Speaker 1: … you are listening to Love Maine radio. Hosted by Doctor Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Doctor Lisa Belisle is a physician and editor in chief of Maine, Maine Home Design, Old Court, Ageless and Moxie Magazine.
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Dr. Lisa: This is Doctor Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio. Show number 350, airing for the first time on Sunday June 3rd, 2018. Today we speak with Owen Logue, the Executive Director of the Governor Baxter’s School for the Deaf, Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Christy Gardner a retired Army veteran who is now co-captain of the US women’s para-ice hockey team. Thank you for joining us.
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Dr. Lisa: Dr. Owen Logue is the Executive Director of the Governor Baxter’s School for the Deaf, Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on Mackworth Island in Falmouth. He has over 30 years of experience working in education. Thanks for coming in today.
Owen Logue: Thank you. My pleasure.
Dr. Lisa: You’ve done a lot of work in the educational field. I mean, you have a Doctorate of Education from Vanderbilt. You have a Master’s in Education from the University of Maine and a Bachelor of Arts in the University of Southern Maine, but you’ve also done work in social welfare. You’ve done work in special education. What has driven that path for you?
Owen Logue: Well, I think my path was driven largely because of the influence of my family. I was born deaf in Maine and at that time my parents had to navigate a lot of educational opportunities for me because there was a choice made not to send me to a school for the deaf because at that time it was signing deaf, ASL deaf and they wanted me to some day be a spoken language deaf person. There was a lot of challenges around that because there were no such programs and public school didn’t have to take you because there was just no laws in place for that.
So, my parents had to create all these opportunities for me like, speech and hearing centers and Summer programs and eventually they got me into public school. It’s just an incredible effort. And I didn’t know any of this until I was about 21, until I asked my Mother one day and just really discovered the story of my life basically. And that redirected me completely to dedicate my life to making the lives of others better. And so, I started out in social work and it was really hard to do that work, residential work. And I got recruited for a program I teach called Teacher Core and it was a fully funded program to go back to school and I got my special education degree.
So, from there I became a teacher for deaf at Bangor High and that began the beginning of the journey of exploring myself as a deaf individual and to teach three young women in high school that eventually went on to college and then I went on to higher education and became a Director of Disability Services and eventually became an academic dean. Just an amazing journey for my life and I’m so humbled that I’ve had all these opportunities in my lifetime.
Dr. Lisa: So, as you were growing up you didn’t know that your parents were going to these extraordinary efforts for you?
Owen Logue: That’s right. I asked my Mother, I said, “well, why am I only knowing this now?” and my Mother’s response was, “I needed to know that you were okay and that you weren’t going to fall back and realize the true story of your life”. So, part of the story that I haven’t mentioned yes is at the age of six I still couldn’t talk. I only spoke 20 words. I didn’t have a vocabulary. I couldn’t speak sentences even though I had therapy every week and my mother became my therapist, all these things were not making me a speaker.
All of a sudden, at the age of six, my parents took me to Massachusetts Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital because they knew I was deaf but they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t at least speak some language and I was misdiagnosed at that time of expressive aphasia, which is another term for inability to speak due to brain damage. It just speaks so strongly to my parents faith that I would someday speak and it happened shortly after the age of six and it’s an amazing story. There’s a spiritual piece but my parents had a friend went to Rome and met Pope John XXIII and Pope John XXIII did a blessing of a medallion and it coincides with shortly after the blessing that I spoke for the first time. My mother was an amazing therapist and always made me look at her and I heard the cat meow and I turned to my mother and I said, “Mommy the cat meowed like you always said it did”. And I had never spoken a sentence before that so my friend came back from Rome and asked my mother if I was speaking and she said, “yes, why do you ask”. And so, I have this blessing, the medallion I wear every day of my life to try a little bit harder.
So, I’m strongly committed to my life and my life work I guess but it really comes from the work that my parents gave me. So, I asked my mother, “how did you know you made the right decision?”. They wanted me institutionalized at the age of six in Boston and she said, “I saw the twinkles in your eyes and I knew we had to do what we did”. So, my whole journey has been all about giving back, paying forward to my parents for what they gave to me with no regrets. It’s been an extremely rewarding and rich field always. I have friends who have made a lot of money in the business world and they all say that I’m the far richer man for my life work. And I agree with them.
Dr. Lisa: I’m struck by this possibility that at the age of six somebody might have said, ‘oh, this individual has expressive aphasia. This individual essentially is locked in’ and that you could have spent the rest of your life not being able to communicate but being active very active in your mind and what a huge difference that would have made to you.
Owen Logue: Of course. I spoke at a conference one time and this young women in the front row was crying through my speech and I apologized after my speech and she said, “no, you don’t understand, my brother was your age and he was diagnosed as expressive aphasia and he went to that school and twelve years later they apologized because they made a mistake. He never had expressive aphasia”. You’re right, I would have easily mimicked the behavior of all the other children I was around. I wouldn’t know … I certainly wouldn’t be speaking.
So, I know that and I’m so grateful.
Dr. Lisa: Why not do the American Sign Language? Why did your parents feel it was so important for you to speak?
