Merrily he rolls along, an inspiration on wheels

NEIGHBORS

June 20, 2000|By NANCY GALLANT | NANCY GALLANT,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EVERY WEEKDAY morning, just as my husband steps out of the shower, a Metrobus rumbles past our house. "There goes Glenn," says my husband each time, "What an inspiration."

Glenn Harwood is indeed an inspiration to hundreds of area commuters who make the daily trek from Crofton to Washington. He faces the same traffic, the same weather problems, the same Metro trains and the same crowds of jostling, impatient commuters that thousands of other area workers do.

Harwood is a procurement analyst with the federal government's Small Business Administration, where for 10 years he has been a program manager. He takes on the stresses of big-city commuting with optimism and determination, all the while negotiating these challenges from his wheelchair.

The Crofton resident had always enjoyed an active life. He served with the Coast Guard Reserve until retiring with the rank of commander. An active member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish in Bowie, he was the church's senior warden and sang in the choir for about 25 years. He was an avid golfer, proud of his 14 handicap. He loved bicycling, logging 1,000 miles a year. Woodworking was another favorite hobby.

And he loves people. Several people report that Harwood is always interested in meeting new people, telling stories and sharing a smile.

About 10 years ago, Harwood noticed that he was more fatigued than usual and he sometimes stumbled. As these symptoms continued to grow, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The prognosis was not good.

Over the years, his condition became more severe. He moved from using a cane to crutches to his motorized wheelchair. He is no longer able to speak but communicates through a voice synthesizer, his computer, his writing and his facial expressions.

Though an optimist, Harwood is a realist. ALS is a progressive and fatal disease. There is no cure. But Harwood made a choice. In his words, "Play the cards that are dealt." He decided to live the years he has to their fullest.

His job was one of his first challenges. Trained as a computer systems analyst, he continues his professional work developing computerized administrative systems, such as budget controls and personnel conference management applications for use on desktop PCs. He may not be able to vocalize, but, in his words, "Just tell me what you want and I can make the computer hum your tune."

Still, getting to work in Washington is a problem even for an able-bodied person. The challenges facing Harwood seemed insurmountable.

Fortunately, says Harwood, the Americans with Disabilities Act is molding the social conscience of our country, and because of the changes it introduced, many services are available that enable people with disabilities to carry on productive lives.

After the bus drops him at the New Carrolton station, Harwood takes the elevator, catches the train and travels to the city. All goes well unless, as sometimes happens, an elevator breaks down. In that case, he goes on to another station with a working elevator, then takes a shuttle to his intended stop or rolls down the street in his wheelchair.

How does he do it? Partly, he is a very determined, very positive person. Partly, he says, "I have found people are marvelous."

A 12-hour workday is enough to keep anyone busy, but Harwood's life is full with far more than his job. He is still active in his church, attending services every week.

He enjoys listening to music, especially classical and jazz, and watching sports on television. And he enjoys his computer time at home, writing e-mails, surfing the Internet and preparing "Can't Walk or Talk But Can Always Laugh," a weekly compilation of humor gleaned from various sources on the Internet that he distributes through e-mail.

Harwood is also involved in support of research into a cure for ALS. He is executive board vice president of the Maryland Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which helps sponsor the research. Last year, he and his wife, Fran, took part in the nationally televised Jerry Lewis Telethon.

He also raises funds, asking that people donate to MDA/ALS research. Donations to support research for a cure for ALS can be sent to:

Jerry Lewis Telethon

MDA

8501 LaSalle Road #211

Baltimore, MD 21286

The Harwoods have faced challenges that would bring down lesser spirits. But they know they have also been fortunate. Fran says, "We consider our lives blessed. We are so glad to have this time."

They also cherish the love of their grown children, Elizabeth and Jay, and have welcomed a new member to their family, their 2-month old grandson, Adam.

So, tomorrow morning, when the Metrobus rolls by on Crofton Parkway, we'll wave Godspeed to Glenn Harwood. Thanks for helping us look at life in a clearer, stronger, more positive way.

Cycling races, bike rodeo

Piney Orchard Marketplace will be the site of the Piney Orchard Cycling Grand Prix on Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m., rain or shine.

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