2017 Courage Ride “Honorary Dog”

I want to introduce you to a special dog. I use the word dog loosely because based off of her looks, I’m not entirely sure she’s 100% canine. Another species had to have snuck their way into her genome. I’m sure of it. Her mandible is so pronounced that she constantly has a fierce look of disapproval on her face. Yet you make the slightest eye contact with her and her ears go back so far with glee that you physically cannot resist swooping her up in your arms. Often, she will let you know when you are not giving her the constant attention and serenades of affection that she desires by crawling onto your chest and staring into your soul. She is gifted with the ability to make anyone that looks at her irresistible mug, smile. Technically her name is Maple but she’s grown accustomed to responding to all of her quirky made-up names for her, Peanut Monkey & Turkey Toes being her personal favorites. 

Now let me introduce you to Maple’s dad, Nik. Nik was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, immediately following his sophomore year at the University of Iowa. He went through the typical initial treatment of chemo, surgery, chemo for nine months putting him in remission right at the start of the Spring 2014 semester. With so much to be grateful for, Nik was enthusiastic to aggressively tackle his schoolwork, fraternity happenings and workout routine again. And he did just that. Nik took vengeance against the time, productivity and wellbeing that cancer took from him. Life was back to normal; well, as normal as your life can seem with the constant fear of the upcoming follow-up CT scan. We were facing Nik’s 1-year scan, a milestone, when our lives were turned upside down again. A small lesion was seen on his lung. After 6-weeks of “watching it” and eventually a biopsy, our worst fear came to life. Nik’s cancer was showing its abominable face again. 

Nik & I slipped into a relapse fog. I racked my brain for ways to make this situation any less gloomy, depressing and quiet. I was determined to not allow cancer to dominate our thoughts. Of course we always wanted a dog but it never seemed like a responsible time to get one. We were still in school, living on the sixth floor of a downtown apartment with a lot of uncertainty in our lives. Nik was very apprehensive about the idea of getting a dog. But after relentless persuasion, I had him on board with it. We scoured for a rescue dog that was small enough for our apartment but manly enough that Nik would feel confident promenading the Pedestrian Mall with it. That is when we found the sweetest looking three-month old rescue puppy from Frankfurt, Kentucky brought to Magnificent Mutts rescue in Elmhurst, Illinois. Nik assured me that it was only a visit, as if I didn’t see the premium dog bed he had already packed in the trunk.

Maple came home with us that night, March 23, 2014, and she was instantly the focus of our days. She was Nik’s companion while I was in class and, eventually, work. We would walk her around the Ped Mall and strangers would call her by name. Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park became a second home for us. Nik’s treatments would have their ups and downs, but Maple’s love for Nik was constant and restorative. During his eventual in-patient treatments, Maple’s visits would have the magical ability to turn the dull hospital room into a place a laughter and smiles. She even assisted him in Nik’s marriage proposal to me.

As time passed and treatments failed, Nik and I spent our most vulnerable moments with Maple by our collective side. Despite Nik’s physical deterioration, Maple was the force behind Nik’s high-pitched giggles through it all. Nik passed away May 30, 2016 in our townhome that we picked out together right next to the dog park. As Nik’s honorary pallbearer, Maple sat front row at his funeral just as he would have wanted. On the 1-year anniversary of Nik’s passing, we gathered at Thornberry Dog Park to celebrate the planting of a new tree in Nik’s memory - a maple tree. Maple is special for many reasons but my favorite is how fiercely she was loved by Nik. 

Maple will be attending her third straight Courage Ride this August. But this year, as honorary dog, she will be pulled behind in a bike trailer in honor of her dad.