Fraser teen remembered: ‘It was Tim’s independence day’
July 7, 2009
Tim Rau couldn’t walk, but he could fly.
His entire Middle Park High School Spanish class cheered him on last month as he spread his arms and floated over a thick canopy of Costa Rican forest.
“It was the very last zipline, and Tim was the last one to come in,” said classmate Kaylee Findley, 17. “The class was standing on the platform watching him. He had the harness around his waist, flying over the valley like he was Superman.
“I’ll always remember that of Tim,” she said.
Flying, he did: Whether on a ski bike down the mountain slope, in a dog sled pulled by a racing team, in a plane soaring above the Alaskan landscape, in scuba gear off the Florida coast, on a snowmobile, on an ATV, on a raft in the Grand Canyon, or even on his electric scooter through the hallways of school.
Tim, 17, never used his disability as a crux, friends and family say.
By middle school, he was forced to shed his walker for a wheelchair, and later acquired an electric scooter through a student fundraiser called “Rims for Tim.”
Hot-rodding on a scooter was more Tim’s speed.
“He’d go cruising around in the hall with it. If you were in his way, it was your fault,” said friend Nathan Birdseye, 17, who knew Rau since age 4.
When the rare genetic imbalance disorder Ataxia-Telangiectasia, or A-T, progressed in Rau’s body to cause tremors, Birdseye began helping Rau by writing down his schoolwork.
“He never, never felt sorry for himself,” Birdseye said, recounting how at a graduation party recently Rau tipped backwards in a wheelchair after performing a wheelie.
When Birdseye approached him, Rau was laughing despite the failed stunt.
“He always had a big smile on his face,” he said.
Friend Patrick Hutchins, 17, recalled Rau’s worry of being pitied.
“He was scared to be a burden. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him.”
The teen lived with the knowledge that his illness was terminal, yet “never really brought it up,” Birdseye said. “He was a tough kid; that’s for sure.”
In a blog he kept, Rau shared how he adapted to his changing physical capabilities.
“I used to stand ski on black diamond runs until I was 10. At age 11, I moved to blue and green runs as my balance degenerated. But now I’m back on a snowbike!” he announced in a 2007 entry.
“I have a small Yamaha 200 four-wheeler that is old that Dad has added a steering dampener so my tremors don’t affect steering easily. I even give my dog Duke a ride sometimes,” he wrote in another.
“Snowmobiling is my favorite activity,” he wrote in January 2007. “The handlebars are barely affected by my tremors. I have an Arctic Cat Panther 440 snowmobile that I can dig out if I get stuck. I use the snowmobile while Mom and Dad cross country ski and our dog Duke runs.”
Tim’s ability to stay active was fueled by his own sheer determination, aided by a supportive network of friends, family and community.
His “stubbornness” he inherited from his mother Diana Lynn, a mad organizer of endless local volunteer opportunities and a tireless champion of causes in the community, including getting the word out about Tim’s disease.
At the Rau home on Monday, parents Charlie and Diana Lynn accepted the support of others as condolence calls rang through the afternoon. Waves of tears and laughter filled the kitchen. Offerings of baked goods from friends found their way to the table.
Earlier that day, the Raus had received a phone call from Tim’s doctor who diagnosed Tim when he was 10, neurologist Julie Parsons of the Children’s Hospital in Denver.
“It was the Fourth of July, it was Tim’s independence day,” Tim’s father said, finding the doctor’s words. “He’s no longer mad because he got the tremors that won’t stop. He’s not mad because he can’t get his eyes to focus. He was doing what he loved.”
Tim drowned whitewater rafting with his parents and friends on the Colorado River at Westwater Canyon in Utah on July 4. It was his fourth time rafting this summer.
“When he was sitting on that raft, rowing that raft, he didn’t look different from the other kids,” Charlie continued. “He wasn’t the one in the wheel chair. He wasn’t the one on his electric scooter at school. He wasn’t the one stumbling and falling down, or having a hard time walking.”
