Vail Daily column: Keeping a legacy strong
My father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 21 years before I was born. He could still walk with the help of a walker, and he also had a motorized scooter when he was too tired to walk. The first couple years of my life were just like anyone else’s. My dad would drive me to and from school, and pull my brothers and I on a sled behind his ATV. We even went skiing a couple of times before the disease really started to catch my attention.
It was hard watching someone I cared so much about lose his physical ability. It was even harder watching all my friends interact with their dads in ways I couldn’t. Soon enough, I started realizing my mom was taking care of three young children on top of a fully grown disabled man. I was probably 7 years old when I realized that my entire family, not just my dad, was going to be affected by this disease for the rest of our lives. It was extremely difficult for me as a young child to understand why this happened to my family, but I soon learned I wasn’t alone.
My dad couldn’t always be there for me, but I learned the tough way that it was the thought that counts. He always wanted to be with me. Looking back, this is what matters to me most. He was the best father he possibly could be. My dad was always filled with an amazing amount of knowledge and experience that he passed on to me. Even to this day, it has guided my thoughts and actions. Although I missed out on the important cliche things, like playing catch or getting tucked into bed, I’ve grown mentally stronger through the power of his words and beliefs, along with the support of the wonderful MS community.
I have attended the Can Do programs since I was 4, and they have helped greatly in my understanding of this disease. The Can Do programs are much more than an informative session for people with MS. To me, it’s a learning experience for families to share stories and learn different perspectives about the disease. Most importantly, Can Do Multiple Sclerosis is a community of people that can lean on one another in times of distress and rejoice in times of celebration.
At the heart of the program is the idea that we can overcome any situation. My father’s stories were critical in my understanding of this lesson. It is the greatest life lesson I’ve ever learned, along with loving my family unconditionally. It’s taught me to stop complaining or making excuses because there is no excuse for falling short of your goals. Anything can be accomplished with a positive can do attitude. Although my father has passed, this amazing outlook on life will never die. Thanks to the Can Do MS community, it will be passed on for generations to come.
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In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story of the last time I got to spend the holiday with my dad. At dinner, my dad would always share a good story. It’s hard for me to remember most of his stories because he never told the same one twice. But, as our family sat around the dinner table, there was an unsaid knowledge that this would be our last Thanksgiving dinner together. And still, it was a beautiful moment because we all realized how much Jimmie Heuga had overcome and what he had created in his life’s journey. When we put him to bed later that night, he asked us to always stay committed to his organization. Now, I have a new goal to work toward as I hope to support Can Do MS in whatever way I can while spreading my father’s can do philosophy. In honor of Thanksgiving, I challenge you to think about the people who have shaped who you are today and to thank them.
Blaze Heuga is a Vail native.