Monday, May 5, 2003
By Kevin Callahan
Joanne Gorman walks from home, through the parking lot, then to the back fields of Gloucester High School to watch her daughter, Rachel, play softball for the Lions.
The walk takes Joanne about 20 minutes. The walk used to take her about five minutes.
That was before Joanne needed a cane, which she first used on Friday.
That was before Joanne was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis, which invaded her once active and athletic body three years ago.
"We are all very happy when we see her coming to the games," Rachel said about her mother, now 46 years old. "Everyone on the team gets excited to see her."
Understandably so, since Joanne endures more pain in one day battling this disease without a cure, which attacks the nerve endings, than many feel in a lifetime.
"I wonder why things happen to good people, but I think God has a reason for everything," Rachel said. "Maybe, sometimes bad things happen so you don't take things for granted."
And, Rachel doesn't - anymore.
"Sometimes I don't feel good or feel like going to school, but I see how she is and she goes to work, so if she can do it, I can do it," said Rachel, a junior first baseman.
Joanne has the second most progressive of the three forms of MS. It is a form that doesn't go into remission.
"It slowly makes me more sedentary," Joanne said.
When told others see her courage as an inspiration, Joanne modestly said, "I can't imagine why. My family keeps me going. My husband is wonderful."
Her husband, Joe Gorman, is a guidance counselor at Gloucester High and also the girls' cross country coach and former girls' basketball coach. Her twin sons Sean and Keith, graduates of Gloucester in 1998 and star basketball players who both scored over 1,000 points for the Lions, are both teachers now. Rachel is also the center on the basketball team.
"They are as fine of human beings as you could meet - all of them, but it starts with Joe and Joanne," Gloucester girls' track coach Bob Savage said.
This disease seems especially unfair not only because it struck such a wonderful person and family but also because Joanne was so active and so healthy - she was always power walking, doing yoga and riding her bike. Joanne first noticed symptoms of the disease while doing an aerobics class with Rachel when her feet tingled.
"It strikes out of the blue," Joanne said.
Joanne finally took a leave of absence last week from her job as a first grade teacher at the Cold Springs School in Gloucester. She is meeting doctors this week about additional treatments.
"The kids get all their athleticism from Joanne," Joe said about his wife who played field hockey, basketball, softball and track at Gloucester Catholic, where she graduated in 1975.
Like her fight against the disease, though, Joanne resisted the compliment from her husband about her athletic accomplishments.
"I was an OK athlete," Joanne insisted. "I made a lot of good friends and had a lot of fun, but I'm not nearly as good of an athlete as my children."
What can't be debated, however, is how hard Joanne has fought the crippling illness, which doesn't have a known cause either. That's why using a crutch for the first time on Friday was such a trying step.
"You have to surrender a lot to this disease," Joe said about using a cane. "Joanne was resisting this for a while. She had to be brave enough to not know what she can do. Everyone thinks bravery is not giving in, but bravery is really doing what is the prudent thing to do."
Joanne, who grew up in National Park and has lived the last 25 years as the wife of Joe in Gloucester, hopes to raise awareness of MS. She works to raise money too for the disease and participates in an MS walk each year. Together with families of Cheryl Ferry and Kate Higginbotham - two other Gloucester women with MS - over $20,000 was raised last year.
"I wonder why our government can't spend more money on research," Joanne said. "I think the disease can be cured if more money is spent on research."
Hopefully, soon more money will be spent on research. Hopefully, a cure will be found. Until then, Rachel will continue to find meaning from her mother's illness.
"They don't mean as much to me as they used to," Rachel said about the usual, nagging sports injuries. "Little things like that don't bother me, not after seeing what my mother goes through."
Not surprisingly, Joanne doesn't see this disease as what it does to her, but what it keeps her from doing with her family.
"What I really regret is it has stopped me from enjoying Rachel's sports as much as I can," Joanne said.
Really, though, every time Joanne walks to the softball field, she shows
her daughter and her teammates why they need to enjoy playing sports more
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