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On the third day (or perhaps it was the fourth), Theo Krause moved his big toe. He called it his miracle toe. That was the first sign.
On the 10th day, Theo, which is short for Theodore, which comes from the Greek Theódorus, meaning “gift of God,” was flown from St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction to Craig Hospital in Englewood. There was a jackhammer outside his room because the hospital was going through a massive renovation. Doctors wore jeans, giving off too casual of a vibe for his liking. Too many tests and introductions, he thought. Not enough actual work being done. Maybe he really never would get better.
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It was the 50th day, or some time thereabouts, after the September 17, 2013 mountain biking accident in which Theo smashed into an aspen on the Doctor Park Trail in Crested Butte, damaging his C4, C5, and C6 vertebrae, that it happened. Despite being told he’d never walk again, Theo walked out Craig’s front doors without the aid of a crutch.
People called him a miracle kid. Theo’s mother, Jorja, said once that “God heard the prayers of his people, he bent his ear, and he healed our son.” But Theo’s father, Timothy, wasn’t so sure. As the son of a Baptist preacher, Timothy was familiar with miracles: The lame man was made to walk. Lazarus was raised from the dead. “I’ve sat for many, many hours in the church pew,” Timothy says. “I’ve heard all the bible stories, all the miracle stories. [My thought is:] Why would there be a god who would pick someone out and do something spectacular for them but not the other 56 people in the hospital who also can’t walk?”
Timothy was/still is a Christian; he and Jorja, who typically live in Dallas, attended Cavalry Baptist church in Englewood while Theo was at Craig. He does believe in miracles. But there had to be something else going on there. Too many people were instrumental in Theo’s recovery for this to be exclusively God’s work. And when Timothy decided to write a book about the experience and asked Theo’s permission, Theo had given it to him on two conditions: 1) that the book wouldn’t be a hero story and 2) that they’d use it as a vehicle to thank the people who’d helped in his recovery along the way. So Timothy tracked down those helpers, starting with Farid Tabaian.
Tabaian is a second-generation immigrant. His father moved to the United States to escape the Iranian Revolution in the late ’70s, got his PhD at Northwestern University, and moved to Boulder, where he met his wife. She was a teacher at a Montessori school until she developed breast cancer while Tabaian was in college. On her last day alive, she gave him some words of advice: You’ve got to find the thing you love most in your life and live in a place you want to live. Tabaian didn’t know what or where that was, so he took a mapmaking lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. The professor inspired him so much that he decided to become a cartographer. He moved to Salida and started making beautiful waterproof trail maps that can fit in your pocket while you’re riding or hiking.
September 17, 2013, was Tabaian’s 33rd birthday. He took his mother’s advice and took the day off to head to his favorite trail: Doctor Park Trail in Crested Butte. He was the one who found Theo sprawled at the base of the tree, unable to move. Tabaian raced up the side of the ravine where he knew he could get cell service and dialed 911. Because of his profession and his expert knowledge of this specific trail, he was one of about five people in the state of Colorado, Timothy estimates, who could tell the rescue operator where exactly on the trail Theo was. Is that a miracle? A coincidence?
Or what about Maggie Ireland? She was Theo’s physical therapist during the month he was in Craig’s outpatient program. (It turned out the construction at Craig didn’t interfere with Theo’s care after all.) Ireland became a physical therapist because she was enamored with the care her brother, Patrick, was given after he was shot in the head during the Columbine High School shooting. Ireland started to volunteer at Craig on Saturdays with her mother and eventually went to college, got her physical therapist license, and came back to Craig to work full-time. Theo began to work with her during her first year there. He joked with her, ‘Why don’t you teach me an Irish jig?’ She humored him. Every time Theo went to Craig, she taught him a step—it helped improve his dexterity and strength. The lessons were no guise; Irish dance was her talent during the 2007 Miss Colorado pageant, which she won. Did that end up helping Theo become stronger more quickly? Is that a miracle if it did?
Timothy asked Dr. Kirk Clifford, who patched up Theo when he came into the emergency room in Grand Junction, what he thought, since he was the one who first called Theo a miracle kid. He said, “I think miracles happen all the time and every day. We just have to be paying attention.” Timothy liked that. He thought about it often while writing the book. He’d go to his home’s garage apartment, bring a bottle of scotch, and try to channel his inner Hemingway. “If it worked for him, it should work for me,” he says. But hours would go by and nothing would happen. He’d wish he’d paid more attention to a person’s name, what they did, what was unique about them, wished he’d questioned whether they mattered or made a difference. Sometimes, though, his wife would come out and ask if he was coming in for dinner because he’d lost track of time. “Writing is so uneven that way and that’s very disconcerting,” Timothy says. “But when you unlock a set of words that say exactly what you want to say, after a chapter you’ve written is not working, not working and then something occurs to you, those are the exhilarating moments of getting it right that you kind of live for.”
At one point, Timothy went to see the aspen that had done the damage. He wanted to be able to describe the weather and what the scenery looked like, and everyone who’d been with Theo at the scene had been too preoccupied to notice what was around them. It was September 17, 2015, the three-year anniversary of the accident. He took a photo of the tree; it was later used for the book’s cover illustration. The experience was cathartic, but Timothy didn’t realize how much until later when he wasn’t having the dream anymore. The dream was a reliving of the few seconds when Theo flew over the handlebars of his bike and through the air. He’d had it every night since the accident. It always ended before Theo hit the aspen. But since Timothy visited that spot on Doctor Park Trail where everything had happened, he hasn’t had that dream again. “Isn’t that strange?” he says. “How we deal with grief?”
It is, as Timothy discovered even more clearly when he interviewed his son for the book. After Theo was done with rehab and moved back to Vail, he’d started the emotional recovery, which was much tougher for him. He’d been a snowboard instructor at Vail, and not being able to get back on the mountain and teach after his accident had triggered a period of serious depression. “He started to talk about how he’d effectively made two columns,” Timothy says. “‘Is it better for me to live or better for me to die?’” Only when Theo realized he couldn’t put his mother through that kind of thing, and after a close friend convinced him not to make that decision, was he able to move past those suicidal thoughts. Is that the true miracle? What do you get when an accident leads to a miracle leads to an almost accident leads to a miracle? Life?
When Timothy finished Finding Theo: A Father’s True Story of Loss, Courage, and Discovery, which was released in August, his sister complained that he didn’t quote any scripture in it. That was purposeful; Timothy wanted the story to be accessible by people of any faith and people of no faith. Because this story isn’t about what the Bible says about miracles, or, even more important to note, what anyone thinks the Bible says about miracles. “I think now that a miracle is not a suspension of the natural laws of the way our world works,” Timothy says. “It’s a breakthrough in the natural laws of the way our world works, a moment where some spectacular things have happened that’s available to everyone.”
“If you fight through adversity and you seek to define your own vision, not someone else’s about who you’re going to be,” he continues, “and dedicate yourself to that and take accountability for it and find your way to the things you do best, you’ll find yourself in a place, at some moment in time, where the thing you do best will be the thing someone else needs the most. If enough people do that across space and time and geography, then something extraordinary might happen. And a lot of people would refer to that as a miracle,” says Timothy. “Maybe that’s the way the world’s supposed to work.”
Timothy and Theo Krause will be speaking and signing copies of Finding Theo at Tattered Cover at Aspen Grove in Littleton on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.