A tribute to the memory of my father, Jimmie Heuga
When I think of my dad, there are a few memories that come to mind. I remember his hands that were very rough and the way he smacked his lips after enjoying a sip of wine. Most of all, I can picture his laugh. I can’t honestly say why these memories are so prevalent in my mind when I think of him, but I think it’s very telling of the man he was and I choose to let these memories represent some of the aspects of his life.
His hands represent his work ethic. It’s no secret that a man, at 5’6” on a good day, as my mom likes to say, would have to put in an incredible amount of work to become a world-class athlete. However, his hands became callused from that same effort he would put in on his hand operated bike that he rode around the University of Colorado’s track and field facility with his close friend Richard Rokos; from the countless hours he spent swimming laps in the Avon Recreation Center’s pool; from a hand-operated elliptical machine that he worked at every morning; and from his insistent behavior to do things on his own as best he could.
The smacking of his lips always put a smile on my face. He never had to find a way to play and enjoy life; his zest for life just came to him. To me, he was incapable of being negative or pessimistic. It also signaled the satisfaction he had after a long day’s work. The joy that came to him after any of the aforementioned activities, after a day working at the center where he had the honor of bettering himself and others, or any time that he had the pleasure of sitting with his family and friends. He would sit back in his chair, take a sip of wine and smack his lips in gratitude for everything he had.
His laugh. It was unique. It combined long exhales like someone who had just been punched in the gut, accompanied with what sounded more like gasping for air than anything else. As I describe it, I’m laughing, because it sounded like someone who was in extreme pain, but it was very much the opposite of a man in pain. When my father laughed he was frozen in absolute joy. It might be what I loved about him most and it will be the hardest thing for me to describe. It forced everyone to be present. It was inviting and enveloped you in that moment. It’s a laugh that, despite my best efforts, he has passed on to me, and I have found it to be quite infectious.
I think what all of these things reveal is that they really have nothing to do with multiple sclerosis. It’s not his legacy that he had MS, but that he refused to let MS take over his life. I don’t necessarily believe in talent or that someone is destined to become one thing or the other. I choose to believe that people are drawn or thrust into situations and their work ethic does the rest.
His character made it possible to be the man he became.
Wilder Heuga lives in Los Angeles and works for a film, TV and virtual-reality production company. Can Do MS delivers educational programs on exercise, nutrition, symptom management to inspire and motivate long-lasting change for those with MS and their families to help them thrive. For more information, visit the organization’s website at http://www.mscando.org or call 970-926-1290.