SMAdventures: A Rendezvous with Tolkien

Katie Napiwocki avatar

by Katie Napiwocki |

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reading takes you places

Let me tell you about a summer to remember, a time when I journeyed to distant lands where magic danced across darkness and light. My wheels rolled beyond emerald hills that swelled with fellowship and togetherness. Acts of kindness smiled upon heavy hearts. Dining tables abundant with food were garnished by voices raised in song. Enchanting waterfalls churned with age-old tales of elves. The spirit of the forest beamed in stoic wisdom, though gravely weathered from the bristles of war in the world outside.  

It was the summer I learned something about scaling a mountain: Reaching the summit will not be easy on the eyes or the soul, but with a few uplifting adventure allies, it can be climbed all the same. 

When the bell rang after final period, the doors closed on my sophomore year of high school. The anticipation of summer vacation permeated the hallways. Many pleasures awaited: the thrill of sleeping in; campfires and s’mores; painting the town with mischievous memories on balmy nights; sweltering days doused by cool splashes in the community pool; lakeside barbecues resounding with laughter, the scents of burgers and charcoal mingling in the air.

This would not be my summer; at least, not the greater part of it. (I can’t imagine going any reasonable length of time without a toasty s’more.) 

I was bracing myself for hip surgery. Since my kindergarten years, the abrasive effects of SMA had been giving my hips grief. The ball of my femur bone tended to slip out of the joint’s socket; it was a relationship marked by blatant disloyalty and void of harmony. I had allowed my orthopedic surgeon to mediate one last counseling session in hope of salvaging the partnership, so my third hip surgery was looming on the horizon.

At this point in my life, I had racked up about a dozen surgeries overall. On some days, I was spent; it felt like the sun had deserted the sky. But I was a kid, and kids are incredibly resilient.

In addition to my physical pain, my heart blushed in dusky hues of blue. My parents had recently divorced, and I was adjusting to a new house. Remember that country home I’ve mentioned? We became parted friends who would visit each other only on weekends.

I spent my weekdays in a snug neighborhood situated in the bustle of my tiny hometown. I sometimes enjoyed bouncing between both houses, and living closer to school meant a much shorter morning commute on the school’s accessible van.

When the warmth of mellow weather graced the day, I was allowed to roll to and from school on my own. The short expedition down several sidewalks still felt like an adventure to me — if there was danger afoot or peril ensued, my flip phone would save the day. Independence was bliss! Everything had changed, but beauty remained; my eyes saw it more clearly after adjusting to the new lighting.

In the days leading up to surgery, my aunt sent a cheerful care package. My mom opened the cardboard box and placed its contents on my bedroom desk. I wheeled over to inspect. To my surprise, a boxed set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” volumes sat enrobed in regal colors. I’d recently read “The Hobbit” in a literature class. I hadn’t known what a hobbit was, but by then I adored the hairy-footed beings. Suddenly, the dread of mending from hip surgery was drowned out by the horn of Gondor. There was no time to care — good company and a quest awaited me!

With my right leg sealed inside the fortress of a bright-pink cast, the pages whirled past throughout the weeks of healing. I read until my vision fuzzed over and my head felt woozy. While I recovered, friends and visitors stopped by to say hello. I’d relocate to the patio for breaths of fresh air. Then I’d bask in the Shire, go spelunking in the mines of Moria, or ramble Fangorn Forest. 

I connected with the beauty of Tolkien’s words in a way I seldom have with other authors’. I could sense in them an unwavering appreciation of nature’s most captivating features. When I’m surrounded by the beauty of the open air, I find myself looking about in wonder, not wanting to miss the magic unfolding around me. 

My mom often said to me, “Katie, read. Books can take you anywhere.” On such adventures, my soul evolves, my mind grows, and my heart’s chambers deepen. To me, Tolkien’s saga validated the strength of a person’s spirit over the physical ability of their body. It was fitting, really. After all, “one does not simply walk into Mordor.”


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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