Owen Logue: Very good question and I’m what they call bimodal, which is spoken language and ASL now. But at that time, there was a very divided camp that you were either spoken language, oral deaf or you’re ASL deaf and there was nothing in between. So, it was a very big divide for families. Families had to make a choice. I just didn’t know other deaf people until I was 21 years old. I’ll talk about that but it’s just great the work I’m doing now because children, at a very young age and families have joined together for the commonality of deafness and it doesn’t matter if you’re spoken language or ASL, it doesn’t matter. We all have the same experience.
Dr. Lisa: Has there been any change in the controversy over the technology that now enables people to hear because I know that it used to be that there was a big divide between people who were born deaf and chose to remain deaf and people who were born deaf and chose to have the technology necessary to be able to hear again. Where are we with that now?
Owen Logue: I think we’re just many years ahead. Just by virtue of me being an educational leader now, decades ago I wouldn’t have been considered the likely candidate to be the leader because of spoken language. Like I said, I embrace bimodal, which is the ASL and spoken language. And so, the biggest thing has really been the technology. The cochlear implant has really just dramatically changed the landscape of deaf education and deafness in general. We are able to … We have the newborn grant here in Maine now, the first day of a newborn’s life we know if a child’s born deaf and immediately we bring in our team, an ASL deaf person and a spoken language deaf person into the hospitals so families know what’s ahead of them and we stay with them all the way until they ask us not to be in the lives of the children.
So, that’s remarkable because I wasn’t diagnosed until I was eleven months and it’s not uncommon. I’ve met many adults like myself who didn’t know until they were five or six years old that they had any deafness or anything. So, the cochlear implant is huge. The technology … I brought my first hearing aid to show you later but it’s a body aid and it was one sound for everyone. Now, I have digital hearing aids, which is customized. Bluetooth is an amazing thing. I usually have a Bluetooth device that I wear for phone calls. So, anyone else who wouldn’t know that I’m listening and the sound goes directly to my hearing aids. Everything is just so amazing now. Technology, we can see closed captioning on TV’s. There’s a system called CART where you can have instant court reporting transcription that comes virtually online. It’s just unbelievable what is out there. So, that has made all the difference.
The challenge has been, and I see in this work, is children with significant special needs. They have other issues beyond deafness and that’s what we’re really challenged with now, how do we best meet the needs of the children who have deafness and other issues as well. We’re working very hard at that.
What you’re speaking to, there was a time when they talked about being deaf and ASL only. At one point, deaf marrying deaf was extremely high, like 90 percent deaf marrying deaf but one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s also 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. It takes a long time for a lot of deaf individuals to have what I call the ‘deaf experience’. I mentioned that I was 21 before I had that and it was by chance that I discovered that the United States has a deaf Olympic team that competes in an international scene, 2,000 athletes in track and field, for example. I had a chance to represent the United States and that was the first time I had really been in a deaf environment and it was wonderful. I had a chance to qualify three times for the Olympic team and every time I just grew deeper and deeper in love with the culture and my identity as being deaf.
I grew up being almost ashamed of being deaf. I didn’t want people to know I was deaf. I used to wear my hair over my hearing aids and I just totally denied all help and it’s unfortunate. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else in their future.
Dr. Lisa: So, how would you describe the deaf experience?
Owen Logue: For me or in general? Well, the deaf experience is, like you said, before it is kind of a confusion one. They use a term that I like a lot, they call it deafhood and deafhood speaks to the commonality of all of us having the same experience of not hearing. It takes different shapes and forms, you know, we all take different paths along how we get there. The deaf experience, it’s a beautiful thing and when you’re in the company of hundreds of people who are deaf and just conversing and signing. In the Olympic the American Sign Language is only universal to the United States and Canada, so when you go to other countries it’s all hand motions and like a lot of trading. You trade uniforms and trade shoes and it’s just so exciting and just very electrifying.
I love the experience of being in the deaf community. The music, the signing of deaf events is very beautiful. I’m very proud of the staff I work with. I have over 80 staff members I work with and I have a very high percentage of deaf and hard of hearing adults to work with our team and the work their doing is just so electrifying, like I said, the best word I can use.
Dr. Lisa: When I was growing up there was significant sadness around the Governor Baxter School because there was abuse that happened on that island with the children. And this is now decades ago [crosstalk 00:15:30] but it certainly left a legacy that I believe would be difficult to overcome.
Owen Logue: Yes. I’m glad you mentioned that because that was my generation. There were 200 men that were molested by one individual and it is a very dark history and when I was interviewing for the job that came up and the point was made very clearly that we’ve moved on. We don’t want to dwell on that. That’s happened. I’ve worked extremely hard to welcome all deaf individuals to come back to the island. We host a lot of different events on the island, a lot of meetings. We have a deaf cultural week every week in the Fall and it’s just so fun to see a lot of people letting go and coming back and embracing their experience and we have a wonderful museum. Bill Nye the former science teacher has created this incredible museum, it’s one of the best. So, it’s fun to see deaf people from all over the country come to see the museum. And of course Mackworth Island is just incredibly gorgeous. Just the surrounding … Governor Baxter willed his hundred acre land and he gave his Summer mansion and it’s just so beautiful.
