Laurel was a beautiful girl, inside and out, who suffered from dystonia.
Dystonia is a neurological chronic movement disorder characterized by persistent muscle contractions causing abnormal, often repetitive, movements, postures, or both. It may affect a single body area or be generalized throughout multiple muscle groups. People afflicted with this disability experience severe degrees of pain. There is no cure.
It’s like cerebral palsy on crack.
At twenty-four, Laurel’s body movements were limited. Talking and forming words were difficult. The joints in her hands were constantly knotted up, while her leg braces, which did allow her to walk, only increased the pain with every step. The energy and effort it took for her to walk from the car into the building was more demanding than anything I’ve ever seen. It broke my heart.
I worked with Laurel one-on-one for the next couple years. Her mental toughness and positive attitude impressed me. No matter what, she always came to training. We trusted one another and we were honest with one another. If she was doing a technique incorrectly, I told her straight up. And then we’d train some more. She kept training, training, and training.
As her disorder worsened, she was unable to work in her group home and moved to Florida with her parents. I located a Tae Kwon-Do instructor who could give her the personal attention she needed to continue her training. We all stayed in touch.
One day, the Florida instructor called me and said Laurel was ready for her black belt. We planned a surprise ceremony where I would fly down and present Laura with her uniform.
I remember driving the rental car to her house and sipping coffee, taking my time and mentally preparing myself. I hadn’t seen Laurel in over a year, but knew her condition was worsening. It was going to be an emotional day.
When I walked into her living room, Laurel was completely stunned. She had no idea I was coming and couldn’t process the fact I was standing right in front of her. Tears filled our eyes as we hugged each other. I’m sure she felt my heart pounding through my chest.
We ended up having a little party. The newspaper arrived and took pictures of our reunion as we presented her with her black belt. It was a wonderful day I’ll always cherish.
The time came for me to go. I didn’t realize as I was hugging her goodbye it would be our final goodbye. A few months later, Laurel passed away.
I think about Laurel often. There are heroes in my life that have taught me lessons, and Laurel taught me about being a stronger, better person. To never give up. Her resilience was amazing. Laura battled her dragon every day. She was a warrior like none other that holds a special place in my heart.
This post is part of a series highlighting the many wonderful students that practice Tae Kwon-Do at Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do School in Amherst, NY.
*Photo by Travis Slate