Posted by: trevormeers | September 11, 2010


I’d known Johnny Romano five minutes when I realized that somewhere in the last few years I’d lost all perspective on pain tolerance.

Well, technically I didn’t meet Johnny Romano, because he’s from Texas. And because he was only in a Texas Monthly article I was reading. And because Johnny died in 2008 at the age of 10.

Johnny Romano, Katie and Rooster Cogburn--the label fits them all.

Johnny was the youngest pro skateboarder ever, a scrawny prodigy who could do tricks in the half-pipe that are meaningless to me, but were apparently accomplished enough that he humbled teenagers with vastly more experience and muscle. That is, he outskated them when he wasn’t lying in the hospital or too weak from chemotherapy to stand up on his board. Johnny was locked in a death grip with leukemia, and thanks to his skating abilities and his mom’s eloquent storytelling, he became a skating celebrity. So much so that a skateboard manufacturer put him on their pro team and put his name on a line of boards.

But mostly he became a star (Tony Hawk, the one skateboarder so famous that even I know his name, visited Johnny in the hospital) because of his grit. The kid fought the disease with the last full measure of his little-boy power, and if he could muster even a sliver of his normal strength for a day, you’d find him in a half-pipe under the Texas sun.

It was an inspiring read as I waited out an evening in the hospital with Katie. But what stopped me to the point of dropping the magazine into my lap and staring at the wall was this: The Texas Monthly writer made a point of noting how Johnny took IV needles and painful injections without a whimper. It struck me for a moment like someone had written a sentence marveling that a kid could get through a Band-Aid removal without crying.

Then I recognized it was my perspective that had gone out of center. The writer wasn’t overcrediting Johnny Romano’s toughness, which was remarkable for a little boy. I had just quit noticing how much grit my own kid has in relation to most American kids.

Toughness comes in many languages. Cowboys talk about guys with a lotta try in them or, in older days, a lotta sand. Boxers boast of being the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world. When I sat thinking about the writer noting Johnny Romano’s try, I realized that if you could extrapolate Katie’s pound-for-pound grit from her 38 pounds to the size of your average Marine, you might have a Navy Cross winner.   

A few months ago, Katie’s blood draws required me to hold her in an elaborate yoga pose while she cried and squirmed as the nurse did her work. But by the week before her surgery, Katie sat silently on my lap, looking around as the nurse slid the needle in. When it comes to starting IVs, finding Katie’s veins is like locating the source of the Nile. After a few days in the hospital, the pits of her elbows and the backs of her hands are painted with bruises from failed attempts to start a line. In most cases, the regular nurses end up paging the “transport” nurses who work on helicopters because they’re used to starting IVs under duress. Sometimes even these women, leaning over Katie in flight suits full of fancy pockets and embroidered wings, need several tries. Katie just plays with their name tags as they wiggle the needle around in search of the sweet spot.

We’ve all sat with our head in our hands, enduring that wretched passage right before throwing up. For Katie, the first year of life meant throwing up four or five times a day. As recently as this summer, every meal left her stomach in knots for about an hour afterward. That’s where you get the sand to not even whimper when your parents change bandages on a surgical incision on the back of your head twice a day, peeling medical tape off your hair every time.  

But even with spinal surgery only three weeks behind her, we’ve never seen Katie happier. She laughs at the smallest prank, usually working herself into a full-on, body-shaking belly laugh. Her eyes are brighter, her smile bigger. And all this with a rigid brace that runs from her sternum to her chin in front, and from her kidneys to the top of her head in back. It’s another thing on which we’ve lost perspective. It took me aback when someone recently spoke with a voice full of pity upon hearing that she’ll wear the brace for six months. We’re counting our blessings that it’s not a metal halo with four screws drilled into her skull.

Thinking back on Katie’s journey helps me understand my own drifting interests in recent years. I’ve generally wandered away from following high-end team sports to focus on more solitary endurance pursuits like running and climbing. I’ve lost patience for discussion of football players’ toughness in a sport they choose to play or homer color analysts screaming, “What character the young man has!” because a 20-year-old athlete runs through a tackle. Now, I find my heart with the lone guy dragging himself through the last miles of a long run on an empty piece of blacktop. I’m noticing that my heroes can’t run fast or throw far or hit hard. They don’t even win much of the time. They simply keep going after most people stop. And, with help from Johnny Romano, I’m noticing that they’re sometimes right in front of you, laughing through big neck braces.



  1. Thank you for yet another great post!! You certainly know how to put things in perspective…and I benefit from you wisdom/insights.

  2. God is obviously working through Katie in a TON of people’s lives! Even spending 4+ hours with her & Alli tonight was an encouragement beyond words we could never begin to try to express. WE were blessed with hugs and smiles and lots of belly laughs and giggles . Katie loved going through the Car Wash and giggled while Alli helped Papa give the car a”BATH!!” Also want to give three cheers for Alli—-She’s above & beyond the role of BIG SISTER! You and Teri have been given very precious gifts as parents and we thank Him also for giving us all of you.

  3. Amen, Brother….sometime we don’t even realize it when we have them right in front of us!!! And they are more couageous and stronger than we could ever hope to be!!! But God gives us these moments that we might see that!!!

  4. […] because we didn’t obsess over the end date. But mainly it’s Katie’s doing. She is, after all, the toughest person I know, and tolerated the brace with the same grit she’s showed in the face of a legion of surgeries, […]

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