Dr. Lisa: So this is Bill Nye the Science Guy?
Owen Logue: No he’s not the … It’s funny he’s referred to as the deaf science guy but he’s not the famous Bill Nye the Science …
Dr. Lisa: So, it’s a different Bill Nye?
Owen Logue: Different Bill Nye.
Dr. Lisa: Different Bill Nye who is also a science guy.
Owen Logue: That’s right. But he’s also … Ironically, Bill Nye is in his 80s. He is a former science teacher, so that happens a lot.
Dr. Lisa: How many students do you have at your school now?
Owen Logue: We have a very vibrant preschool program on the island and that’s roughly 30 students and not all are deaf and hard of hearing, some are hearing. So some families are choosing their children to have that kind of total immersion experience and we want our children to have that experience. It’s gaining a lot of national and international attention for its approach. They have a room where it’s spoken language only and where the hearing teacher for deaf and then there’s also an ASL deaf only teacher who is teaching ASL only. So, when you walk into one room you sign only in one room and then you go to the other room and it’s spoken language only and it’s really gained a lot of attention all over the world. It’s very forward thinking, very innovative and it’s kind of the idea from Karen Hopkins, the Director of the whole preschool programming.
So, it just really embraces spoken language, ASL and it just takes away the challenge of families making the right choices because we document the developments of each child so we can show how quickly they’re learning ASL and how quickly they’re learning spoken language. There’s a movement to encourage children to learn ASL as their primary language from which they then build the spoken language. A lot of research proving that that is the better way to go, so we’ve seen children making great advances by being immersed and being fluent in ASL and then spoken language.
Dr. Lisa: What do you think of this cultural movement of introducing babies to sign language?
Owen Logue: Yeah. I think there’s a lot to … Like I said, the research is really supporting that kind of quickly … I think a lot of families, deaf or not, deaf children, being exposed to any kind of concept. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense if you want to express some basic desires like being thirsty or hungry, et cetera, your dog, your cats. I mean, it’s a beautiful language and it’s very expressive and easy to learn. So, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot more of that.
Dr. Lisa: Tell me about some of the challenges that you have encountered over the years in education.
Owen Logue: Like I said before, the technology was extremely poor. At that time in Maine we had such few services available. There was only two speech and hearing therapists in the state of Maine at that time, one of them in Waterboro and one of them in Fortman. And there was some extreme financial hardship for families because they had to pay for everything, unless they went to an institution like Governor Baxter’s School for the Deaf or like Clarke School in North Hampton, which is an oral deaf school. If families committed to that institutional piece, the financial piece didn’t often come with that because they didn’t have to pay for all the service. Because my parents were kind of no mans land, so to speak, they had to create their services and pay for everything and it was really hard to do that.
So, the technology is really, really big because I can’t stress enough what it would sound like. If you think about digital hearing aids, it’s sort of like the Bose radio versus what used to be like a transistor radio, like a really cheap sound. So, the richness of sounds is … What we refer to as sound is so great especially with cochlear implants.
So, cochlear implants … Children who are born profoundly deaf and we’re seeing children being cochlear implant by one-year-old now and now which is … We can put hearing aids on two week old babies. So, this whole idea of a life of silence is very rare. There is a percentage of failure for cochlear implants, that’s not a guarantee but a five percent failure rate. So, we have seen children who have been unsuccessful with cochlear implants and that’s unfortunate because that now … You can’t regain that, you lose it and you don’t have it. But for those who can sound, we’re seeing a lot. There are a lot of challenges because language is so driven to the acquisition of spoken language, reading and writing is all based on what you hear.
And Helen Keller was once asked if she had a choice of being the deaf or blind. She said she would prefer to be blind over deafness and a lot of people don’t understand that. I understand that, not that I would want to be blind but the mastery of language and reading/writing, all that really is driven my what you hear. So, it makes a lot of sense to me when I think about Helen Keller’s choice.
Dr. Lisa: What are you hoping to see for the future? What direction do you hope that your students will go in?
Owen Logue: Well, I really like the direction that the organization is going. All across the country, schools for the deaf are not what they used to be. We used to have 200 children on Mackworth Island, that lived on campus and, you know, we don’t have that anymore. We’re now embedded in the Portland Public School System, East End Community School, we’re at Lyman Moore Middle School and then Portland High School and then the PATH Vocational School. So, that’s kind of the trend that we’re moving students into the main, but we have incredible support services for them to be successful in that.
Our biggest challenge here in Maine is that we don’t have enough teachers for deaf, sign language interpreters. I’m fortunate I have a good array of sign language interpreters but statewide we don’t. If you think about the county or down East or the Islands of Maine, it’s really a challenge. How do you get those services? We’re hoping to … We’re approaching an idea of regionalization, that we’re going to regionalize like we do for birth to five year olds. That we can go out and we can provide services kind of in a regional way, that we can provide greater assets to support services for our staff as well.
Dr. Lisa: You mentioned to me before we came on the air that you’re son is a film maker.
Owen Logue: That’s correct.
