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Walking disabled in Louvain

(I wrote this for my new coach and his wife, Trevor and Misty Wicken, and for the MS gym ‘tribe’. But as it’s also about Louvain, it has a place in my ‘slightly different angle’ series too).

For years I walked from the city to my former home. Which must be about a three km walk. I had to take a little care of footdrop, stumbled a few times, but never fell. I twisted my ankle once quite badly, but that happened in streets I was not familiar with, in another city.

Roads and pavements are so different. Some are spacious and even, spreading a feeling of ease over the passersby. Others are small, cramped, twisty and constantly interrupted by doorsteps, busstops, shops that display their merchandise, traffic signs, driveways, entrances to parking lots, the list goes on. Not to mention the oh so picturesque cobblestone alleys.

Many streets are too small for the ongoing chaos of trucks, delivery vans, buses and cars. Trucks have a kind of grumpy heaviness, while busses are swift traffic animals; much lighter and less solid than trucks. But scarier: when two buses need to cross, they often drive with two wheels on the pavement.

Louvain is a student city. Young and reckless cyclists pop up everywhere. I’ve seen so many skid and fall, look dazed for a while but crawl back on their bike on the way to class, like ants that won’t change course as long as some of their legs work. Others walk with headphone and gaze buried in an Iphone. Heaps of bicycles gather all over the city in improvised parking lots. Till the police keeps a razzia and brings them all to a gigantic barrack somewhere outside the city. That happens a few times every year, even when I was a student – now 25 years ago.

It’s also a city of immigrants – at least some parts of Louvain, like the neighbourhood I live in. I see women in bourka in the park nearby, even though politics forbids bourkas. Crimes often happen at night in unenlightened streets. Every year some naïve students end up heavily beaten or stabbed. Roman beggars and fiddlers appear everywhere as soon as the sun comes out. They are an insensitive tribe. Problems or tiny moments of inattention around them are nothing less than opportunities to make money. Nobody has sympathy for them.

This is the city I moved in all my life. Though progressively, moving became a problem. Sometimes I walked around with limbs that felt heavy like elephant legs without the power to lift or steer them properly. Sometimes, they went adrift and I had to force them back. The other day they felt brittle like pieces of plastic. What a funny condition! Inevitably, attention shifted from the beautiful woman before to the grey pavement below me. The pavement that constantly attempted to drag me down. Again and again, I had to pull myself up, a bit like Baron Munchausen who desparately pulled on his hair to get out of the water. I decided that the best way to advance was to imagine my feet kissing the asphalt beneath me. But there are nicer things to kiss …

Recently, I became fascinated by slums. It’s incredible how many people are living in slums and what their living conditions are like. There can only be many people with neurological conditions in such filthy places. How hard it must be to live there if you can barely move!

It went on and became worse. I had an ‘appointment’ with my mother once to buy new shoes. She knows more about good shoes than me. But what are good shoes? Some solid ones felt like heavy pieces of wood on my feet. While sportshoes made me bounce around like a chicken. That choice symbolized my despair at the time. I did so many things that improved my condition significantly, but apparently, it was not enough to beat that relentless monster. I cried silently. Nobody noticed, but my mom. What mothers can do to middle-aged boys! We will never forget that moment.

Months later – I really can’t remember how – I found the work of Trevor and Misty. A man whose vast theoretical and practical knowledge of moving with MS blew me away. A gigantic toolbox opened up for me as if it were self-evident. I only had to open my arms and do the work – but who wouldn’t do the work? A woman whose motivatinal powers are a delight. A couple that cheers my days.

Now and forever. There is no way back.



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