Wow! My Cinderella-esque weekend is over and now I’m challenged to put into words what the whole experience means to me. I’m not sure where to begin…
I guess I should start by telling you that, yes, I am an Up With People alum! (Check out UWP in action…click here) A little known fact about me for many of you…I guess I don’t talk about it much…and it’s not because I lack an appreciation for the experience. On the contrary, I’m a very proud cast member of UWP Cast C 1986-87!!!! (proof in pics above) It’s just the opportunity to talk about one’s tour with Up With People back in the mid-80s rarely comes up in conversation! ha And maybe I’m a little gun-shy given the last time the subject came up in conversation with my friend Bob (yes, “Pastor Bob” who sometimes comments on Rudy’s Beat)…back when Bob, Rolf and I worked together in L.A. an old friend of mine met with Bob about a potential work opportunity. When I arrived at Bob’s office to pick up my friend, Bob said with great enthusiasm “Trish! Kim told me you were with Up With People. You were with Up With People? I didn’t know you traveled with Up With People?!!!”. I humbly shrugged my shoulders and began bobbing my head back and forth preparing myself for the onslaught of gushing admiration I usually encountered when people associated me with this amazing organization when Bob continued….”I HATED Up With People!!! No one can be that happy!”. I responded with a shriek of disbelief and a big, ol’ slug in his arm. Way to go, PASTOR Bob! You traumatized this happy UWP heart for over a decade! 🙂
Well, the positive, giving spirit for which Up With People is known was certainly on display this weekend in Tucson and as the back story of how this trip came to be for me and Rolf continues to unfold, it’s clear it was in play in the months leading up to the reunion as well! My cast has had a reunion every five years since we traveled..this year’s reunion hosted by the UWP Alumni Association included the casts from ’71,’76,’81,’86,’91,’96 and 2006…and although I’ve always wanted to attend, I never felt we were in a position for me to make that trip back to Tucson. When talk of our 25th reunion started to circulate on FB a year ago, once again, I regretted having to miss the event…feeling it was even more out of my reach with the “Rudy logistics” in play.
Unbeknownst to me, a fellow cast member spearheaded a committee of cast mates (thank you Jim and all!) and submitted my name for an Everyday Hero award nomination having followed our journey with Rudy from afar the past couple of years. (Jim also nominated our cast rep, John, for the “Outstanding Cast Representative” award and John also won!!! MUCH deserved John…congrats!). When I communicated my regrets about not coming, Jim quickly contacted Rolf and told him he had to get me to Tucson…and so the web of lies and deception started spinning and Rolf was a very busy boy coordinating Rudy’s nurse coverage, care and activities for the big kids and undoing any plans I had for the weekend without me finding out about anything! His efforts to keep it a secret were quite elaborate…he and his posse of deceivers went as far as to send me texts and emails to confirm plans that he already secretly canceled, Rudy’s nursing agency sent me a decoy nursing schedule at the beginning of the month as Rolf had rearranged our hours for extra coverage for the surprise weekend, etc, etc, etc. It seems everyone around me knew what was going on and NO ONE slipped and let the cat out of the bag…amazing!
All the hard work of Jim, Rolf and Cast C at large paid off because I was completely clueless when it finally came down to prepare to leave on Friday. I was instructed by a mysterious and somewhat vague letter to pack and wait for further instructions. Claiming he didn’t know what was going on, Rolf headed off for work Friday morning and told me to have fun with whatever was going on. With the help of some very sneaky friends, I arrived at the SB airport to find Rolf with his overnight bag waiting to whisk me away to Arizona! Wow!!
Needless to say, my mind was swirling with questions…who? what? where? why? HOW? And when it finally sunk in that we were heading to Tucson, my heart was all a flutter with apprehension…”It’s been 25 years! What if my cast mates don’t remember me? What will we have to talk about?” Little did I know what was ahead.
Well, my fears were quickly relieved when Rolf and I got off the plane and were greeted by one of my cast staff members, Denis, and I recognized him immediately. Denis drove us to the resort where we were greeted by 15+ cast friends in the lobby! There were lots of hugs and I could barely catch my breath…instant reconnections!! What a rush… The reconnections continued all afternoon poolside (passing much too quickly) until it was time to get ready for that evening’s banquet and program.
Of course, my cast knew about the award and Rolf even admitted to being pretty nervous before the program started but either I was so caught up in the frenzy of just being there or my castmates are all pretty cool cats because I had NO IDEA something was up. I was completely blindsided when my name was called and I was invited to the stage. With tears streaming down my face, I looked out at the hall of 700+ guests barely able to concentrate on what was being said. The presenter read a shortened version of the nomination letter below…posted for our records:
“It is strange to nominate someone for an award that celebrates them for being the person they are, but no better words describe Patricia (Trish) Wilson Geyling (86C) than “Everyday Hero!” A dedicated wife and mother, Trish’s life was forced upside down by a turn of events in 2008 which changed her world and have helped her to become an amazing inspiration.
Trish and her husband Rolf were surprised to discover in the spring of 2008 that they were pregnant with a fourth child, a boy. But the real shock came when the 27th-week ultrasound showed that their baby was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). In plain English, HLHS means that the left side of the heart is underdeveloped and non-functioning. It would take a series of three risky surgeries between birth and about 4 years of age to get the little half-heart configured to give their son a chance of survival.
