The cool wind rustles your hair, bringing a subtle chill. As the chair glides forward you snuggle into your jacket, pull up your buff, raise the bar, and stand up, leaning forward as you whoosh off into a white wonderland. Standing up — just think of the sheer muscular power and stability it takes to do this one, small, daily action. Standing up is something we all take for granted. For Deborah Vick, standing up to life’s challenges is this woman’s forte.
It’s the everyday successes; being strong for her two kids, adaptive skiing thanks to Achieve Tahoe, the kind help of a selfless service animal. The chance to wake up every day and push her body to its limits. It’s these things that the Bay Area woman has become an expert at.
“Today, I am here to say that despite a completely failing body, I move forward. My silver lining is my amazing husband and children. My husband and I joke that my body is akin to a downward roller coaster; there are dips, small plateaus, and then more dips. We are here, we are fighting, and with every dip, we adapt and keep moving forward,” Vick says.
Deborah has several severe medical conditions, including Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hypermobility) and Myasthenia Gravis, along with numerous secondary complications like musculoskeletal pain, joint instability, and respiratory issues, to name a few. This frequently brings her in and out of hospitals and clinics for numerous lengthy treatments, unable to walk unless assisted by braces, but mostly confined to a wheelchair. Her service dog Peeta is there to help her along the whole way.
“He is an amazing companion who is constantly by my side — something that is essential for disabling conditions that can, at times, be very isolating. Especially on those days where the recovery, fatigue, or pain is so debilitating that getting out of bed is an extreme struggle or impossibility. He makes these times and days so much more manageable,” she says.
Peeta’s bond with Deborah includes not only helping pull her wheelchair, but providing balance when she does walk and helping her get up when she falls, in addition to picking up things she drops. But he’s also incredibly sensitive. He can alert her hours before an episode with low blood pressure when she’s heading toward a fainting spell, as well as sense when she’s pushing herself too hard physically and remind her to sit down.
“With the help of Peeta I am independently able to continue simple activities such as picking up my son from school — he runs and pulls me in my wheelchair with a handcycle attachment — to participation in many of my other volunteer activities; be it in the classroom, scouting, or even the soccer field [as] a volunteer coach for my son’s soccer games,” she explains.
Being there for her kids is paramount to Deborah. Recently, she formed a “mommy and me” team with her younger son, helping him build a pinewood derby car.
“I came down with an upper respiratory infection while helping him [so] I sat on the floor in all my braces with oxygen while helping teach, instruct, and guide him. To most, this would be a minor inconvenience, but for those with EDS and MG, symptoms are exasperated by illness,” she says, adding, “The fever and the weakness were much to overcome but the joy and memories were well worth it. These are the memories that I live for.”
In another fond memory of her older son, a gentleman once asked Deborah what she does. “My son quickly began to list many of my achievements with such pride and admiration, it left me speechless,” she beams.
She uses this inspiration to work to keep others strong, and in a blog post recently wrote, “Ultimately, what we want to do with our lives will change as our ‘daily norm’ changes, [and] what is a ‘norm’ or normal ability constantly shifts. You have to be willing to adapt as your body or situation changes. Life is ever changing. It’s up to us to make the best of what we have when we can. Remember the triumphs. Make adaptations to enjoy life and find something you love to do, even if only for a few minutes each day. This truly helps to re-engage our inner spirits and ignite our engines. I ask that you try to find the humor in your endeavors, successes, and failures. Laugh when you can and take time to enjoy the good moments. Learning to laugh at yourself and your mistakes truly helps you move forward.”
In 2018, Deborah sit-skied at Alpine Meadows for the first time in two years since the onset of Myasthenia Gravis, with the help of adaptive technology and the fine people at Achieve Tahoe. With the wind in her hair, it reminded this strong woman of her father’s favorite saying, “when there is a will, there is a way.”