By the time Monica Christ was 34, work was all-consuming. She’d spent her career as a marketing executive at some of the most storied companies in the Philadelphia region—Campbell Soup, Bristol Myers, Pfizer, and Tastykake. She was constantly traveling and working insane hours, and she was incredibly unhappy. “I had focused on my career for almost 15 years,” she says. “I didn’t spend a whole lot of time dating, to be honest. All of a sudden I’m 34, and people are getting married around me, and I was miserable.”
It was 2004, and Internet dating options were limited and also somewhat taboo, but Monica tried out Yahoo! Personals and soon met someone of interest. His name was Glen Dick, and she thought he was cute and had an interesting profile and a positive outlook on life. “I wrote him, but he never got back to me. It stung. Four months went by, and I saw him pop up again. I was annoyed that he had never gotten back to me, so I sent him sort of a snotty message. He wrote back and said, ‘I’m in a wheelchair, and I just didn’t think you’d be interested in me,’” she recalls. “It made me take a step back and think about what was important. I thought he was probably right, and I didn’t actually think I would be interested.”
They talked for a few weeks, and Monica soon learned that Glen was born and raised in Doylestown, Pa. and graduated from Temple University with a degree in landscape architecture. And she found out about the accident that changed his life forever. At 25, he spent the 4th of July weekend with his friends at Dewey Beach, Del., and one of his friends playfully pulled Glen into the water unexpectedly. Glen’s head hit the bottom, breaking his neck, a cervical spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
He spent 3 months at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, where he met other men his age with similar injuries, before returning home, facing a life confined to a wheelchair. It took time, but Glen is also adventurous and loves the outdoors, and he began to live his life without letting his paralysis define him. He learned to drive an adaptive vehicle, bought a house, and navigated new career plans, eventually becoming a teaching assistant, learning to write and even to paint using his mouth.
Despite her initial doubts about his disability, Monica and Glen continued talking, and, after a few weeks, she met him at his house in Chalfont, Pa. for a date. “I was a nervous wreck driving up there. I had this vision of people in wheelchairs. But surprisingly, I leaned over and hugged him, and we just clicked,” Monica says. “We were holding hands an hour later, and we shared a kiss at the end of the night.”
Monica began falling in love with Glen, his wheelchair and his limitations taking up far less space in her mind than she ever could have imagined. She shocked her friends by falling for Glen, but mostly, she surprised herself. “There’s no way I would ever think I would have done this. There was a guy I had dated who had ugly shoes, so I stopped dating him. I was superficial and intolerant. I was worried about money and appearances and prestige. I didn’t know who I was or what was important in life,” Monica says. “I didn’t look past his disability on purpose. It just happened. I was an overworked, stressed, corporate woman who never even had a conversation with someone in a wheelchair much less gone on a date with one. And he changed everything.”
Then There Were Three
The couple got married in 2005, a year after they met, and despite the fact that there were things she had to learn and challenges they had to face, Monica marveled at how Glen met each day with a positive outlook. At their wedding reception, Monica rode onto the dance floor on the back of Glen’s chair, and they spun to their song, Edwin McCain’s “I Could Not Ask for More.”
Monica quit her marketing job, and she learned to love the outdoors, traveling with Glen to National Parks across the country. And, despite the fact that Monica thought of herself as someone “with no maternal instincts,” the couple started talking about building a family. “[Before his injury], Glen wanted nothing but to be a great husband and father. Not only was I in love with him, but I was able to give him the chance to have that,” Monica says. “We went straight to a fertility specialist and ended up needing seven intrauterine inseminations (IUI) and three in vitro fertilizations (IVF). That was more challenging than all of the disability issues because it was a financial and emotional roller coaster. It was tough on us.”
After 2 years of navigating a dizzying maze of infertility treatments and painful disappointments, before their tenth procedure in 2009, they decided that would be their last effort to conceive a child. And that’s when Monica got pregnant with their daughter, Elaina who just turned 8.
The couple was elated, but there were still concerns to navigate. Glen expressed his reservations to the Philadelphia Inquirer last year: “I was over the moon that we were having a child. But I wondered how I was going to pull my weight. I wanted to feed her. I wanted to hold her.” He even practiced with a doll, often dropping it and adding to his worry. But when Elaina was born, Monica and Glen discovered Glen could rest the baby on a nursing pillow on his lap and use an adaptive device to feed her a bottle. When she was old enough, Glen rode Elaina all over the neighborhood in a papoose, and eventually, his chair became a vehicle that bonded the father and daughter.
In fact, it became the centerpiece of Glen’s children’s book, We Can Go Anywhere: My Adventures on Daddy’s Chair. “When Glen first wrote the book, he just did it with our daughter as something for the two of them. As she grew up, their bond grew stronger and stronger, and he wanted to give her a keepsake of that. But we started to show it to friends and neighbors, and they were inspired by it,” Monica says. “The goal has been to educate with it. It’s so good for people to have a book they can relate to. For people who navigate disabilities, there are so many books that don’t look like their family. The book says that being different is good in a lot of ways.”
While the book offers a positive image of loving father who faces a particular disability, it also offers a message of resilience that Monica says is indicative of Glen’s entire worldview. “He does a lot of meditation,” Monica says. “He is so good at separating himself as a person from his body, which is remarkable considering where he started after the accident when he felt like everything important had been taken from him.”
Now, as he talks to school students about disabilities and hones his skills as an artist using his mouth, Glen can see how far he’s come since those days. Even as a parent who once worried he’d be limited by his disability, Glen has realized his dream of being a fully active father. And Monica, who uses her marketing skills to help the Giving Angels Foundation, which provides equipment therapies for special needs children from low-income families, also marvels at how much she’s grown.
Although she looks back at her younger self as someone who never would have given Glen a chance, she’s grateful to her 34-year-old self for looking past the wheelchair and seeing the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. “Committing to Glen is not something I ever thought twice about or doubted or regretted,” she says. “To be honest, I sometimes forget that he’s even in a wheelchair.”