Rudy was born at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital on October 1, 2008 and had his first surgery, the Norwood, when he was five days old. While optimal timelines project about a month of hospitalized recovery, Rudy battled numerous setbacks that kept him in the ICU. His battles with chylothorax (lymphatic fluid in the chest cavity), trying to breathe on his own, and process food properly saw him return to the operating room four additional times (thoracic duct ligation, pleurodesis, tracheostomy placement, Nissen fundoplication/G-tube placement). They were finally able to bring Rudy home on May 7, 2009. The doctors would have counted it a victory to have him home for six weeks; there is great amazement that he has been home for more than two years.
Trish’s courage and strength over the last years are enough to make her a hero, but she and her family have taken their pain and struggle and transformed them in ways to help so many others. In the years since Rudy’s birth, their blog Rudy’s Beat (https://rudysbeat.wordpress.com) has been a source of connection for friends and family, as well as a resource for other families dealing with children born with challenges. Together with members of their community, the entire family has participated in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, as “Team Rudy,” to raise money for heart research. Trish, an accomplished jewelry maker, designed and produces a special heart pendant (http://www.silverbytrish.com/html/pendrh.html) with proceeds supporting Camp del Corazon, a wonderful organization that provides rich camp experiences for children living with heart disease. Trish has also spearheaded the production of “Rudy Rolls” forNICU/PICU wards, offering colorful and practical tools for propping up ventilator tubes and IV lines, for physical therapy exercises, positioning trach babies for trach changes, or simply grabbing hold and snuggling.
Rolf continues his work as President of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (http://sbrm.org) dedicated to bringing physical, emotional, educational and spiritual resources to men, women and children in need, particularly those struggling with addictions. The entire Geyling family is involved in activities supporting this program as well as their spiritual home, Coast Community Church. As time allows, Trish, a talented singer and guitarist, still performs for fundraisers.
A true testament to Trish’s heroism has been the dynamic affect Trish and Rolf have had on their three older children Wilson, Max, and Olivia. Each has grown into a compassionate caregiver. At a recent school assembly that Trish and Rudy were attending (since sister Olivia was getting an award), Student Council President Max noticed that the normal applause and celebratory cheers were affecting hyper-sensitive Rudy. He can get himself so worked up that he goes into respiratory distress. Sure enough…as the first awards were handed out and the applause began, Rudy’s face turned red, the tears started to flow and his deep, panicked cries rang out loud and clear. Before Trish could gather their things to make an escape out the back door, Max approached the school administrator and asked if he could address the crowd. She quickly stood to the side and gave Max access to the mic. He then told the room full of students and faculty that his baby brother was in the audience, he pointed Rudy out, proceeded to explain that Rudy doesn’t tolerate applause and asked if everyone would use the ASL sign for “applause” instead which consists of holding your hands in the air and twisting them back and forth a couple of times. Max’s quick thinking and confidence to follow through with his instinct is just one example how Rudy’s siblings have become heroes, themselves!
In a recent blog post, Trish writes, “Not much has turned out like we thought it would, which carries its share of heartbreak. But there’s also much cause for rejoicing. The delicate little kid with the stringy curls and battle scars who fought his way home is a far cry from the happy, robust and squirmy boy we have today. His bewildered stare has turned into a smile for everyone he meets–there are times where he just seems to exude love and joy from every pore. It’s been a journey of concern and anguish, but also richness and beauty like we never imagined; and we’ve drank deeply from that these last two years.”
Trish could have sunk into despair with Rudy’s arrival, and spent her energies on self pity. Instead, she mustered the courage of an Everyday Hero, and served as an inspiration and genuine help to parents of other children with special needs. We are lucky to call Trish a castmate and friend, and to nominate her for this award which she so richly deserves.
Members of UWP Cast C 1986:
David Aurilio (California), Nicole Coppens (Belgium), John Fedynich (New Jersey), Forrest Nelson (Japan), Kendra Reid (California), Kristin Sellers Schneider (Ohio), Charlene Noel Soucy (Rhode Island), Lee Swider Wiensch (Wisconsin), and Jim Williams (New York)”
The rest of the night is somewhat of a blur…the day ended with our cast gathered in a suite sharing until the wee hours of the morning about our lives since our tour ended. With just a few hours sleep, it was time to wake up and make our way to rehearsal for the “Era Show” to be performed that evening. The casts from each year represented performed a few songs from their show. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time but the Casts of 86-87 still had IT!
And then it was over…just like that…in less than 48 hours, Rolf and I were back on the plane headed for home. There is so much for which I’m grateful in this experience…for Rolf making it possible on our end to even make the trip, for his willingness to participate in the fun and for embracing these friends of mine from so long ago. I’m so thankful for the friends here in SB that gave of their time to care so sweetly for all the kids and I’m blown away by the big kids’ ability to keep the secret, willingness to let mom and dad go away without incident and by their mature support in general . And, as for the members of Cast C, well, I’m humbled. The generosity you’ve extended to a friend you haven’t seen in 25 years is quite remarkable. Your efforts leading up to the reunion and throughout the weekend have left me feeling affirmed, loved, honored and inspired. Our cast has seen it’s share of heartache and loss in the years since we toured and sharing a bit of ourselves with each other this weekend brings a deeper awareness of hope and encouragement knowing we are not alone…we continue to carry one another in our hearts…and that is the greatest gift -as was the laughter. Oh, the laughter!! How fabulous it was to laugh! 🙂 Bless you dear friends…and thank you for EVERYTHING!
And lest you think this post is a little self-promoting on my part, let’s not forget that it all comes down to this little guy…
This weekend would not have unfolded the way it did if it weren’t for Rudy…it was a real thrill to share so much about Rudy (and family) to a community of Uppies spanning 40 years! And I sure pray I have the opportunity to introduce Rudy in person to the greatest cast ever – see you in 5 years Cast C!!!!