Harper's Hill

Harper’s Hill

A thirteen-year-old loves sledding, but with only one leg, it’s a dream she thinks she has lost

“Where are we going, Dad?” Harper Claar asked.

Just minutes earlier, her father, Aaron Claar, had hurried 13-year-old Harper, her little sister, and her step-mom into the car. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and the sky was a brilliant blue. She wished she could somehow be zooming around on her electric skateboard. If only it were colder and snow was falling, she’d beg her dad to take them sledding. Harper smiled at the thought. She adored sledding with her dad. Since Harper could no longer walk up the hills, her dad carried her up, wanting her to enjoy the thrill of zooming down. But she knew it was a struggle for him and wondered how long he’d be able to continue.

Aaron cleared his throat and said, “We are about to attend a celebration for you. I want you to just roll with it.”

She nodded. Her dad knew she didn’t enjoy being the center of attention; she’d rather be helping other people. But she’d been rolling with unexpected events since that spring four years ago, when she’d been diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer. She’d tried to keep her spirits high, so her family wouldn’t worry so much. Hours before she was scheduled to have her leg amputated, all of them gathered around her at the hospital. She hugged each person and assured them, “It will be alright.”

But even after all that radiation and chemo, the cancer had metastasized to her heart and lungs. She couldn’t dwell on that right now, though. Her dad turned at a sign that said, Lake Olathe Park. Gravel crunched under the wheels as they entered a parking lot at the top of a hill. A group of people were clustered around, including a tall man wearing a tuxedo and a red elf hat. A tuxedo in a park?

Then she saw her mom, Genesa Stark. She must have taken off work early. Genesa stood by a sign, but it was covered over so Harper couldn’t see what it said. With her family’s help, Harper extracted herself from the car and steadied herself on her crutches. She wished she could have worn her prosthetic leg, but now wearing it hurt too much.

The man in the tuxedo came up to her, “Hello. I am an Elf.”

Before Harper could comment, another man approached. “Welcome, Harper. I am Olathe Mayor John Bacon. A couple of weeks ago, some elves contacted us regarding your love of sledding. They told us it’s easy for you to slide down, but now it’s very difficult, even with your dad helping you, to get back up the hill. So we want to solve that problem. We figure you’re not the only sledder who might need extra assistance.“

The Mayor showed her a visionary “newspaper article” dated 2046, stating that this sledding area was totally inclusive, a destination for people with disabilities. As the crowd applauded, someone took the covering off the sign. Harper grinned when she saw the official-looking yellow and black triangle-shaped sign titled “Harper’s Hill,” featuring the silhouette of a sledder.

“We hope someday to create a pulley system,” the Mayor said, “so other children with physical challenges can enjoy the sledding.”

He gave Harper a framed copy of the article and a Harper’s Hill Elves sign for her to take home. Harper was all smiles. She adored the sign and she loved envisioning a future where kids and adults like her could sled as much as they wanted, without having to ask for help. It was a perfect day. Now all she needed was snow.

Finally, on the night of February 2, big fluffy snowflakes filled the sky. The moment the flakes started falling, Harper looked at her dad with big wide eyes, an impish grin, and a little shoulder shimmy, and said one word: “Sledding.”

Aaron nodded. He’d just been called by the Chief Elf: “It’s a go. City Parks and Rec will have the roads cleared and the Elves will be sending out a Polaris to help her to the top.”

Aaron notified friends and families and they all converged to try out Harper’s Hill. So did the principal of Harper’s virtual school, who jumped on a sled and raced down the hill with Harper. So did the media. That day Harper and her hill and her joyous sled rides inspired television viewers across the country.

The Elves promise of a Polaris off-road vehicle saved the day. Harper was bundled up, but the cold was almost too much for her. Fortunately, she was able to warm up between sledding runs in the Polaris’s toasty, heated cab.

Harper and beloved family members and friends rode down that magnificent hill over and over again.

That evening, even though she was totally exhausted, Harper could barely sleep. She replayed the feelings of speed and freedom she felt when sledding. She had loved being with friends and teachers and family, not thinking about cancer, just having fun. Even more, she loved the possibility of a pulley system, that could bring her and others who needed assistance, up her hill, over and over again.

It had been a great day. And she knew there’d be many more great sledding days, not just for her, but for those who came after her.