I met him last week on his 43rd birthday.
However, as fate would have it, Trent Newsome turned out to be the real present.
That's not just me talking. Newsome's hard-to-ignore positive attitude is unquestionably contagious.
You see it reflected on the faces and in the voices of all the folks he encounters at the upscale Lifestyles Fitness Center at Akron General Medical Center's Health & Wellness Center-West in the Montrose area.
Newsome is such a popular physical therapy client there that everyone seemed to know it was his birthday and made it a point to wish him well.
In fact, the Akron man is the just-what-the-doctor-ordered emotional therapy for so many.
Newsome was working as a chef at a local restaurant on Dec. 22, 1999, when the unimaginable occurred: a refrigerator fell on him, he said.
The injury to his spine was so severe that he lay in a coma for the next four years.
''I spent most of that time at [Akron] City Hospital and Edwin Shaw [Rehab],'' Newsome noted.
Then one day — Dec. 23, 2003 — he miraculously awoke, to the most unsettling news he could ever imagine.
He learned not only that he was paralyzed from the neck down, and that was the way it was always going to be, but also that his father — Willie J. Newsome, the longtime head chef at Akron's famous Diamond Grille — had died in 2000.
Newsome believes his father — who had not been ill — became depressed about his youngest son's situation and died of a broken heart.
He still has trouble putting into words just how much both revelations affected his life. But he knew he couldn't be forever sandbagged by the depression.
''I was told I would never move,'' the slightly built man recalled matter-of-factly.
Grueling work ahead
Yet Newsome, who also underwent two major operations, refused to accept that as gospel. He prepared his mind for the grueling work that lay ahead.
His goal? To prove everyone wrong.
He's done that and more.
Newsome has been a physical therapy client at Lifestyles since September. ''When he first arrived at Lifestyles, he could barely lift his legs out of the wheelchair,'' said physical therapist assistant Lori Shutt.
But ''no'' just isn't in Newsome's vocabulary.
He allowed himself to really be put through the paces, first on the new step machine.
Newsome credits several of the physical therapists for getting him where he is today, especially Stacy Koutrodimos, who helped him regain the strength in his hands.
''He's always been up for trying new things. His drive has always been impressive. Not only to me as his physical therapist, but also to the other patients,'' Shutt said, marveling at his progress. ''They all really love him.''
Newsome has been able to build up enough strength in his body that he's now able to rotate on and off several of the exercise machines: shoulder and leg press, stationary bike and elliptical among them.
Asked which is his favorite piece of equipment, Newsome flashed a big smile. ''They're all my favorites!'' he said. ''I gotta use them all to keep my muscles going.''
Newsome carefully twists and maneuvers his way out of the wheelchair and onto the equipment.
He's the quintessential portrait of hope and triumph against all odds that we all need to intersect our lives from time to time.
Trent Newsome won't allow life to mug him into surrender.
Streak of independence
Likewise, he refuses traditional help at the fitness center or at his apartment.
''I have to do it myself,'' Newsome firmly but politely says.
''I also refuse to have a nurse's aide. . . . I don't even use a remote-control wheelchair.''
It would just be too easy to keep depending on it, Newsome reasoned. So he insists on going it alone.
''I'm here five days a week — 8 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.] each day,'' Newsome said at the fitness center.
The workout is actually three hours.
''I come in an hour early just to talk to my fellas,'' he added, pointing to a posse of men of all ages huddled in a corner.
''You gotta have some laughter, too!''
Newsome arrives courtesy of a Speedy Car van.
He doesn't have the money to buy trendy workout clothes or sneakers. But he doesn't let that stop him.
About his insatiable desire to exercise five days a week, Newsome sums it up very simply: ''I gotta have it! There are a lot of things I gotta do.''
At the top of his list is being able to spend quality time with his 12-year-old son, Trent Jr., who lives with his mother in Columbus.
Currently, father and son keep in touch via the telephone and computer webcam.
A determined man
Newsome said he's in constant prayer for God to give him the strength to keep going. ''Once he sees my determination, he gives me the strength I need,'' he said.
''One thing about this is you have to want it, really want it. Otherwise, you're just playing and wasting these people's time.
''I do want it. . . . I had it in my mind that I was going to walk on my birthday.
''And I did,'' he said, a smile taking over his face. ''I didn't walk like you or other folks do. But I walked. I just can't stand up too long yet and I can't do the turns.
''But it's coming!''
No one who knows him doubts that for one moment.
''He's the real deal,'' a white-haired man said, swiftly disappearing into another room.
It's precisely that can-do attitude that propels Newsome's success.
''Being in a coma for that long, he had major atrophy. His muscles lost a lot of tone,'' Shutt said. ''So, he's come a long way.
''I've seen him go from the wheelchair to a walker to a quad cane,'' Shutt said. ''That was a great day. And an emotional one, just seeing the difference. . . . It's the reason I do my job.''
Shutt works with clients with various physical abilities, including a number with cerebral palsy.
Ezekiel Thornton, a recent intern at Lifestyles who dropped by to wish Newsome a happy birthday, agrees: ''He truly is impressive. What he's been able to accomplish. And he motivates others just by being himself.
''He's always saying how much he wants to walk again. He certainly gives it his full effort.''
Newsome said, ''I drink Ensure, take a lot of protein and eat chicken to give me the energy I need to build my muscles.''
He has graduated from physical therapy and is a Lifestyles member. And he's setting a new goal.
''I want to be out of this wheelchair in two months,'' Newsome announced.
''If anyone can do it, Trent can,'' Shutt said, giving her irrepressible client her vote of confidence.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.