A married couple who cherished going for long walks together was broken when the wife was diagnosed with MS, but the husband built a rickshaw so that he could pull his wife along favorite routes and keep their beloved pastime alive.
Rick and Jan Dorothy have been married for 27 years and treasured the ‘alone time’ they spent together on their walks where they could have heart-to-heart talks and share their pain together. The 2-mile circular route near a lake by their Michigan home was their favorite haunt but when Jan got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2006, everything changed.
Rick, 64, and Jan, 57, couldn’t think of living a life without their favorite pastime of walking together and knew they would have to come up with something to be able to continue doing it.
Dealing with MS
Rick said Jan was having a difficult time keeping her right leg up while walking, she would end up dragging it. “We kind of discovered it from our walks,” he said. “I thought maybe she was just out of shape because she didn’t do a lot of walking before we got together.” But after taking walks with people heavier, and who smoked, they knew something was not right.
So they met the doctor who diagnosed Jan with MS and the couple soon adapted their lifestyle to slow the disease’s progression. Rick would help Jan exercise and give her weekly shots, it made her feel unwell but they carried on walking. Rick recalled those times saying, “Jan has never, ever cried one time; she’s never felt sorry for herself,” said Rick. “I’ve cried, but she’s a tough girl.”
Rick decided to build a rickshaw but doesn’t recall exactly where he got the idea from, he says it was from a movie and it later became a family joke. “My name is Rick, so I said, ‘Maybe I should make you a rickshaw and pull you around!’ Everybody laughed about it, but I was a little more serious because I love to invent things,” he said.
He had all the supplies he needed to build the rickshaw and it took a couple of weeks to get ready. He would pull the rickshaw with a belt around his waist and Jan checked plywood seats to find the perfect balance point. Rick’s efforts paid off and the 25-pound rickshaw was “aesthetically nice.”
He attached big tires so that Jan’s ride would be as smooth as possible and when they had a test run on their 500-foot driveway, Jan confirmed saying, “Oh, this is not too bad!” Rick said that the true test would be when they would take it on one of their favorite routes by the old railway track near their house, where they pluck mushrooms and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Taking walks together again
They did that on Mother’s Day, and now regularly do it. “I think it means a lot to all of us,” said Rick who leaves home only to get food and for doctor’s appointments since the pandemic started. He’s retired and had done several jobs in life like construction, woodwork, and boat-building.
Many requests have come from people for Rick to help build them similar rickshaws, but he says he’d rather be happy to share tips and tricks on social media instead. “I took a video and showed people how you can remove the parts of the rickshaw, put it on your car, and then when you get to where you’re going to walk, you just pull it out, put a few pins in it, and it’s all back together,” said Rick. “I’m very, very willing to help people out any way I can if they want to make it.”
When Jan was well, both of them had built three houses together, but post her diagnosis, Rick built a one-story house according to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards, that has grab bars in the bathroom, a walk-in shower, easily accessible cabinets, and a bedroom downstairs in case if it’s needed later on.
Rick’s thoughtfulness for Jan comes through clearly in everything, she gets a beautiful view of 70 acres from her window, including nightly visits from deer and wildlife. They bought the 70-acre plot with a special tree immediately after getting married. “When we first got together, I took Jan on a hiking date,” Rick recalled. “We went for a walk in the woods. I decided to profess our love to the world by carving a heart [into a tree trunk] with our initials inside. Later, we married, had children, and bought the 70 acres where that tree was.”
The loved-up couple spent many days sitting under the branches of that special tree trying to figure out life. But some years later, a storm blew the tree over. “We felt like we lost a family member,” said Rick, he added that he cut out part of the tree with a chainsaw to create a keepsake of their love.
He has made a decorative shelf from that tree and it holds a special place in their celebrations of “continued commitment,” like anniversaries, birthdays, and special days. Rick said, “I have since gone out and carved our initials into another beech tree, just for insurance!” he said.
Meanwhile, Jan’s MS has gone from “relapsing-remitting,” characterized by periodic attacks followed by a slow recovery, to “secondary progressive.” Normally people progress very fast, but Jan’s progress has been slow.
The married couple’s positive attitude and love for each other is the biggest reason behind it. Jan does all her exercises, the dishes, and some housework that includes making the beds and walking with the help of a frame. When she has trouble swallowing, Rick performs the Heimlich maneuver to stop her from choking. “Most are good days,” he said, “but there are some days where it’s kind of scary and we just get through it together.”
Rick describes his soulmate Jan as a sweet and good person and “an easy person to love,” Rick said. “She’s never said, ‘Why me?’ She’s quite a religious person. I think she has a lot of faith that everything will be as good as it can be. I love that she never feels sorry for herself. I love that she’s always sweet. She’s just a good person. I wish I was so good.”
Rick is prepared to help Jan even if she loses the ability to walk completely. He says together they will overcome. “If you can’t walk, it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy life,” he said. “There’s still a lot to see.”
What a beautiful love story they share and that is the reason behind their successful marriage and life. May we all take care of each other just like Rick and Jan and also those around us in our families and communities.