Dr. Lisa: What has your experience been as a parent who is deaf of a child who, presumably, is not deaf?
Owen Logue: That’s correct. None of mine … I have three children, none of them are deaf and ironically for me my oldest daughter is very gifted trombone player, went to Julliard and that was an amazing immersion for me to be exposed to music, classical music in a way that I could never fathom. I can’t distinguish, for example on a CD what’s the trombone, what’s french horn as hard as I try, I can’t really distinguish that but in a live performance I can see that. So, I’m thrilled that my children have this incredible immersion to the arts. And I credit my community of Southwest Harbor is incredibly culturally rich performing arts based programs. And so, as parents we just nurtured their interest and we can’t really take credit for their successes but yeah.
Dr. Lisa: Are there challenges that deaf parents have raising hearing children?
Owen Logue: Sure. Yeah, it’s not easy. My family has learned to kind of live with my deafness. You know, when you wear hearing aids they’re not always ones that you want to wear 24/7, you can’t really. You can’t sleep with them because they squeak if you sleep them and so frequently they’re off. Then it’s a challenge for my children and wife to communicate with me. They have ways of getting my attention and I’m a very good lip reader and then I usually if I know I’m going to engage in a conversation I’ll put hearing aids back on. So, yeah and I hope … We never really talked about it or seen anything from my children’s point of view of what they gained by the experience of having me as a deaf father but I think they seen incredible energy and persistence, I guess, in terms of just sticking with a goal and working myself through and they know that a lot of things I’ve done in my life have not been easy. And I think it’s made them challenge themselves to do that too, at least I hope so.
Dr. Lisa: You are, or at least at one point, you were a runner.
Owen Logue: That’s correct.
Dr. Lisa: You were a cross country star in college [crosstalk 00:27:18] and then you went on and participated in the deaf Olympics. You still run?
Owen Logue: Yes, I do. That’s me. So, I couldn’t find my niche in public school. Public school was rather hard and a lot of it because people didn’t know what to do. I was basically just given the right to go to public school but I didn’t have any support. I had nothing. My academic experience … I went on the college track because I wanted to go to college. I had two older sisters and I aspired to go to college. My parents went to college and just so hard for me to do what I had to do but I kept persisting that way. I didn’t have very good self-esteem because I felt really stupid and nothing could really master academic but I found that even though I had severe asthma, which in that time wasn’t really treatable. There was no exercise induced asthma, treatments or anything.
So, I found running. That I could run and get sick later and I didn’t really care about getting sick later. It was just so exciting to be part of a state championship team and to have great coaches. And I emerged as a leader and became the captain of a team and took that confidence to another level and became class president and found myself as a leader. And I’ve always had that leadership piece in my life but I attribute that because of the success I had in running.
So, then I had the chance to … So, I always wanted to run the Boston Marathon and I always remembered when I was a child I couldn’t run 40 yards, the width of a football field because I couldn’t do gym. I had to stand beside the gym teacher. So, I always remember that 40 yard, that I couldn’t run 40 yards, that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. That became kind of a passion and I was driven to that goal. And then, once I experienced Boston, it wasn’t good enough that I ran Boston. Then I wanted to see how fast I could run Boston, so I had some really great years. I ran really fast. And I’m very humbled I was inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame.
I just met so many wonderful people along the way. But it also taught me a lot about goal setting and to do a marathon, it made my pursuit of a Doctorate that much easier because I just made everything a mile. You know, every class a mile. Every mile and everything so, it was very manageable and I saw it to the end.
Dr. Lisa: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Owen Logue who is the Executive Director of the Governor Baxter’s School for the Deaf, Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on Mackworth Island in Falmouth. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you and I really have enjoyed hearing your story.
Owen Logue: Yeah, thank you very much.
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Dr. Lisa: Christy Gardner is a retired Army veteran who was injured overseas in 2006. After recovering from a brain injury she is now the co-captain of the US women’s para-ice hockey team. Thanks for coming in today.
Christy Gardner: You’re very welcome.
Dr. Lisa: And also thanks to Moxie who is your companion dog who is taking a little nap in the corner now.
Christy Gardner: Right, patiently waiting.
Dr. Lisa: Patiently waiting, yeah. Well, she was the star of the show a few minutes ago. Everybody here in the office was pretty excited to see her.
Christy Gardner: Yeah, they were joking about getting an office dog so I might have to bring a puppy next time.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, you may have to. Do you find that that’s often the case? That she shows up on the scene and everybody just –
Christy Gardner: It’s very hit or miss. A lot of people love dogs and gravitate right to her and, you know, we went to visit my sister at college when she was a Freshman and the football players are the first floor in the dorm and you had to walk through their wing and you get like this 300 pound linebacker that comes out and they’re like, “oh my god, a puppy”. And I’m like “oh my god”, like you think these big macho guys but they still … everybody loves dogs.
Dr. Lisa: Do you ever encounter situations where people are a little concerned or?
Christy Gardner: I wouldn’t say concerned. Maybe some fearful, especially with the larger refugee population. Unfortunately, a lot of them the only dogs they’ve been exposed to were dirty or vicious, whether it’s guard dogs or refugee camps or just stray dogs and stuff like that.
