There really isn’t much better than lifelong friends. We grew up together in Woodinville, Washington. A small community just 20 miles east of Seattle. When the newspaper revealed our Woodinville Falcons, would play for the state football title, an idea struck. Let’s get some guys together and head for the game. We found three takers who still live in the area. It just so happened to be my two oldest friends. Having met in elementary school, we’ve probably known one another since before the age of ten. So, driving from the northern most point, everyone met up, and on to the Tacoma Dome we went. It had been about ten years since we were all together, but it seemed to just pick up again. Seeing old friends always seems to put things back into perspective. They are the people who have been with you the longest. Even if much of the time is spent apart. There was a feeling of excitement driving an hour south on my own before picking up the first guy. It would be fun to spend time with the guys and watch our alma mater try to win a state title.
The game began with a disappointing first half. Richmond high school had a stifling defense. It was difficult for Woodinville to find their offense. We only had a few first downs during the first 24 minutes of football. Richland brought a pretty good quarterback into the Tacoma Dome. They had a seemingly high powered offense, scoring 28 points in the opening half. On the other side, Woodinville couldn’t crack the Richmond defense. We watched them head into the locker room at halftime without scoring. The first half was challenging to watch, trying to find anything interesting to captor our attention. Halftime was spent walking around the concourse. The frustration to that point, leaving us wanting to stretch our legs. We meandered around a bit, grabbed some kettle corn, and headed back to our seats.
Our section of seats was cement bleachers high above one of the end zones. It made for steep steps to reach the tenth row, to find space. When discussing this cement section my anxiety level raised. Cerebral palsy making it challenging to navigate any steep incline of stairs. Reaching our seating destination wouldn’t be the challenge. In my experience balance doesn’t come into play when moving up a flight of stairs. Moving upward is usually helped with easy access to the handrail. There isn’t a need to shift your weight downward to grab a handrail. Attempting the exit of these benches set up to be challenging. When we safely arrive in our seats, the bench between us and the aisle was clear. Causing comfort that I wouldn’t need to scooch past someone in the narrow space between bleachers to reach the downward steps. However, before the game began we were joined by someone sitting between us and the exiting staircase. It was a larger gentleman, whom my balance had me question my ability to move past. So, slight panic crept in as I thought about wanting to get out if needed. The plan in my head was to climb over our bleacher row and walk out from above. But, that would require balance I questioned, as doing something similar before brought on shaky results.
We reached halftime and challenge presented itself. Standing to stretch our legs, we decided on heading down to the concourse for a change of scenery. Watching our Woodinville Falcons get crushed in the first half, called for a decompressing walk around the stadium and some food. For me the moment of truth had arrived. How would my balance hold up climbing over our row of bleachers and descending a steep staircase? After completing the process and reaching the concourse, pride rushed through my body. The process had gone much smoother than anticipated with little shakiness. Leading the way, I solidly climbed over the bleacher seat, reached for the middle arm rail of the stairs and began walking down. Declining the steep staircase felt sturdier than walking down stadium steps had before. Almost leaving me with the thought it could have been done without hand rail assistance. However, when reaching the final few steps my left foot began hitting the rear of each step. Meaning the trust wasn’t there to place my left foot out far enough on each step, causing me to still require the rail for support. Other than that, the balance seemed improved.
Bouncing out onto the stadium concourse, my buddy commented on the steepness of the steps. It caused a feeling of not being alone. One of my peers took notice of the challenging process in getting out of our seats. The comment also had me reflecting on how far things have come. As buddies age and aren’t as active, things become more difficult. A blessing of cerebral palsy is its ability to push my exercise routine, causing situation like this to become easier with age. It will probably never be as easy for me as it seemed for my two buddies, but the hard work in the gym does make things more manageable. We can’t make cerebral palsy disappear, but if effort continues with age, who knows how much we can improve symptoms, and along with it our quality of life. We mingled around the concourse for a while, watching the halftime shows, and grabbing something to eat. Getting back up to our seats was pretty painless with hopes for a better second half showing from our Falcons.
Arriving back in our seats, the configuration had changed. Seated next to another buddy for the second half allowed catching up to continue. To our pleasant surprise, Woodinville came out of the locker-room with the life missing from the first half. Taking their first possession the length of the field for a score. It began a second half comeback to excite the Falcon faithful. The second 24 minutes of football found us yelling and high-fiving everyone around. We closed the gap to just seven points with plenty of time remaining in the final quarter. The excitement on our side of the building was palpable, as we sat behind the Woodinville end zone. Any game tying or winning score by Woodinville would take place just below our seats. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be. With a couple, good opportunities to even the title game, Woodinville drew up pass plays that fell just short of making a touchdown connection. Three buddies walked out of the Tacoma Dome almost having witnessed an amazing comeback. But, still thankful for the time spent hanging out.
We just don’t have the opportunity to spend much time together. Everyone has their separate lives full of work and family. Coming together reminds me of the importance of our friendships. The bonds we built through childhood, on into high school, stuck as we entered the world. They have known me since childhood and taken the time to understand cerebral palsy. Watching the challenges mounted by the disability along with my answers to those challenges. In what can be a lonely journey sometimes, they have helped me understand I’m never truly alone. Hopefully I have returned the emotion along the way. There are ups and downs to any friendship, but this night reminded us the strong ones never truly end.