“That day he was ready to attack, and he wanted to attack the waves,” his mother Diana Lynn said. “That’s what he was going for, he was going for the big stuff, going for the gusto. And that’s what Tim was known for amongst his friends.”
Having the drive to succeed
The A-T caused Tim’s body to shake and his legs to weaken. Even so, Tim realized a steady hand in archery, an activity in which he’d been involved since eighth grade at the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District.
This summer, he was continuing his work as an archery instructor with stabilizers rigged to support his shooting.
And with a learner’s permit, he was beginning to drive.
Mom close by in the passenger’s seat on Graduation Day, Tim drove from his home to the school to attend the ceremony.
“He wanted to drive, to just be a normal kid,” Diana Lynn said. “We told him point blank, you may never get your license, but at least you can get your learner’s permit and you can try. And he’d gotten so good, I actually think he would have been able to get (a driver’s license).”
Tim had started an informal internship in graphic design this summer and had aspirations of continuing this career path by attending college in the future.
“He had gotten his act together,” his mother said. “He finally had it worked out in his head how he was going to do things, and he finally had confidence with how he was going to do that. He was really feeling good about everything.”
In school, Tim had earned the respect of peers and teachers.
And because of the life of Tim, a school district learned to accommodate children with disabilities, and a student body learned tolerance and acceptance.
Faculty and fellow students helped Tim fill the physical gaps to get through his school days. His parents were instrumental in seeing that Tim experienced a full life.
“He couldn’t have had better parents,” said East Grand School District Superintendent Nancy Karas, who was Tim’s principal through middle school.
“A lot of it was Tim’s parents reaching out and sharing Tim’s life with everybody else. I think a lot times people with handicap children isolate themselves, and that was never true with the Raus.”
The Raus invited the community to share in Tim’s amazing experiences, such as the time Tim rode – through the Make-A-Wish Foundation – with Jeff King in the Alaskan Iditarod during opening ceremonies. Tim cherished the photo of himself posing with King, signed by the famed dog-sledder.
“His parents had high expectations for Tim,” Karas said. “And Tim had the drive to live up to them. He truly respected his parents, and it was obvious in everything he did.”
And the Raus, she noted, never took help without returning the gesture in another way.
One example: The Raus only agreed to have the “Rims for Tim” fundraiser to buy Tim’s scooter if the fundraiser established an organization that would help all Grand County children in need. In the end, the fundraiser raised $15,000, providing seed money for a fund that endures today, called the “Grand County Children’s Fund.”
Against all odds
Within the scope of Tim’s disease, he beat the averages.
Doctors marveled at Rau’s success in growing to his fullest potential at 6 feet, 3 inches and 190 pounds. In most cases of A-T, a child stops growing at a very young age. He achieved this by eating like he was running a marathon, mother Diana said.
About one in 40,000 children are born with A-T, a disease that shares much in common with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some cancers. Those with the disease usually die in their teens or early 20s, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
From eighth grade on, Tim worked with therapists to maintain strength and agility.
His cognitive abilities remained intact, but A-T slowed the connection between brain and nerves to produce responses.
“He would take a moment and then answer, or he would take a moment and then move; he would think he was moving here and instead he was moving here,” Diana Lynn said.
But none of that slowed his drive to overcome the challenges.
“When he was growing up and we were doing things, we’d say come on Tim, you at least have to try,” Diana Lynn said. “There wasn’t anything that held him back from doing everything. Not just to be one of the other kids, but be one of the leaders of the other kids. He never stopped, there was nothing that would hold him back.”
From their son, the Raus were blessed with life lessons.
“He taught me that if you got a disease or something that is keeping you from doing what you want to do, you just have to keep fighting it, and do everything you can,” Charlie said.
“To have patience,” Diana Lynn said. “And your patience will be rewarded.
“And you never give up hope.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.