Dr. Lisa: That’s interesting. I wasn’t expecting that answer. I was thinking about just like small children who are concerned about big dogs but that makes a lot of sense that people who have had negative experiences would be really, kind of, a little shy.
Christy Gardner: Yeah, that’s usually more the reaction we get, especially because I live in Lewiston. Some of the folks have been really good at adapting but some of them, you can’t blame them for being afraid.
Dr. Lisa: Now, you’re doing something very interesting with ice hockey. Is this something that you have played all your life?
Christy Gardner: Absolutely not. I’ve been an athlete all my life and I always wanted to play hockey but when I was growing up, like middle school age and stuff, my parents were really worried that I’d get hurt playing hockey. So, we kind of figure I’m kind of beyond that point so I might as well now.
Dr. Lisa: Well, I guess talk to me about that. You were injured in 2006. That really shifted your life dramatically.
Christy Gardner: Yeah, I was injured in the Summer of ’06 overseas and when I met with the polytrauma team at the hospital basically they said that there were so many things I would never do again. They labeled me 100 percent disabled and severely handicapped and from then on it was a battle for a number of years. I spent three years in physical therapy, three and a half years in speech therapy. I still talk with a lisp and stutter sometimes but it’s not bad as long as I’m not tired. You know, finding word choice and things like that is occasionally a struggle. Obviously, my balance is a struggle because I’m a bilateral amputee, so.
Dr. Lisa: I was reading about you and from what I’m understanding it’s not entirely clear what happened that caused this injury.
Christy Gardner: We know what happened but it’s not something I can openly talk about.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, okay.
Christy Gardner: It was overseas on a peace keeping mission.
Dr. Lisa: So, how did that impact you to be in the middle of something that you were voluntarily there for and then wake up and have your life completely changed?
Christy Gardner: I mean, we sign up. The military, the Army right now is a volunteer force so we all sort of know what we’re getting in to and what the risks are but for the most part you expect it not to happen to you. You know, it’s a slim chance that your life is going to be catastrophically changed. Unfortunately, that slim chance was mine.
I don’t think anybody else on our trip got particularly injured. I know a couple guys got like a broken wrist or a concussion here and there but you know, obviously, I think I was the most significantly injured on that adventure.
Dr. Lisa: So, how do you feel the services are for people who have had this type of traumatic injury? As a doctor I’ve worked with people who are part of the VA system and I believe that that has really dramatically improved over the years but I’m wondering, from your perspective as somebody who really heavily used these services for a number of years, how do you feel?
Christy Gardner: I still encourage people to join. One of my friends is almost done with her AIT right now in the Army and she’s going to be stationed with an Airborne division in Alaska that might deploy soon and like I said, we know the risks, we know what we’re getting into but it’s an amazing way of life. The camaraderie and brotherhood in the service is unreal. And then even after that, getting hurt, the support among other veterans is amazing. The support among a lot of our programs is fantastic. I mean, you’ll get, again, hit or miss. My primary care doc is amazing. Every time I’m like, “hey doc, I probably broke this” you know, “hey doc, what about this”. He’s like, “alright what else can we nip in the bud while you’re here that’s nagging or whatever or before it becomes nagging”. But then, of course, you get other people it’s like a battle to get an appointment and services are delayed or you’ve got to fight for what equipment you need.
So, it depends a lot on the people who are there who are passionate about their job. And I think you find that almost anywhere in life.
Dr. Lisa: And how about, I guess, the need for better services for people who have lost limbs. I mean, that’s such a dramatic change. How are we doing with that?
Christy Gardner: We’re doing okay. I think that it’s harder in Maine because we have such an older population or an older veteran population. There are very few veterans my age group with the VA. There are very few females my age group with the VA or females in general.
So, going up to physical therapy, coming off bilateral leg amputations, they basically had me walk back and forth for 20 minutes with a Thera-Band around my ankles and said, “okay, you’re good”. And I was like, “uh, you’re kidding right? I had to come all the way here for this”. I’m an athlete. I was in the Army and I met the male PT standards because I never wanted anybody to look at me and say you’re only here because you’re a girl or whatever. I always wanted to be the best I could. So, to come home and be injured, I still want to push those limits, you know. At least it doesn’t hurt now when I stub my toe, why can’t I jump around more?
Dr. Lisa: Why did you decide to join the military in the first place? And why be a military police officer?
Christy Gardner: I don’t know I guess I’ve always just been driven. I like to be outdoors and active and I really don’t sit still well at all, so an office job is not for me. But my Grandfather and my Uncles were in the Marines. I have a couple cousins that joined the Navy about the same time I joined the Army. So, it’s kind of a family thing, a lot of us have served. It just seemed like a great career option to me. I mean, they do take good care of us including apparel. You know, you get issued what you’re going to wear. You get issued a place to live. You get issued everything you need. So, there’s not really a whole lot to worry about other than to do your job.
Dr. Lisa: And what was it about being in the military police that appealed to you?
Christy Gardner: Just that outdoor active thing. The other offers they gave me were like nurse or admin or reception type jobs and sitting still like that is just not for me so I figured at least being a military police is similar to being regular police. You’re foot patrolling, checking buildings, clearing houses, responding to calls. So, it’s a much more active job.
