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Love on Wheels

Reprinted from PN February 2012

Real life isn't always pretty. But with someone by your side who understands your struggles and helps you overcome them, there is life after the "meet cute."

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Remember that moment? If you’ve had it, you will. Hollywood calls it the “meet cute,” the precise moment when a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that seems almost staged. (Well, in Hollywood it would be, but that’s another matter.) In reality, everyone’s meet cute is different. Some may be more amusing, ironic, and noteworthy, but each story is life-changing.

This is about two couples whose meet cutes were anything but conventional.

Katie & Corbin Beu

Corbin Beu, a wheelchair-skills instructor, helps chair users maneuver through their lives with more ease. As a T12 paraplegic for nearly 20 years after a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, he knows how difficult the transition from full to limited mobility can be.

“The public is not very well educated on these types of disabilities,” Corbin says, which can make going places a frustrating experience.

Prior to his injury, Corbin, 39, was a very active individual, serving two years in the Navy as an electronics warfare engineer and member of the search and rescue crew. He continued to be active after sustaining a spinal-cord injury (SCI) and was a member of the 1998 U.S. Paralympics sled hockey team.

Katie Milner, 29, is a neurological physical therapist at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix, specializing in SCI. Always on the lookout for new programs to help her patients rehabilitate, she attended the wheelchair-skills class conducted by the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association in 2008, where Corbin was an instructor.

Corbin and Katie’s meet cute was short and seemingly fruitless. They simply met and parted ways. A year and a half later, in summer 2009, they attended an SCI retreat together. After a short bit of time, Corbin’s charming, humorous ways won Katie over. They were married on November 11, 2011 (11-11-11), and live in Phoenix.


Corbin and Katie Beu tied the knot on November 11, 2011 (11-11-11).

Not Always Easy

 

Katie is not a wheelchair user, and her father’s voice resonated in her head. Before she started dating Corbin, she had mentioned to her dad she knew a quadriplegic who was dating an able-bodied person.

“Don’t you ever do that, because you’re going to end up taking care of that person for the rest of your life,” he had said. But she quickly silenced that voice.

“[My dad] didn’t realize that someone who has SCI can be independent and doesn’t need to be taken care of,” she says. And this is still a struggle they face today with the general public.

“In restaurants, people will ask Katie what I want to eat,” Corbin says. His frustration is that people assume because he’s in a wheelchair, his mental abilities are impaired as well. 

Through all their challenges, they’ve become stronger as a couple. The secret to their success?

“Communication,” Katie says. “We try to always lay everything out there on the table…whether we want to or not.”

Corbin has a bit of a different take on what makes their relationship work, jokingly noting the fact that “she’s taller” as one of their challenges. It seems that not taking life so seriously has helped them get through the tougher moments. That and the realization that “she’s always right,” Corbin says.

Bert & Joy Burns

On a business trip to Kansas City in 1995, Bert Burns made a routine sales call to a rehabilitation center. Joy Wetzler was there the day he came into The Rehabilitation Center of Kansas City, where she worked as a recreational therapist.

“I happened to see her working and thought, I need to go talk to her; she’s pretty. And that’s what I did,” Bert says. “I closed that deal.”

But Bert wasn’t always as confident as he seemed the day of their “meet cute.”

As an active individual all his life, Bert participated in sports and intramurals throughout high school and college. But everything changed one night in 1982 when, on his way home from work, he was hit by a drunk driver. A C6–7 low-level quadriplegic for 30 years now, early on Bert began the healing process with the support of family and friends and the realization that sports were indeed not out of the question.

To Bert, 50, sports are confidence. When he realized how much he could still do despite his limitations, it renewed his sense of self-worth. With three appearances in wheelchair racing at the Paralympics under his belt, you could say Bert has definitely gotten his groove back.

During this process, he also started his own durable medical equipment (DME) company (UroMed), which is what eventually brought Joy and him together. Only 11 months after meeting, Bert married Joy before she could figure out she didn’t want to, he jokes. That was 15 years ago.

Looking Out for Each Other

Living in Alpharetta, Ga., Bert and Joy now revolve their active lifestyles around each other and their 10-year-old twins (one boy, one girl). But what keeps them together is also something that has presented challenges in the past. As an able-bodied person, Joy, 41, has always maintained a very active lifestyle.

“[Joy] grew up in Colorado and is a good skier. First four or five years, she was better than me,” Bert says. “Now I ski down the mountain a lot faster than she does.”

While Bert maintains his independence and is able to do everything on his own, there are still things he can’t do. When they go on vacation, walks on the beach and hikes into the mountains are out of the question. But they’ve worked around any can’t-dos with can-dos. Instead, they go on cruises, hang by the pool, scuba dive and snow ski together.

Bert channels the positive energy he’s garnered through sports into his community and around the country. He spearheads Life After SCI, a program that helps other people going through the challenges of living with an SCI. He speaks at support groups about three to four times per month, encouraging others to move forward with their lives even though things are going to be quite different.

When asked what the secret to their success as a couple has been, Bert replies without hesitation:

“Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and playing to those.” The couple is always thinking about what they can do for each other that will make life easier on the other.

 “I’m a really involved dad and try to stay busy with the kids a lot and give [Joy] a lot of breaks,” he says. “We look out for each other and try to fulfill the needs of the other.” 

 

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Love on Wheels

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