In New Castle, it is known simply as “The Miracle.” One of the most prolific basketball players in the city’s history is in a wheelchair one day, paralyzed from the waist down, and walking the next. If life is measured in steps, Joel Haler took a big step Friday. In fact, he took a lot of them. “It is good to be walking,” Haler said as he walked into the Y in New Castle. He’s been coming here every day for almost four months now, but this is the first time in all that time that he was able to walk in. “Don’t cry,” Haler told a friend. “Keep walking, I can’t help it,” Emily VanDerheride responded. It didn’t take long for people to notice a difference. “For him to one night be in a wheelchair and wake up and walk, it’s truly a miracle,” VanDerheride continued. That is also just how quickly it happened. He woke up in his dorm room at Hope College last October paralyzed. “I had lost everything. Paralyzed from the waist down. ‘Dad, I have no movement, no feeling, no nothing. You’ve got to come get me’,” he remembered. Four hospitals later, the only way he could walk was through Robotic Walking Therapy. “This past Tuesday, I was doing the Robotic walk and lasted ten minutes,” Haler said. He decided that was it. There were no answers, so for the first time he began to accept life with the inevitable, so he canceled his appointment for Thursday. As it turns out, he didn’t need it. Wednesday night, he woke up to a terrible pain. “As it continued to move up my legs, it became more and more painful and it took an hour-and-a-half to reach my hips,” Haler recalled. An hour-and-a-half later, the excruciating pain left him with an unusual feeling. “I wiggled my toes and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then I walked into my parents’ room. ‘Mom and dad, look!’,” he said proudly.
“He said something and I was like, ‘Joel! Joel! You’re walking! You’re walking!’ We jumped out of bed, embraced, cried and hugged,” Joel’s mom Karen remembered. “I burst into tears. It’s hard seeing your son not be able to walk, but he was standing there, walking,” Joel’s father Eric said, tearfully. It was Thursday, January 23, which made perfect sense to Joel. He had dreamt of a calendar that only said “J 23.” He didn’t know what to make of it until “a little boy at church, four years old, came up to me and says, you will walk on a Thursday,” Joel recalled. So the 20-year-old college student, who could only walk with the aid of a robot on Tuesday, was walking on his own on Thursday. “This is all God. I’m just being used,” he told a friend at the Y. Or being tested. He says you can’t have a testimony without a test. The rainbow that morning may mean he passed with flying colors. Eric Haler is pastor of New Covenant Worship Center in New Castle. I asked him who would be preaching this Sunday – he says Joel will be. 13wthr