Giving up wasn't an option
This column originally appeared in the News Tribune on Aug. 9, 1998. It's the first thing Ron Metso sees every morning when he maneuvers his wheelchair into the kitchen to start the day. Black bold letters on a white sheet of paper taped to his m...
This column originally appeared in the News Tribune on Aug. 9, 1998.
It's the first thing Ron Metso sees every morning when he maneuvers his wheelchair into the kitchen to start the day.
Black bold letters on a white sheet of paper taped to his microwave remind him: "Never Give Up!"
He never has.
Metso is 40. It was eight summers ago that the 6-foot-6 former University of Minnesota-Duluth basketball standout dove into a friend's swimming pool, hit the slope separating the deep end from the shallow end and broke his neck.
He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
His wife of nearly eight years left him nine months after the accident because, in Metso's words, she told him she couldn't take it anymore.
That's when he didn't know if he could take it anymore, either. But he didn't give up.
Doctors said he'd probably spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. No one told him that.
The doctors didn't know Metso.
This was a guy who in his college days would finish a Bulldog basketball practice, put on a weighted vest and jump rope for 10 minutes. His coach called him the hardest-working player on the team.
That's why, when I telephoned Metso, I wasn't surprised to find out how much his condition has improved. He lives in his own house in Maple Grove., Minn., 15 miles northwest of Minneapolis and works as an insurance agent in an office a couple of miles away.
Metso said he's regained 70 to 80 percent of the function of both arms. The improvements in his condition are no longer dramatic, but they're still happening -- a little more dexterity in his fingers and more strength in his hands and arms.
"It helps my attitude because things do keep getting better, although it's real slow," he said.
As good a basketball player as Metso was, there was something else that impressed me about him when he played for UMD from 1976-80. I'd always see him meet his parents in the hallway after the games. They'd leave together to go out to eat. That says something about the kind of person he is and the upbringing he had on the Kettle River dairy farm where Harold and Josephine Metso raised Ron and his older brother Mike.
Metso's work ethic has made his disability all the more frustrating. He grew up with a feeling that if he put his mind to something, he could accomplish it on his own. Now there are days when someone might have to help push him through two inches of snow or help him up a stairway because there is no ramp.
But his belief in God and the example set by his aunt-godmother, Barbara Brown, have given him the strength to get through this.
"My godmother was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer 15 or 20 years ago, given three years to live and she's still alive," he said. "She's the only one in her test group using experimental drugs at the Mayo Clinic that has survived this long. I think it's because of her faith.
"Her belief is: 'We don't know why these things happen, and it's not our place to know why these things happen. There's a purpose for them and some day we're going to know.' That helps. But sometimes it's easier for me to believe that and sometimes it's harder to believe."
Metso hasn't had any serious romantic relationships since the breakup of his marriage. "I think I'm cautious, but I can see it happening again," he said.
Has he been able to find happiness?
"I'm content, but I'm not satisfied," he said. "I know each day I wake up things could be a lot worse, and I hope that each day they get better. The support of my family and friends has been the biggest thing that has helped me get through this. You find out who your friends are when something like this happens and I've got a bunch of good ones."
Mark Stodghill is a News-Tribune reporter and columnist.