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The Magic Has Only Just Begun

Saralee and Bob

Saralee and Bob Lobel

By Saralee Perel

When I was a little girl, I would turn real events into fairy tales where wishes came true. But as in many tales with happy endings, the characters had to overcome daunting obstacles to realize their dreams.

I still make up fantasized scenarios from real events.

Last month, I imagined myself back in time. The year was 1985. I was watching my favorite sportscaster, Bob Lobel, on a Boston TV station. I loved this guy’s down-to-earth appeal and his (often goofy) humor. I adored his Christmas getup – the red nose and antlers he wore each year to benefit Children’s Hospital.

All right. I had a major crush on him. All my girlfriends did. It’s OK. My husband still has a crush on Valerie Bertinelli.

Anyone I know would give their eye teeth to meet him. Why? He’s a legendary sportscaster who’s covered Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Ryder Cups, World Series, Olympics, Boston Marathons, you name it. Among tons of honors, he’s been inducted into the New England Sports Museum Hall of Fame. There’s so much more to tell about my boyfriend, I mean Bob Lobel, but I’d never get to my story if I named even half of his honors.

Back to my fairy tale
Suddenly, a figure appeared who said, “What if I told you that 25 years from now you’re going to meet Mr. Lobel at a dock in Hyannis, Massachusetts? You’ll give each other a hug that will be so deeply moving, neither of you will want to let go.”

Wide-eyed, I said, “Why on earth would that happen?”

“Both of you will have suffered the same spinal cord injury.”

“We’ll be in an accident together?”

“Neither of you will be in an accident.”

“A spinal cord injury that happens out of nowhere?”


“Will we be able to walk again?”

“That will be up to both of you.”

“Shouldn’t it be up to doctors?”

“Doctors can only do so much. The rest will have to come from within you . . . deep within you.”

Then the figure in my fairy tale faded away.

January 22, 2003
I was having emergency surgery in a Boston hospital. Two of my vertebrae had disengaged and were making a rapid progression across my spinal cord. The surgery stopped my cord from being completely severed.

I had no accident. This had never happened to anyone I’ve known. Everything that could have caused this was ruled out. My neurologist could not explain. The one thing he was sure of was, “In 2 years, whatever shape you’re in, you will always be.”

January 22, 2005, at that 2 year marker
I could only walk a few yards at a time. That was that.

August 1st, 2008
Keeping myself isolated from the world, I bottomed out. My dark thoughts frightened me. So I made a decision. I was going to choose despair or hope.

I chose hope.

I walked, fell, crawled and used trees to pull myself up. It took a long time to re-learn how to walk. I looked like a drunken Frankenstein, but I was walking nonetheless.

May 20th, 2010
While watching TV, I heard, “Legendary sportscaster, Bob Lobel, is spending lots of time these days at a rehabilitation center in Westboro, Massachusetts.” The clip showed Bob performing demanding physical therapy exercises. “Bob Lobel is learning how to walk again.”

I was awestruck to hear that the same thing happened to my idol that had happened to me.

I gathered my courage to e-mail him. He replied right away. “I’m stunned there is someone else who has had this. I’m very excited to be in contact with someone who knows what it’s like. I’m so eager to talk with you. Where are you? How are you? All that stuff. Maybe you could call me?”

Oy vay. I hadn’t expected to actually have to talk to the guy. But I feigned adulthood and called.

We talked on the phone for hours. Our e-mails went from “Sincerely” to “Love” within days. I didn’t know how badly I needed this kind of connection until Bob, aka Lobie, came into my life.

Hence, I’ve only just learned this truism: Connection is a mighty force.

Sometimes we cry, but not because we’re sad or happy. Lobie wrote, “It’s a ‘knowing’ crying. Does that make sense?”

“Oh yes. We ‘know’ the same fears, the terror inherent in climbing one curb, the constant vigilance for danger, the pre-planning of every movement. But there is also beauty in this kind of ‘knowing.’ It is found in ‘knowing’ the very same deliriously victorious sensation of walking 5 more inches than we did the day before.”

One night he wrote, “Tonight with friends, I remarked on the Saralee connection and how it feels like it’s always been there. It’s like discovering something I’ve been looking for. It’s all about this connection we share. And the best part is that the magic has only just begun.”

He asked me how I re-learned to walk. My only answer: “All we have is the word ‘try.’ Sometimes we won’t succeed. Sometimes we will. But if we don’t try, we’re paralyzed in more ways than one.”

At times, like all of us, he gets a little discouraged. I e-mailed, “Christopher Reeve once said, ‘Even if your body doesn’t work the way it used to, the heart and the mind and the spirit are not diminished.’ Lobie, you and I are the same people we were before this happened to us.”

“Well, as I take a deep breath,” he replied, “I actually think I’m better than I was before this physical stuff happened. I know that you know this is very possible. You didn’t say it but I know you believe it is true – on many levels.

Today at rehab, I was able to do things I wasn’t able to do before. It’s the little things that mean so much. I felt stronger and my therapist said I looked better. I think any push forward is a push in the right direction. Something is working that wasn’t before.” Then he added, “I will stop at nothing to improve my condition. Love, Lobie.”

June 10, 2010
He mentioned, “I’ll be taking the ferry from Hyannis this weekend. I’m going to Nantucket for the Boys and Girls Club.”

Yes! I made a plan.

June 11, 2010 Hyannis Harbor, Massachusetts
I was riding my recumbent disability trike at the harbor when I heard, “Saralee!”

I pedaled to Bob Lobel, got off my trike, grabbed my cane and hobbled to him. We hugged for so long we didn’t want to let go. Both of us were crying. Not one word was said.

I had brought Christopher Reeve Superman tags as a gift for him, his wife, Suzanne, their daughter, Savannah and her friend, Kali. He buckled his tag on right away.

On the way to board the ferry, he said, “I see rainbows at night.” I asked him what he meant. “It means that you being in my life opens windows that needed to be opened.”

“And you’ve opened windows in my heart that I didn’t even know were closed.”

We have found in each other the connection we sorely needed, the courage to try, the love of helping one another.

And the best part is, of course, that the magic has only just begun.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (PDF)

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.

Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.