red lights flashing pulled up to the house, looking for Brian Walker’s wife.

She got in and went to the accident scene, where her husband lay immobilized on a backboard.

A trauma nurse by trade, she went right into emergency medicine mode, instructing the volunteer first-responders to get him warm, maintain his heart rate and check his blood pressure before he was taken to Houlton Regional Hospital.

There, doctors determined his injury was too severe for them to treat and he’d have to be taken by helicopter to a hospital in Bangor or Portland, but a heavy fog had set in and conditions weren’t safe for flying.

Eventually, they decided it would be quicker to take him the 100 miles to Bangor by ambulance than to wait for the weather to clear.

Before joining her husband at the hospital, Carrie Walker took their son back to her in-laws’ house in Island Falls so he could sleep. While there, she got a call from a neurosurgeon in Bangor.

“He said, ‘Your husband will never walk again,'” she recalled. “That’s when I lost it.”

A WILL TO RECOVER

Brian Walker went through a nine-hour surgery to realign his spine. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, but says it wouldn’t have helped him avoid the blow that paralyzed him from the chest down. The helmet his sister was wearing helped her avoid a more serious concussion.

As a nurse in the emergency room at Maine Medical Center, Carrie Walker had seen her share of severe spinal cord injuries, but “nothing as horrible as I saw,” she said of looking at her husband’s CAT scan.

After the surgery, he was taken to Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston and stayed for nearly two months, undergoing intensive physical and occupational therapy.

Brian Walker was a standout athlete at Deering and a soccer player at the University of Southern Maine, and Carrie Walker said her husband treated rehab like training for a new sport.

“He turned back into that athlete. He took it on as a new feat, something he had to achieve and accomplish,” she said.

His attitude was the same, too – that good isn’t good enough.

“He wants to be the best at what he does no matter what it is,” she said.

Brian Walker also had another motivation – getting back home before Christmas.

That home, which he grew up in and moved back into 12 years ago when he and his wife bought it from his parents, wasn’t the same one he left.

While he was in rehab, his brother-in-law’s employer, Consigli Construction, built an addition to accommodate Walker’s wheelchair, including a shower he could wheel into and a lift to carry him between floors. People donated leftover materials from local projects, employees worked for free and a friend started an online fundraiser to help pay for the elevator.

Those weren’t the only people who stepped up for the Walkers. His old fraternity brothers visited him at the hospital in Bangor and at rehab in Boston, his son’s school held an earring sale to raise money for medical bills, and the aunt of his wife’s childhood friend called in a “Christmas wish” to a local radio station asking for help for their family. It was granted.

The outpouring of support is the only thing that has made Walker cry since his accident.

“I’ve never had a bad thought. I’ve never had a ‘why did this happen to me,'” he said Tuesday. “It was something that happened and you just move on.”

He did worry, however, that his condition would force his family to move. On Friday, he saw first-hand that wouldn’t be an issue and, at the same time, got the only Christmas present he wanted: To be home for the holiday.

“It was amazing driving down the street seeing the house for the first time, how much different it looked, how good it looked,” he said of the new addition.

FOCUSED ON FUTURE

The Walkers have been through enough in the past decade to know that keeping a positive attitude is the best way to cope with adversity.

That’s how they dealt with their son being born 10 weeks premature, weighing only 2.5 pounds, Carrie’s sister dying 10 days later and her mother losing her life to cancer two years after that.

“We’ve been able to be there for each other,” she said.

Her biggest challenge now is letting her husband do things without her help.

“The goal is for him to be completely independent, which is so hard for me,” especially as a nurse, she said. “I’ve got to sit on my hands.”

Their hopes for the future are keeping him motivated and her from helping too much. Walker, who already worked from home as an account manager for a medical supplies company, plans to start back up again next month. When his men’s league baseball team hits the batting cages before the start of the season, he has no doubt he’ll be at the plate. And they have faith that medical advances like mechanical legs and stem-cell research will eventually get him back on his feet.

But, for now, there’s a Christmas dinner to make, and Carrie Walker is no chef.

“He learned very quickly, if he wanted to eat more than hot dogs and mac and cheese, he had to learn how to cook,” she said.

Although he can’t reach the counters from his wheelchair, he can talk his wife through a simple Christmas dinner for three.

“You can’t mess up a ham,” he said, as long as he handles the glaze.

“I’ll let him do that and I’ll put it in the oven,” she said. “We’re a pretty good team.”