Against all odds

Coming back from a horrific accident, Holy Trinity parishioner Linda Crosthwait will run for vocations on Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C.


by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org LENEXA — Five years ago, while training for her seventh marathon, Holy Trinity parishioner Linda Crosthwait was running through a crosswalk here that she thought was clear.

She never made it to the other side.

“A driver was making a right turn on red and didn’t see me,” she explained. “When he did turn to look at me, he had on mirrored sunglasses, and I saw my headband in the reflection. “But I was in the middle of the grill of his two-ton pickup by then.”

But that wasn’t all.

“He revved the engine and hit me out into the middle of 87th Street,” Crosthwait said.

Despite landing on her head, the runner can remember even the minut- est details of the accident.

“When I run, I pray the rosary,” said Crosthwait. “I can tell you which decade and which Hail Mary I was on when I got hit.”

But the most amazing part of Crosthwait’s story is that she’s alive to tell it. The accident resulted in upper and lower back injuries, a torn rotator cuff, torn muscles and ligaments and, most serious of all, a traumatic brain injury that left her unable to think and articulate clearly.

Crosthwait literally had to learn how to walk again. And doctors told her she would probably never run again, much less do a marathon.

Nevertheless, on Oct. 28, Crosthwait and her husband Mike will take part in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. And as a way of acknowledging God’s part in her remarkable recovery, they’ll be running to raise funds for Catholic vocations.

BIRTH OF A RUNNER

Crosthwait took up running as a young mother; it was her time to be able to get away, to pray the rosary and to clear her mind. Soon, she wasn’t content with just running; she challenged herself to compete in running events.

“I’m the type of person who likes to push myself,” she said. “I started doing 5K events and that wasn’t too tough, so I did 10Ks and from there I started half marathons and then the marathon.”

Next to motherhood and running, Crosthwait’s passion was teaching. She’d dedicated 15 years to teaching in the Catholic school system, first at St. Patrick in Kansas City, Kan., and then at Ascension in Overland Park, where she was an 8th-grade science teacher at the time of the accident.

Monsignor Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick, remembers Crosthwait as a teacher who always strove for excellence.

“I came here in 1995, and the first few years I was here, she was also,” he said. “She was a very determined and energetic teacher and mother. She was truly a leader.”

Her grit and determination would pay off in a big way when Crosthwait faced the challenges of recovery.

“I was pretty much just plucked out of what was going on in life,” she said. “For about a year I worked with a speech pathologist and numerous other doctors to get things back together.”

Crosthwait’s husband remembers the frustration they experienced as his wife worked to recover her senses and mobility. Tasks as simple as eating breakfast became a daily challenge.

“She could talk, but she couldn’t make sense of things. She had trouble organizing what she was going to do,” he said. “She would sit down for breakfast and she wouldn’t have everything she needed. She’d go in the bathroom to wash her hands and she’d turn the light off instead.”

Crosthwait did her Christmas shopping that year in a wheelchair pushed by her husband.

“She could walk, but she couldn’t walk very far,” he said. “It was a very scary time.”

NEVER SAY NEVER

Unable to return to her position at Ascension, Crosthwait gradually worked her way back into the workforce by substitute teaching. Eventually she was offered a position in the Blue Valley District as a science teacher, but even that became just a stepping stone.

She became as determined to recover her career as she was her health. Crosthwait proceeded to finish a master’s degree in administration and is now principal at Oxford Middle School in Overland Park.

And though her cognitive abilities were back to normal within a year of the accident, she could never quite grasp the meaning of “never,” said her husband, at least not as it applied to her running.

“You can’t tell her she can’t do something,” said Mike. “She’s just not going to be told that.

“She had faith in God, she had faith in herself, and she had faith in her family.”

So, with rosary in hand and with her family behind her, Crosthwait began to train to run. First a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon.

Finally, three years after her accident, in the summer of 2004, she competed in the Chicago Marathon. Crosthwait attributes her success to love of life and love of God.

“I could very well not be here right now,” she said. “And I know that.
“So every day is extra to me. Every day is like a bonus, and I want to live it to its fullest. I want to use what God has given me to the best of my ability, and that includes my heart, my brain, and my spirit and my body.”

With that philosophy in mind, Crosthwait and her husband have made a commitment to give back to God through the Marine Corps Marathon.

GIVING BACK

The Crosthwaits have joined “Run for Vocations,” a group of priests, seminarians and lay people from the Archdiocese of Washington who run the marathon as a way to pray and sacrifice in support of future priests and the church. Participants raise funds for vocations through pledge donations.

“It’s a form of stewardship,” said Msgr. Mullen of the couple’s decision. “It’s even more clear for them than for us who don’t go through a trauma, that life is a gift — and because of that, we want to give back to God in the service of others.”

Msgr. Mullen, who is co-director of seminarians for the archdiocese, said that as a good teacher and mother, Crosthwait has lived her own vocation well and appreciates in her own life God’s call and the talents that he’s given her. Because of that, she can also appreciate the church’s need for priests, Brothers and Sisters, as well as lay people.

“She sees the value of the whole pictures,” he said. “And that’s why as a married person, as a mother and a teacher, she’s also willing and committed to fostering vocations to the consecrated life. That’s really a position I think all of us in the church should have.”

Crosthwait contends that during her 15 years in Catholic education, studying the Gospels and praying daily with students, she learned the contemplative aspect of her faith. Through her close encounter with death, God has given her a unique opportunity to live her faith.

“It’s almost like God said, ‘OK, sister, you had it real easy there. Now I’m going to put you someplace where you can’t just talk the talk, but I want you to be able to walk it,’” she said. “I’m not in the Catholic schools, but I’m still able to do the best that I can to be like Jesus and set a good enough example so that others will want to follow.”

Mike Crosthwait, who says he sees Jesus in his wife on a daily basis, is one of many people trying to follow her example.

“She’s a super caring person who finds a way somehow to at least try to help with any kind of problem or anybody who asks for help,” he said. “And I strive to be like her.”

And so there may be a double meaning in the sign he’ll be wearing on his back during the Marine Corps Marathon.

“They do something that’s different from other marathons,” he said. “They have a tag that you can wear on the back of your shirt that says who you’re running for or why you’re running.

“I wrote on the back of mine: ‘I’m chasing Linda.'”

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