Trophy Wife

Overcomer / My wife, Nicky, has a presence. When people first meet her they see a beautiful, kind woman and don’t realize that underneath her gentleness lies the courage and strength of a Navy Seal. Her capacity to overcome and grow stronger when faced with impossible challenge sustained me and our family when I lived at Loma Linda University. Nicky developed these qualities overcoming her childhood. Once removed from her home as a freshman in high school she received a second chance. Her high school partnered her with an academic advisor Mr. Slater. He taught her to rely on her faith and her brains to not only redefine herself but also to create the life she wanted. They focused on what she could control; work, grades, and earning acceptance to college. Nicky understood she had no power to change her past but she had power to determine what she did with it. By the time I met her at USC she had developed into a force of selfless love wrapped in a core of character and strength. Nicky taught me that it is not the details of one’s suffering, sacrifice and overcoming that are important, it is what one learns from them and what one does with them that matters.

After I retired from the NFL our family made radical financial changes to ensure that we could cover the cost of my graduate school, create a new career, and keep Nicky home with our children, Sasha and Beau. To shrink our monthly nut into survival mode we morphed my Mercedes into a Toyota Corolla and sold our dream home to purchase an affordable beach cottage. Finally, we worked newspaper routes as well as odd jobs to make ends meet. Nicky decided to give me the only security she had ever known, her inheritance. This gift was given freely, but in my eyes it was the ultimate sacrifice. Her faith in me never wavered. Not only did our finances change but our roles changed also, I went from husband and provider to becoming a full time student. Nicky was no longer a traditional wife and mother, but rather lived as a single mom. Our children took on greater responsibility and sacrificed the security of having me close and available. Although our family discussed and decided my living at school was crucial, the loss of my presence in our home was very difficult for us all. Our home team grabbed any reluctance we had by the throat and threw it overboard so we could do what needed to be done. We believed we were prepared for the unexpected.

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

During my first year I juggled nine classes, tests, and struggled to maintain the grades I needed. In the fall the unexpected happened. Our son Beau was hit in the knee with a stick while playing and was injured. What Nicky thought was a swollen knee turned out to be much more serious. In one week Beau transformed from an active, athletic boy into a child barely able to stand or walk. He battled utter exhaustion along with constant pain. Beau contracted a rare childhood disease, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Our son lost his health. At first, Nicky was distressed analyzing details of his prognosis, choosing a treatment plan complicated by unknowns, and facing the possibility of deformity. Essentially, Nicky faced this alone. Her faith, not her feelings, guided her and the focus became Beau’s recovery. Nicky had no control over the circumstances but she had power over her response to them. Her childhood taught her that a mother’s choices and response to crisis will define the hope of her children. This realization shifted her focus from fear to faith. We united our home team with daily communication about all the good and bad, no secrets. Additionally, our children stepped up for each other. Sasha was selfless in her support of Beau and her humor lifted him when her love could not comfort him. Beating back the disease required weekly clinics at C.H.O.C. Hospital, six hours a week of physical therapy, swimming, and researching JRA to find answers. Dr. Christy Sandborg, Beau’s doctor, worked tirelessly until finally, after a difficult winter, Beau’s disease went into remission.

My second year was less stressful because I had gained skills to succeed and was finally confident that I could graduate. That fall, on Nicky’s daily walk in the hills with our kids and dogs, an unexpected event changed everything. While chasing the dogs down a steep hill Nicky fell. Her attempt to stand presented two dilemmas: her foot was facing backwards, a broken ankle, which was exacerbated by the fact that Nicky was a Type I diabetic. I was not home. Our children hiked home to recruit our firefighter neighbors to get Nicky down the hill and bring her to the hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital, Nicky learned she needed surgery immediately and, as they wheeled her away, I arrived. I felt sick as I explained that I could not take time off from school because I would be dropped from my program. I arranged for our neighbors to take our children and they volunteered to bring Nicky home from the hospital the next day. Guilt pounded inside me realizing, Nicky had no family, mine was unable to help, and these two facts meant Nicky had the full responsibility. Until this event, we had home team advantage. Nicky could handle most anything and operated with Navy Seal discipline in mind, body and spirit. However this seemed insurmountable.

The first week was tough. Nicky’s post surgery instructions advised her to stay in bed one month. Not possible. With courage our children jumped in to help their mom with her responsibilities. At the end of the week I returned and my kids spoke positively but their eyes betrayed them showing concern over the severity of Nicky’s injury. Thankfully, on the fifth day of the first week, Nicky’s oldest friend came by our home. After Jamie looked at Nicky she shared unapologetically, “Nicky you look horrible. You’re skinny, you’re weak, and your house is a mess: Honey, you need help.” While growing up Nicky learned never ask for help because the cost which was extracted from her was far greater than any need she had. Her past no longer had power and Nicky gratefully accepted Jaime’s help. A road map for recovery was created restoring hope on the home front.

Jaime, Nicky, and the children rolled up their sleeves creating a united front. All of us adapted and found novel methods to meet our responsibilities. Among other things, tools were invented for itching inside an extra long cast, Nicky learned to shop on crutches, walk the dogs on crutches, do errands on crutches, laundry on crutches and most impressive, run on crutches. When Jaime picked the children up from Dana Point Christian School she arrived with music blaring, top down on her mustang and while she waited in line, Jaime offered boisterous greetings of love to all who would listen. Sasha and Beau jumped into her car greeted with hugs and they sped home with a smile. Our children spent many hours waiting for their mom during her physical therapy. They completed homework and became favorites of the staff and therapists. Most impressive were their adult like choices. After Nicky’s surgery, Sasha chose to stay home rather than spend ski week with her best friend in Tehachapi. Knowing her mother would never ask her to stay home, Sasha selflessly did the right thing without being asked. Although Beau faced daunting challenge with his JRA, our man child was responsible and serious looking out for my girls when I was gone. Jaime lovingly stood in the gap working to meet any and all needs expecting nothing in return. The first time Nicky’ spoke to her doctor following surgerey he explained her ankle injury was severe. She would walk with a severe limp and not run again. Following twelve months, nine hours per week of physical therapy rehab she regained her ability to walk without a limp and was able to return to running. The home team was victorious after two very tough seasons.

To quote Friedrich Nietzsche, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” In our thirty years of marriage Nicky has lead her life with strength and honor while overcoming the impossible. Her example has proven to be contagious in our family. Nicky, Sasha, Beau, and I faced crushing circumstances which brought suffering and sacrifice. Through it all we remained united and focused on something greater than ourselves; faith, family and our dream. In the end we were stronger and better because of them.

2 Replies to Trophy Wife

  1. Mary Hicks says:

    Ohhhhh…my heart is very full after reading about both of you! I am blessed to have you in my life and look forward to getting to know you both better. The gym is not enough. We have alot in common, survival and courage are two of them.
    Faith in God is our glue.

    Love to you both!
    Mary

  2. Frank Lieberman, PhD says:

    Mental toghness, support and teamwork make things happen. Good character is apparent.

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