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Sep 05, 2023

Compassion, care and humor are keys to life-turnaround for former educator Joe Beck

They walk, side-by-side, laughing, yet focused and determined. One is a highly-motivated 88-year-old, who seven months ago could walk only with the help of a walker.

Next to him stands his physical therapist, an ever-dedicated, ultra-enthusiastic and beyond compassionate sort, who moments before was overcome with emotion – all positive – at the 88-year-old’s resolve, determination and drive.

And his sense of humor. 

The therapist loves his humor. Spend five minutes with him and you will love his humor.

Joe Beck is a DeWitt, Iowa, treasure, a retired educator, who gave 43 years to building the math, physics and computer program at the local high school. Not bad for a fella who was only going to stay a year when he arrived in 1961.

In November of 2022, Beck had just experienced four back injections to what experts believed would help him with a spinal stenosis situation. 

Disaster followed.

“Let’s just say it didn’t work,’’ Beck said, throwing a dash of humor in the middle of what became an alarming and nightmarish situation. “I walked in, got four injections and left the clinic in a wheelchair.’’

Unable to walk, Beck immediately sought help from Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Dana Trenkamp, PT, DPT, CMT/Clinic Manager, DeWitt, Iowa. The forever-upbeat and caring Trenkamp, truly lives the Rock Valley motto of: “Making Better Lives.’’

“I trusted Dana immediately,’’ Beck said on a warm summer’s morning, just moments after Trenkamp began the second of his twice-weekly therapy sessions. “I’m better because of her.’’

The two, after several minutes of back-and-forth humor, were soon in the middle of Beck walking – that’s right, walking – two lengthy laps around the indoor track at the DeWitt Fitness Center. 

On this morning, Beck walked lap one with his trusty walking sticks, then briskly strolled a second lap of the unique, banked track, on his own. Trenkamp, at Beck’s side throughout, used a safety belt only as a precautionary measure. Truth-be-told, the crisp, spry, funny and engaging Beck, managed both laps on the tricky track in remarkable fashion.

“He is determined,’’ Trenkamp said of Beck, all while holding back tears. “If you want a testament to willpower, the human spirit and what hard work and dedication is, this man is it. If you want a great example of why we do “it’’ – and all our patients are “it’’ to us – Joe is a perfect example. I/we love what we do.’’

Each therapy session Trenkamp and Beck share a bevy of exercises, all done specifically to better his balance, improve his overall strength, and win back the confidence lost from that ill-fated day seven-plus months ago. Humor, it must be noted, is always part of the equation, but there is a mindful purpose to every session and every exercise. In a moment of seriousness, Beck vows he would not be where is today – with the freedom to come and go and do as he pleases – without Trenkamp.

“I need Dana and because of Dana, I am in a great place,’’ Beck said during his track workout. “From wheelchair to this. She makes me work, she tests me on everything to see if I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing after I leave, but she is always there for me. I don’t know where I would be if not for her, but we don’t go there because we have done so many great things together.’’ 

After lap two, Trankmap and Beck paused, happy, albeit for only a moment, at the work completed. Strength and agility work would soon follow. There are smiles and more humor – always humor – and a few tears.

“He does everything we ask of him,’’ Trenkamp said of Beck, all while singing the praises of Beck’s support system, especially his wife, Carol. “He walks on his deck and he stays active. He uses the walking sticks and the walker to get from here to there, but he has worked hard to reach that point of walking on his own.’’

Beck had advanced so far that he recently vacationed in a cabin – with other family members – in Minnesota.

“Eight older adults in a place that isn’t quite modern,’’ Beck said. “That was a workout in itself. But because of Dana, I could handle it.’’

And handle whatever the future brings.

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller