For Alice Ryne, there’s no greater pleasure than hiking the woodlands, thickets and meadows surrounding her Summit County home. The Cuyahoga Falls resident relishes hitting her stride along what she calls “donkey trails” — the narrow, single-file paths that seem a million miles from civilization.
“I love hearing and feeling the crunch of leaves under my feet,” says Ryne, 80. And if brambles reach across the path like guards’ arms
ensconced in sleeves of thorns, or the ground heaves upward or drops to low muddy spots, so much the better: That, she says, is real hiking.
Who would argue with someone who’s been hitting the trail for most of her life? Few people know the more than 120 miles of trails found within Metro Parks Serving Summit County as well as Ryne does. This fall, she completed the 45th annual Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree, a challenge requiring participants to hike at least eight designated trails in 13 parks. Ryne has successfully hiked every Spree since the program began.
But this time, her accomplishment is especially remarkable: A severe leg injury and the complex surgery and physical therapy that followed sidelined her for most of last year. In happened in March, as she was leaving the senior citizens center in her hometown, following choral-group practice. The day was blustery, and freezing rain glazed the parking lot with a thin sheet of treacherous ice.
“Everyone was coming out of the building at the same time, and I heard people say, ‘Oops, oops!’ as they slipped on the ice,” recalls Ryne. “Then I fell. I checked out my arms and legs. One leg wouldn’t move. I didn’t want anyone to try to help me up because I was worried someone else would fall, too. My friends covered me with three blankets and six umbrellas, and we waited for the paramedics to arrive.”
The diagnosis was a sobering one: Ryne had broken the tibia in her left leg. Two days later, she underwent reconstructive surgery to repair the shinbone fracture. She left Akron’s St. Thomas Hospital four days later with five orthopedic screws in her leg and seven months of therapy ahead.
“The doctors told me they could fix my leg, but I was impatient,” says Ryne.
During her recuperation, the mother of 7 and grandmother of 17 kept busy, determined not to let the injury slow her down. She continued to play the piano, even though sitting on a bench was difficult because of the leg brace she wore.
“Try playing the piano sitting at an angle,” she says with a laugh.
Ryne credits goal-setting with helping her get through the ordeal. Her first one: Gain the strength needed to teach a summer Red Cross swimming course, which she’d done for 43 years. But a scheduling conflict at the pool meant that classes needed to be held in June rather than July. Regretfully, Ryne had to pass.
“I was devastated,” she recalls.
Her next objective: Be well enough to complete the Metro Parks Hiking Spree, which begins every September. Four months after her accident, Ryne accompanied one of her six daughters and a granddaughter on a trip to her local park. Although Ryne didn’t have the stamina to walk the entire footpath, she was heartened by the 200 or so steps she was able to take. It was, she says, a start.
“[I believe] that if something doesn’t work or is kind of hard, you should let it go for now, but keep trying again and again until it does work,” says Ryne. She practices what she preaches. Throughout the summer, she took short walks around her neighborhood and tended her garden.
On September 7, Ryne took hike No. 1, traversing the 1.4-mile Alder Trail at Goodyear Heights Metro Park in Akron. She finished her final two-mile hike on November 11 in New Franklin at Vanderhoof Trailhead.
“The Vanderhoof Trailhead is one of my favorites,” she says. “While I’m walking, I forget about my aches and pains, and just enjoy the trees and wildlife.”
Although Spree participants have three months to complete the hikes, Ryne finished her charted courses in only two months.
“I’m not 100 percent yet,” says Ryne, “and I’m working up to longer, more difficult hikes.
“People ask me how I got back on my feet so quickly,” she adds. “My answer is that I just love hiking so much I couldn’t give it up.”