Dr. Lisa: It also seems like it would require some certain amount of bravery? I mean, not only did you volunteer to show up for the military but you also went into a particularly dangerous part of the military.
Christy Gardner: Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, we never get calls to come to parties, that’s for sure. So, it’s more like if someone’s in crisis. If somebody’s life depends on you or a whole group of peoples lives. You know, if we’re manning a security checkpoint it’s for a reason. To make sure that all of our people come through stay safe and I wanted to be able to help ensure that. I never wanted to have to worry for people. I wanted them to be able to do their job safely while I had their back.
Dr. Lisa: How have your parents responded to this change in your life? I’m just thinking about my … I have brothers and sisters who have all been in the military and we had, at one time, three or four serving in the Middle East and when they all came back my mother breathed a huge sigh of relief and if that had been different, I know that that would have really impacted her significantly.
Christy Gardner: Yeah. I do believe it was harder on my parents than it was on me. I know that my Dad cried about it when I lost my legs and that really, really bothered him. I actually lost two fingers early in my career and that was a bigger deal to my Mom. Losing my pinkie was a really big deal to her she said “because her baby wasn’t whole anymore”. You know, as a parent you want to be there to protect your child and she couldn’t so it really, really bothered her a lot. I think now that I’m as active as I am it doesn’t bother her nearly as much. They had the opportunity, my Mom, and some family, to come out and watch me run last Summer, so I was able to sprint and set a couple records that way and just to excel athletically now. And so, for them, it’s been good to see my thrive again.
Dr. Lisa: Well, tell me about that. As somebody who has always been an athlete, how did you need to shift your mindset in order to continue to be an athlete?
Christy Gardner: It was really hard at first. The first few years after I met with the doctors they had gone through a three page list of stuff they’d said I’d never do again. You know, ride a bike, live alone, bathe alone. I wasn’t allowed to swim because if I had a seizure I’d drown, that kind of stuff. So, I was really limited and I kind of believed the doctors that those were my limitations and that was going to be my life now. And then, this other veteran kept bugging me at the hospital, it was an older gentleman with a service dog and we kind of met because of the dogs and he kept saying, “come to this thing with me”. And it was all these sports events and I was like, “they just told me I’d never do any of that again. I don’t want to come watch somebody else do it”. And finally I said, “if I come with you, will you shut up and stop bothering me” and of course he said “yes”.
So, I went and it turned out it was all these disabled veterans that were water skiing and kayaking and being active outdoors again and that was a major turning point for me. From then on it was kind of like we broke that limit, let’s challenge the rest of them and see where I end up. So, basically I’ve broken every barrier they set for me at the hospital. I’ll never wiggle my toes but it’s not really a big deal.
Dr. Lisa: What was the first thing that you embarked upon? Was it the running, was it the … What was the first athletic endeavor?
Christy Gardner: Water skiing. So, I’m not supposed to be in the water or be active and why not be active on the water. Yeah, I got up … They had a boom off the side of the boat and they had me hold on to that and right off the first try, up we went.
Dr. Lisa: Did you water ski before?
Christy Gardner: No. Never.
Dr. Lisa: So, you went from doing something that you had never done before to taking on this new activity with a body that had shifted in your life. That must have felt kind of weird?
Christy Gardner: Yeah it was pretty crazy. I mean, especially because the doctors and everyone had said you’ll never do this, you’ll never do that, you’ll never do this. And then right away, bam, success on the first try. So, it really kind of set the tone from there.
Dr. Lisa: So, why do you think that you, and I don’t know that you can even know this, but why do you think that you got this list in the first place? Where did this come from? Is this their experience based on other veterans who have gone through similar circumstances?
Christy Gardner: I’m not sure if it’s based on what they’ve seen in the results of others or if it’s based on their own assumptions because I’ve met so many people since then that said doctors told them they’d do this, that or the other thing as well and here they are doing it. I think it’s a big problem in our medical community that they assume that because it won’t be done exactly the same way that you can’t do it. I took a kid out and got him on the ice the other day. He had bone cancer in his leg and they told him he’ll never play hockey again. Granted, we put him in a sled but sled hockey is still hockey. It’s full contact and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
So, why did you have to dash a kids dreams? You know? I wish people would think of that more when they talk to others.
Dr. Lisa: Well, as you’re talking about it I’m thinking about a story that I wrote about Maine Adaptive and Maine Adaptive not only gets people of all ages and all abilities up on skis but they’re out biking, they’re out paddling and they really are at the full gamut of activities.
Christy Gardner: And I applied to Maine Adaptive, and you needed a doctor’s note, and the doctor said, “no, it’s too dangerous” because at the time I had done limb salvage and I didn’t have full sensation in my feet and he was like, “well what if you’re feet get cold, what about this, what about that”. I’m like they do this stuff all the time, they probably know how to handle it. But everyone is so afraid of it that they don’t want to push the limit and see what’s possible.
