Saturday, November 28, 1998
By TARA SULLIVAN
Home Page Staff Writer
Terry Shea had the perfect anniversary Stories gift in mind for his wife Susan. In his fantasy, Shea would celebrate their 28th year together by telling Susan his Rutgers football team was going to a bowl game.
The Sheas' anniversary is today, but Terry's football season is over, the dream unfulfilled. Losses to West Obituaries Virginia and Virginia Tech in the final two games left his team at 5-6. There Education is no bowl game, but don't think for a second that there is no anniversary gift. Material possessions aside, Susan Central and Terry Shea share life's most important presents -- love and support.
The sports public has been well-educated in Terry's football battle, his responsibility for driving the long-dormant Rutgers football program onto an avenue of success. The road is arduous, but he is not scared. For when he looks into Susan's eyes, he is reminded of what it means to be a valiant fighter.
Nineteen years ago, Susan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease defined by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as "randomly attacking your nervous system, wearing away the control you have over your body. Symptoms range from numbness to paralysis and blindness."
Susan says she fights a daily battle to stay ahead of the debilitating disease, takes a daily medicine injection, and prays for a cure.
"There's no question she is a profile in courage," Terry says. "I see her try to do whatever she has to do to stay one step ahead of it. She's a warrior in her efforts. From that I can draw strength, with no question. When I'm asked about losing a football game, that's huge in terms of my professional life. But when I see Susan deal with what she does, that's what life is all about."
Susan is visibly moved by her husband's words, coming as they do from the man she says she "never heard talk about it like that before." She is flanked by Terry and their son, Garrett, who happens to start at cornerback for the Scarlet Knights and is one of the team's best players. The Sheas have three children: Jennifer, 22, the oldest, is also attending Rutgers, and Garrett, 21, is followed by Daniel, a 17-year-old at Immaculata High School who stars in football and baseball. They are pillars in Susan's support network, her guardians through life's steps.
"My children are really protective of me and they are so without dwelling on it," says Susan, quietly wiping away the tear that winds a path down her cheek. "When I'm going down something steep, I have an arm put out for me right away. They always look back to make sure I'm OK. It's an unspoken care."
Garrett can be loquacious when it comes to football, about his decision to transfer from Ohio State and help his father resurrect the Rutgers program, about his internal pressure to be the strongest soldier in his father's army. But his mother's condition quiets his voice, lowers his gaze, and curbs his smile.
"It's easy to get caught up in college football and the wins and losses," he says. "But in my mom I see real life issues. I learn priorities."
Susan is not interested in taking headlines from her husband and son. She is richly woven into the Rutgers football life in her own right, playing host to Thanksgiving festivities for stranded players and other coaches and their families, and using her master's degree in education to work in the academic advising department. Her fight against MS is a private one, and is not even mentioned in Terry's brochure for Scoring Against MS, a program for the national MS Foundation that is raising money to send children who have a parent with MS to a camp and for developing a special exercise program for those who have MS.
"With or without Susan's connection, this is a worthy cause," Terry says.
But the connection is there, and the Sheas grow stronger by nurturing that bond. "Terry has always been that kind of person who stays positive," Susan says. "I'm not sure I've ever seen him sad or down. He keeps a lot inside. He's always been that way. He's got resolve."
So does Garrett, the boy his father named from a character in Leon Uris' epic Irish novel, "Trinity." Through a redshirt freshman season at Ohio State and a transfer season at Rutgers spent on the sidelines, Garrett knew he wanted to reunite with his father on the field.
"As a father and as a parent, it draws the emotion and strength of our relationship out," Terry says. "It probably reflects more what kind of a real person Garrett is. It's a reflection more on him than me for him to make that decision."
For Susan, it meant an end to her conflict about supporting both men's endeavors. But it came with the price of silencing doubters who questioned Garrett's ability. "There were people who thought the only reason he was here was because Terry's his father," she says. "That bothered me, because I know what kind of athlete he is."
But learning about what kind of family this is proves further why they don't fight back with nasty words or anger. Terry simply shut the door on a lot of critics after last year's 0-11 season by leading one of the nation's biggest college football turnarounds in 1998. It did not surprise Susan.
"I think when Terry chose to come here, he had a plan and he knew it was going to take time," she says. "My confidence in Terry is immense. I knew he would work the plan and be patient."
They are beliefs rooted in love, that have blossomed into support.
Copyright © 1998 Bergen Record Corp.