made us whole': Flower Mound girl recalled on plain a world away
By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News
LOBUCHE, Nepal –
Shannon Ardoin never walked, spoke or saw the world around her, but
her struggles taught even strangers profound lessons about life,
compassion and community.
A Texas-based group
of people with disabilities honored the Flower Mound girl and her
family’s unending devotion by erecting a stone memorial on the
glacial high plain lined with stone chortens, or pillars, built for
the fallen heroes of Mount Everest.
“It would’ve been
very easy for her parents to put her in an institution. They chose
to keep her at home,” said team leader Gary Guller of Austin. “They
recognized that her life had meaning and worth and dignity.
represents the true meaning behind Team Everest 03, from my point of
view: the freedom for anybody to live in the community of their
choice,” he said.
The group’s Tuesday
memorial service arose from a chance meeting between Shannon’s
father, Ken Ardoin, a governmental affairs director for Pfizer Inc.,
and the head of the Austin-based group sponsoring the Team Everest
03 Challenge Trek, the Coalition for Texans With Disabilities.
Dennis Borel said he was introduced to Mr. Ardoin earlier this year
and told him about the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek, now within
two days of bringing nine Americans and two Sherpas with
disabilities to the world’s highest mountain.
The group is
traveling to Everest to shake misconceptions about the
of the disabled. After they get to Everest’s base camp, Mr. Guller
and three U.S. and Canadian climbers will try to reach the
mountain’s summit. If successful, Mr. Guller would be the first
person with one arm to stand atop Everest.
Meeting with Mr.
Borel, Mr. Ardoin talked about Shannon, his youngest daughter, who
died last April at age 17 after a lifelong struggle with a brain
condition that left her unable to move, speak or communicate other
than by crying.
Shannon’s story and her family’s decision to keep her integral in
their lives, Mr. Borel arranged a meeting between the
pharmaceuticals executive and Mr. Guller. He and Mr. Guller proposed
honoring Shannon during Team Everest 03’s journey to Mount Everest.
Mr. Ardoin and his
wife, Annette, sent the group some of their daughter’s belongings: a
lacy sampler with her name cross-stitched in pink that was given to
her at her birth, and a rosary from her godmother made from pressed
rose petals and blessed by the pope.
The group carried
them up one of the most difficult stretches of the trek - a steep,
rocky hill formed by the terminal moraine of the Khumbu glacier, the
giant ice floe cascading from Everest.
At the hill’s
crest, near a chorten honoring a famed Sherpa climber who reached
the summit of Everest more than any other person and died on the
mountain in 2001, some of the group’s Sherpa guides and one of its
climbers stacked flat rocks on a high boulder.
the stones stood 4 feet high, they topped them with a center stone
and covered that with Shannon’s needlepoint sampler, her rosary and
a yellow silk kata - a ceremonial scarf given by Buddhists in the
Everest region to show respect.
Members of the
challenge trek stood silently, overlooking some of the world’s
highest peaks, as they listened to one of their members read an
essay written by Shannon’s family. Part of a memorial booklet of
poems and photos, it described her as an angel who touched all who
juniper, used in their Buddhist ceremonies, and a Sherpa lama
traveling with the group chanted Buddhist prayers.
Team members wept
as Mr. Guller closed the service with a message from Shannon’s
family in her memorial booklet.
“In her brokenness,
she made us whole. Her suffering crushed us beyond words,” Mr.
Guller read, tears streaking his cheeks. “Yet it strengthened us
beyond imagination. She taught us more than anyone else has ever
been able to do. No book, no speech, no person could convey in a
thousand words what she gave us in her silence.”
Team members said
they were particularly touched because the organization sponsoring
their trek is fighting a pitched battle to maintain state funding in
Texas to help people like Shannon live in communities.
Courage to fight
Team member Gene
Rodgers of Austin is among an estimated 62,000 people who could lose
such assistance if the Legislature approves cuts proposed for
community services for the disabled.
Mr. Rodgers, unable
to move below his neck since being paralyzed in a fall from a cliff
at 17, said the cuts would leave him without attendants who help him
to and from bed and dress and feed him daily.
Team member Mark
Ezzell of Raleigh, N.C., said such cuts are among the constant
battles facing people with disabilities.
a damned shame that we have to fight so hard to keep the things that
other people take for granted,” said Mr. Ezzell, who was born with
spina bifida and is a lobbyist for the North Carolina governor’s
“The best way we
can honor the memory of Shannon is to create more Shannons - to
create a situation where all people, regardless of ability or
disability, can live at home, with their families, in their
Mrs. Ardoin said
her family had to wait five years to get into one Texas community
assistance program and seven years for another.
She said the
programs gave nursing care and other services, easing the burden of
caring for Shannon and allowing the Ardoins and their other three
children time for things other families take for granted - things as
simple as going out together for dinner.
“I can remember
writing letters to the Legislature begging them to increase funds so
I could get on one of these programs,” she said. Such programs “made
all the difference in the world.”
Mrs. Ardoin said
her daughter attended the local high school, becoming a favorite of
the students, and was beloved by her siblings’ friends. Football
players would visit her at the family’s home the night before games
and they once presented her with a homecoming mum.
have a mission here on earth, I truly believe that,” Mrs. Ardoin
people like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “She was caught in this
body that couldn’t tell us anything other than to cry. She was a
fighter like you wouldn’t believe. I had to sense her every feeling
just through a spiritual sense.”
Mrs. Ardoin said
she was touched almost beyond words knowing that Shannon was honored
by a group such as the Team Everest 03 group in the world’s highest
loved being outdoors, Mrs. Ardoin said, so “I think she absolutely
would like that place. That’s her chance to be someplace she never
could have gone on her own,” she said. “To me, it’s just a miracle
that her things are being placed there. It’s so spiritual, Shannon
being a part of this still.” Pictures copyright Erich Schlegel / The
Dallas Morning News