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Keeping the Faith

Despite suffering debilitating injuries, Sister Sharon Kirk keeps up a positive outlook.
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, Sister Sharon Kirk is a member of Beaverton's Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.

In her younger days, Sister Sharon Kirk loved to move, playing everything from softball to basketball to volleyball.

These days, she only wishes she could move like that again. Over the past 10 years Sister Sharon has been through two hip replacement surgeries and suffered a broken bone near her knee; it is because of these injuries that she is no longer able to walk without assistance.

But just because getting around is now more difficult for the 67-year-old, it does not mean she has given up on ever being active again.

'It's been a long battle,' she said. 'I have faith that something is going to happen. It's got to.'

An Unfortunate Fall

Sister Sharon, a member of Beaverton's Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, has been involved in sports or physical activities for the better part of her life.

Growing up in St. Paul, Sister Sharon was immersed in the rodeo and horse worlds; she also played several sports and spent time as a member of her high school's cheerleading squad. Even after graduation she continued to participate in physical fitness, teaching PE classes and taking part in some team sporting events. In fact, it was while she was playing volleyball in 1992 that Sister Sharon broke her hip and was forced to undergo her first hip replacement surgery.

Sister Sharon said she was unhappy with the initial surgery and waited for 10 years to find someone who would correct the hip replacement. In 2002 she found a doctor who was willing to operate, but instead of replacing the whole hip he only replaced the head of it, which Sister Sharon said resulted in her right leg becoming nearly an inch longer than her left. This 'dropped foot' was also caused by nerve damage, making it so her foot dragged when she walked.

After struggling through a few years of dealing with the dropped foot, Sister Sharon suffered her most debilitating injury, a broken bone above her knee. She said she was returning from getting the newspaper from just outside her door in late 2005 when she fell and landed on her knee.

Sister Sharon went to the doctor and was put in an immobilizing cast for seven weeks. But after the cast was taken off she was still experiencing pain. When she went to a different doctor she learned the cast had been on for too long; because of this, her muscles and nerves had atrophied, causing her leg to be continually numb from her ankle to halfway up her leg.

In the hopes of reversing her leg injury, Sister Sharon started monthly physical therapy sessions at ADAPT Training in Beaverton.

Brian Cassidy, who owns ADAPT and oversees all progressions of clients, has worked with Sister Sharon for the past three workouts. He said he will also be working with her when she goes back in for her July therapy.

During his time working with her, Cassidy said he has seen her gain more strength and endurance from how hard she works to do her exercises.

'Her level of strength increase has been so dramatic,' he said.

Cassidy said that while Sister Sharon's injury is very serious and is common for people in her age group, he believes she could possibly be walking unassisted as soon as the end of the year.

The continuous flow of health issues has been a trying time for Sister Sharon, but she said she believes those who tell her she will walk again. She also knows that it is going to take some cooperation from her leg for her to get mobility back.

One of the sisters at the convent gives Sister Sharon weekly massages in an effort to get her leg back to normal, and while she said it has not really helped her leg, Sister Sharon said it has at least kept her positive.

'She says, 'I wish I could just rub sensation in you,'' Sister Sharon said. 'But it's still numb.'

Choosing The Convent

Joining the convent was not something that Sister Sharon always knew she wanted to do. During the primary years of her education she went to a Catholic school, but she did not really think about becoming a nun until sixth grade, when a teacher influenced her enough to make her consider such a life-altering decision. She said that even though the thought crossed her mind that day, it was not something she decided to follow through with until her senior year of high school.

After attending a public high school for her first three years, Sister Sharon said she was finally able to go to a Catholic school because she reminded her father that he said he would pay for her to go to a Catholic high school if she agreed not to smoke or drink.

During her freshman through junior years, she said she did 'normal' things, such as playing sports and dating; upon entering St. Mary of the Valley, however, she really became convinced that she wanted to be a nun.

Sister Sharon said it was through the example of one of her teachers, Sister Theresa Margaret, that she realized she wanted to join the order. So after graduation, she took her vows and became a nun.

Being a nun, she said, 'is a spiritual experience. It isn't just a one-sentence experience . . . It has its ups and downs. You don't just say it in one sentence.'

Once she became a member of the convent, she went on to study at Marylhurst College and the University of Portland. She then went to San Francisco University to get her degree to be a school principal.

Throughout her early 20s, Sister Sharon traveled around the Northwest, teaching or being a principal at schools everywhere from Beaverton to Tillamook. She even sometimes taught PE for some of the teachers, which she actually preferred to do.

She said her favorite place to teach was Spokane, although her preference had more to do with the town itself than with the school or students.

'I think it was because they were brand new places,' Sister Sharon said. 'I liked the weather. It was a small town, and I just liked the town.'

After giving up teaching, Sister Sharon then became a prefect at the University of Portland, working with the student athletes there. She did that up until her most recent fall left her unable to walk without either a walker or a quad cane. Now she said she just helps around in the kitchen area of the Mother house, doing such jobs as refilling the cereal containers from the storeroom and making sure the napkins are always full.

'It doesn't seem like much, but it takes an awful lot of time to do,' she said.

After all the struggles that Sister Sharon has been through, it would make sense for her to be bitter or frustrated. While she may sometimes feel that way, she said she knows all her experiences have helped her grow.

'It's made me stronger, that's for sure,' she said.