Pushing past your problems

GRACE THORNTON / For the Reporter

ALABASTER – Mike Wolke has big plans and places to go. Charlotte. Germany. Even Abu Dhabi. And being paralyzed from the waist down isn’t stopping him.

“I simply address things as they come to me, as anyone else would. My dance moves aren’t going to be on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ but I love music and have never met a dance floor I didn’t like,” Wolke joked.

He meets dance floors – and life – head on. He always has.

Wolke was 29 when he lost the use of his legs in 1988. He closed a big business deal and decided to celebrate with some shrimp and a new motorcycle. He took off toward Shelby County but didn’t make it far.

A Suburban ran a stop sign, and one might think life as Wolke knew it stopped instead.

But that was in May, and six weeks later, he was driving again with the help of a hand control bar that worked the pedals.

The following January he chased whales in Maui, in February went kayak snow skiing in Breckenridge, Colo., and in March went to St. Thomas.

“I have had people ask me how do I maintain the attitude and drive that I do, and I honestly can’t say that I deserve much credit for my life beyond just living day to day with a great family and super friends,” Wolke said.

Even able-bodied people can’t do everything, he said, “so I set my goals on doing that which I could.”

And sometimes even that which technically he shouldn’t, he joked.

Over the years, being paralyzed “draws on your body’s resources a little more than is normal,” Wolke said. He has spent the last two decades in and out of the hospital for minor issues and nearly lost his life in 2005 when his spine abscessed.

He moved into Laurelton Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Alabaster, where they started aggressive therapy to get him moving again.

“It was a year before I could even sit up again,” he said, and later he broke his leg to boot.

Here’s where another of Wolke’s big goals came into play.

“I announced to the staff that I wanted to attend my 30th reunion at Montgomery Catholic High,” he said. “From that point, it was on.”

Friends from his high school class called offering to pick him up or pay for an ambulance ride to Montgomery. All kind gestures, he noted. “I have great friends – the best. But I wanted to drive there, even though my physical therapists weren’t too keen on the idea.”

And he did. When Oct. 19 rolled around, he pulled up in his Buick Sunfire convertible, with an encouraging note his physical therapists had left on his car that morning.

“They have been so good to me at Laurelton that I want to be involved in something philanthropic one day.”

One day he will, he says, after he leaves the center – he’s shooting for leaving before Christmas – and when he gets his current consulting business in high gear.

“I would love to go to Abu Dhabi to help build a computer media center there. It would be an adventure,” Wolke said. “But for now I’m working to develop just a little more limberness and capability and stamina. We’ll see what happens.”

But, he added with a smile, “God must have something in mind for me. He keeps on keeping me around.