I worked, I don’t know if you’ve heard of VAST, it’s the Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training at Pineland in New Gloucester. It’s an awesome program. It’s outdoors, as usual. Cross country skiing, snow shoeing, biathlon. They do cycling programs and stuff like that and I helped them with a biathlon camp. We brought wounded warriors up from Walter Reed and there was a gentleman in a sit ski, a younger guy, and he was going really fast and they were like, “dude, you need to slow down. You might crash”. Well, you might crash not you’re gonna, you might. And he’s like, “are you kidding, I’ve been blown up twice I don’t care if I fall over in the snow”.
From a sit ski, you’re literally like 12-18 inches off the floor for cross country. And everyone was so worked that he was going to fall and he’s like “are you kidding me right now, like if you’ve seen what I’ve been through this is so minor”. And I wish more people would take that perspective.
Dr. Lisa: So, why is our approach so delicate?
Christy Gardner: I have no idea. I think everyone’s afraid of stepping on anybody’s toes or if you’ve said, “yes, go do this thing” and then I got hurt and then you’d feel either guilty or liable. Everyone’s afraid of getting sued and stuff like that so they tell you don’t do it just to avoid the risk.
Dr. Lisa: What would you have liked to have heard?
Christy Gardner: Oh, god. Anything about adaptive sports. I didn’t even know they existed, and they basically just told me my life is over, I’ll never be active again, to an active person. That baffles me. How do people … I don’t know. I just don’t know. I interned as a rec therapist at the VA because I went back on my GI Bill and got certified for adaptive sports and I was working at the hospital and I had my credentials on once when I went to an appointment and the practitioner said, “oh, you work here now. What do you do?” And I said, “oh, I’m working in rec therapy” and they go, “oh what’s that?”. I’m like my god, you’re the people that are supposed to refer people to us.
So, I don’t even think that we need more support or we need more programs. We need more awareness because now that I’ve gotten into the field I found out there’s literally hundreds of adaptive sports out there for all ability levels, whether it’s cognitive, physical, anything. There’s so much out there to offer people that the world just doesn’t know about.
Dr. Lisa: But it seems strange to me that we don’t have a greater awareness about this because the Paralympics occur right after the Olympics. So, you have something that is international that’s going on, where would these people all come from I guess if there wasn’t already something set in place.
Christy Gardner: Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of funding and a lot of the adaptive sports are run by non-profits so there’s not a whole lot of marketing. There’s not a ton of money for marketing. It’s do we get another athlete involve or de we get an ad campaign?
So, a lot of time it goes prioritized for the people.
Dr. Lisa: So, if we were able to maybe shift some of the funding away from things that were keeping people in the mindset that their lives were over and towards the things that would put them in a mindset that said your life’s going to be different but there’s some hope here.
Christy Gardner: Yeah. The kid that I was working with, his doctor told him you’ll never be normal again. Like, seriously? He has and implant in his leg, in his femur but he can walk, he can ride a bike. I don’t understand why they had to tell him that. You know? Tell them your life’s going to be different, tell them your life’s going to be challenging. Don’t tell them it’s over.
Dr. Lisa: It is a delicate balance because I was just thinking about a conversation I had with a woman who works in hospice and she said, “on the flip side patients who have been told by their doctors that there’s hope, that they could live anywhere for up to five years and then they find themselves in hospice. They get angry about that piece”. So, it’s a funny line to have to walk. You want to give hope but you don’t want to give too much hope. It seems really situationally dependent and almost an art to that conversation.
Christy Gardner: I would imagine the doctors really have to kind of feel out the person or get to know the person and what drives them. Everyone said that my rehab was so successful because I’m so stubborn. So, pretty much when you tell me “no you’re not going to do that”, I’m going to be like “watch me”.
Dr. Lisa: And also, the fact that you were an athlete. So maybe not every person that comes in is going to want to participate in adaptive sports but for those who do then that’s going to really change the way you talk.
Christy Gardner: Well, and the other thing is that through rec therapy it’s not necessarily just adaptive sports. The rec therapy department at the VA has cooking, arts and crafts, a wood shop, like there’s so much to do to stay busy and they consider it therapeutic activities because you keep your mind engaged, keep your body engaged. Maybe if you had a stroke and you have an arm deficiency you can start working on some of those motor skills in the shop, programs like that. So, it’s really all encompassing in adapting life.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I think that is important, I mean, having been to physical therapy, if I was given something to do that seemed like it had a point to it then probably it would mean more to me.
Christy Gardner: Exactly. We could meet the same therapeutic goals through certain sports activities as you could sitting in the therapy room doing little baby exercises that you know you’re not going to do at home. They always give those home activities and I have yet to meet a person that actually does them.
Dr. Lisa: Tell me about your experience with service dogs. Moxie is still hanging out. We were here with Spencer, our audio producer, she looks pretty mellow. I’m wondering what kind of an impact she had on your life.
Christy Gardner: She’s been absolutely amazing for me. I love that she’s got to be touching him right now. She put her paw out on his foot just to hold on. She’s been very motivating as well. So, on the days when you’re supposed to get out and active and do those therapy things and you really don’t feel like it she’ll kind of give me that push like alright let’s go. She’s taking her ball and held it against my leg like get up, come play with me or get her walk, she’ll bounce back and forth and want her walk for the day. So, that gets my walk and my step count up.
