December 30, 2012

Steve Solloway: The year of wonderful people and their wonderful stories

Paul Gorham celelebrated Christmas with his extended family. His presence was their present.

He no longer uses crutches or a walker to move around his Connecticut home. His prosthetic feet do the job. More importantly, he can breathe.

His is one of the dozens of stories told in this space in 2012. Here are just a few postscripts.

Gorham is the former South Portland High star athlete and Sacred Heart University football coach who spent the second day of 2012 watching the Oregon Ducks, coached by his friend, Chip Kelly, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Soon after, his life changed dramatically.

Gorham learned he needed a double lung transplant to replace lungs badly damaged by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; there is no known cause and no known cure. He spent nearly seven months at the Cleveland Clinic, returning home in August.

Gorham was unable to coach football and the job is still his. Right now he's anticipating slipping behind the wheel of a specially adapted car to drive himself where he wants to go.

Saturday was Day 203-New Lungs of the blog started by Ashley Drew of Scarborough. She's the 25-year-old University of Maine graduate from Scarborough who's become an inspiration to so many, including members of the UMaine football community.

Drew lived with cystic fibrosis until her double lung transplant. The lungs have worked beautifully, but shortly after returning to Scarborough this summer, she had a series of strokes. She's also dealt with a fungal infection.

The daily blog, now written mostly by her mother, Joy, is cheerful and tearful reading as Ashley works to make her body whole and return home from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Read it at Facebook.com/AirforAshley.

Simon Williams continues to teach English at the small school in Dubovi Makharyntsi in Ukraine. The former baseball star from Portland is nearing the end of his two-year Peace Corps assignment, something he doesn't want to think about.

"These same people who welcomed me with open arms almost two years ago have become more than just friends. I truly consider them family. My 65-year-old neighbor and 'girlfriend' Paulina still knocks on my window almost every night inviting me to come over for a hot bowl of borscht and a good cry while watching Ukrainian melodramas with her."

Family, friends and strangers from Maine and across the U.S. have contributed money through the Peace Corps Partnership Program to build the first athletic field in the village of 500. It will be finished by spring, a lasting reminder of Williams' time in Dubovi.

The other night, Williams sat with a 75-year-old, chain-smoking Irishman. "He said, 'Simon, the biggest possession you've got, you got to give away.' "

Ron Eby understands. The owner of an automotive repair shop in Windham, Eby was one of the four finalists for NASCAR's Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award for his work in raising money for Camp Sunshine on Sebago Lake. He was invited to the NASCAR banquet and championship week in Las Vegas in November.

Eby didn't get the top award of a $100,000 donation to Camp Sunshine, but it was quite a trip. He and the other finalists were part of a parade down the Las Vegas Strip, with the NASCAR president, Mike Helton, driving them. Right behind were NASCAR's top 12 drivers, led by new champion Brad Keselowski.

Eby got to talk with former NASCAR champs Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, among others. More importantly to him, he met the other finalists for the humanitarian award and heard their stories. "The others were an inspiration to me," said Eby.

I checked in with Sam Morse just before Easter last spring. The downhill racer at Carrabasset Valley Academy assisted his parents at the sunrise service on the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. More recently he's been busy with a few podium finishes in early-season slalom races at Sugarloaf, is the keyboard player in Carrabassett Valley Academy's rock/acoustic band and gave a sermon at the Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry when his parents, both Baptist pastors, were out of town.

He skied the Stubai Glacier in the Austrian Alps this fall and trained at Mammoth Mountain in California over the summer, and won a Spartan obstacle course race at Vermont's Killington Mountain, crawling through mud under barbed wire.

Tom Knight still fights for minutes as a backup center for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish were 12-1 heading into the Christmas break. Knight, the 6-foot-10 graduate of Dirigo High in Dixfield, has played in eight games, averaging a little more than five minutes.

"I'm sure he's had really tough days," Coach Mike Brey told the South Bend Tribune two weeks ago. "I've never seen it on the practice floor. That's being a man and handling things. It's funny how it comes back around and it will come back around 'cause he's done it before for us."

Brey was thinking of a nine-minute stretch in the second-round NCAA tournament game with Xavier, when Knight came off the bench to score four points and grab two rebounds.

Jen Small of Biddeford leaves Wednesday for Florida and the start of the Ragnar Relay, Miami-to-Key West race. The 38-year-old triathlete will be part of a team of dramatic weight-loss runners. Small weighed about 250 pounds some five years ago and is now half that.

Her husband, former Biddeford High football player Casey Small, has shed 45 pounds and ran his first 5K race on Thanksgiving Day, finishing in 24 minutes, 57 seconds, about five minutes faster than his goal. He plans to run another 5K on New Year's Day.

Union Rags' last race was his best. The bay stallion won the Belmont Stakes in New York, overtaking Paynter in the final strides, giving Phyllis Wyeth one of the happier moments of her long life. Before racing again, Union Rags sustained a tendon injury. In July it was decided he would retire to the breeding barn at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky. He has a Facebook page.

The banked indoor track once used by countless runners during high school meets at the Portland Expo couldn't be saved this fall. With meets now run at the University of Southern Maine, it was hoped someone could recycle the wood into award plaques or something similiar. No one stepped forward.

The sections of track were taken to a landfill.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter:SteveSolloway

 

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Additional Photos

Tom Knight

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Union Rags got the riches by winning the Belmont Stakes and now, after a tendon injury, is living the good life.

The Associated Press

 


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