She’s been a battle buddy everywhere I go, whether it’s through the PTSD or just knowing you have a friend with you. It’s a pretty big deal to have someone that can do that. And then, for my seizures and epilepsy, she’s able to alert before I have one. So, before I got her I actually had a seizure and face planted into a coffee table and rearranged my face pretty good and had to have surgery. So, to have her and to have that comfort to know that nothing bad is going to happen to me because she’s looking out for me. She’s a pretty awesome battle buddy.
Dr. Lisa: How did you first learn about the availability of service dogs like Moxie?
Christy Gardner: When I was on active duty still at the hospital rehabbing they suggested that a service dog would be beneficial to me and so we started looking into it and applied to a few agencies but they typically have about a 2 year wait, mostly because that’s how long it takes to train a dog.
Dr. Lisa: You also, when I saw you in the airport a few months ago and you and I didn’t meet but I met Louie, the dog that was with you at the time, you also are involved in training dogs yourself now?
Christy Gardner: Yep. I’ve seen how beneficial she’s been for me and how the service dogs that my friends have been hugely beneficial to them and so, I know what the power of a dog can do for your life or for the lives of others and I work for a Labrador breeder and I help with selection. So, I get to choose which litters and which puppies from those litters have the best aptitude to become a working dog and then work with local agencies or even national now, to get dogs into schools, proper training to become service or therapy dogs for different organizations.
Dr. Lisa: What types of things do you look for, as far as aptitude is concerned?
Christy Gardner: A lot of times basic temperament tests. Holding them up and holding them in different positions to see if they’re comfortable with you or obedient. You want the one that has a little bit of curiosity and energy but you don’t want the super headstrong one in the group and you obviously don’t want the most timid one. And then we’ve had a few bloodlines that have multiple dogs that are already certified so we tend to lean toward that line knowing that the genetics are very good.
Dr. Lisa: Tell me about the US women’s para ice hockey team.
Christy Gardner: Para ice hockey is the new name for sled hockey. It is a Paralympic sport, although the women side is not yet participating in the games. The men are over there right now getting ready, so hopefully they bring home another gold in a week or two. But for the women, we’re headed over to the Czech Republic in May for Worlds. We are the defending world champions, so hopefully we can take that back again, beat Canada.
Para ice hockey is basically seated, full checking ice hockey. Even the women’s side is full checking, so you get two short little sticks with spikes on the back end that you push like ski poles and then you flip down and puck handle with the other end where there’s a blade on it. We skate with two hockey skate blades, basically bolted underneath our butts, and you balance on that and that’s how you get around.
Dr. Lisa: How much time did it take to learn how to do that type of hockey?
Christy Gardner: Oh, I was probably awful my entire first year. I actually learned about the sport at a VA Winter sports clinic. The rec therapists in the area host a big event every year in New Hampshire for skiing and snowboarding and then evening after we’re done skiing they introduce new sports. So they did wheelchair basketball. We learned to kayak in the hotel pool and the one night was sled hockey. So, I tried it out and I was on the ice for like 20 minutes and I was terrible but it was fun. And the fact that it was high speed and full contact was really appealing to me for like that competitive, aggressive nature. And so, the group that ran the event loaned me equipment for about six months and I went down to a USA hockey jamboree that they do in Philly every June. It’s basically like a giant camp for the whole nation and anybody that’s interested in sled hockey can come to this week long camp.
And I went and I gave it a shot and the women’s national team’s coaches happen to have been there. So, I got invited on to the team from there. And the rest is history.
Dr. Lisa: How long have you been doing this now?
Christy Gardner: This is, I think, my sixth year.
Dr. Lisa: So you said you were terrible the first year. How long did it take before you actually felt like you had some proficiency?
Christy Gardner: Until about this year. No, I’ve usually been just a wing on the team and I work hard, I skate hard, I skate fast but I’ve never had really skill with the puck and then I started a team up here called the New England Warriors and it’s a sled hockey team for disabled veterans. We actually just won our league last weekend in New Hampshire, so that was a blast. But working with the guys and having to be a role model for them has helped my puck handling skills because I spend most of the game chasing the puck and feeding passes to them and then going and getting it back and trying again and things like that. And so, it’s really helped my confidence with my puck as far as passing and shooting and things like that. So, that’s helped me on the national team quite a bit.
Dr. Lisa: I’ve been speaking with Christy Gardner who is a retired Army veteran who was injured overseas in 2006. After recovering from a brain injury she is now the co-captain of the US women’s para ice hockey team and she’s here with her service dog Moxie.
I appreciate all the work that you’re doing and it’s really an inspiring thing that you’ve come here to talk about today. So, thank you.
Christy Gardner: You’re very welcome. Just try to be stubborn, it’s worked out in my favor.
Dr. Lisa: You’ve been listening to Love Maine radio. Show number 350. Our guests have included Dr. Owen Logue and Christy Gardner. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine radio is downloadable for free on Itunes. For a preview of each week’s show sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine radio photos on Instagram.
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This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.
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