Just beyond the abandoned train tracks under the Casco Bay Bridge in South Portland, John Krasowski stood up from his wheelchair and began his journey across the bridge.

While traversing the nearly milelong span is not too strenuous for most, for Krasowski it takes about 90 minutes, one short painful step at a time. He has great difficulty walking after suffering a series of medical problems dating to the 1990s, including a heart attack and stroke, and being run over by a vehicle in his Portland neighborhood.

To Krasowski, conquering the Casco Bay Bridge has a deeper meaning.

The first step for Krasowski is climbing up a long and winding ramp leading to the bridge, which has a protected pedestrian walkway.

Holding onto a railing, he put one foot in front of the other, shuffling with a noticeable limp and crooked posture.

He moved slowly – leaning to the right – but speed was not the point. Walking the bridge is his goal.

Stephanie Arroyo hands John Krasowski water before he starts his weekly regimen of walking across the Casco Bay Bridge. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It was a nearly picture-perfect Maine July morning – temperatures in the 70s with the sun interrupted only by a few puffs of thin clouds.

Once he made it onto the bridge itself, the wind picked up, but Krasowski kept going.

Stephanie Arroyo, his new friend from Alabama, followed behind pushing his empty wheelchair. They met online at a meditation/spiritualism group. Arroyo, 39, who had always wanted to visit Maine, drove from Alabama to help Krasowski for a few weeks while she was between jobs.

The bridge is a personal quest for Krasowski, 65, who a year ago could not walk more than 10-20 feet in his Portland home. He has been in varying stages of mobility since 1992, when at age 38 he had a heart attack and a stroke. In 2003, he was walking in Portland when he was hit by a car that ran over his legs. Some years he almost exclusively uses a wheelchair; other times, like this summer, he improves and can be more mobile.

“The bridge is my therapy,” Krasowski said, quietly, wearing a black shirt and shorts. He tucked in his left arm while walking, a lasting effect of the stroke. “The sheer experience of being outside, out of my wheelchair here on the bridge is very helpful. It helps build my muscles and build my confidence. There’s nothing like it.”

He wears a work glove on his right hand to prevent chafing on his hand from holding onto the railings. In June, it took 2½ hours to cross the bridge, and now he’s down to about 90 minutes.

He hiked past the South Portland oil tanks and reached the city of Portland sign, before walking downhill toward the working waterfront, the Eimskip shipping containers in view off his right-hand side. Working and pleasure boats traveled Casco Bay, but no cruise ships or barges went by.

He stopped only twice, sitting for a couple minutes in his wheelchair to drink and gather strength, the Portland skyline in front of him.

John Krasowski of Portland uses the railing to steady himself as he walks up the ramp to the Casco Bay Bridge with Stephanie Arroyo, who moved to Maine from Alabama to help Krasowski. Krasowski has used a wheelchair since 1992 and the railing on the Casco Bay Bridge makes it a perfect place to help him practice walking and regain his strength. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Krasowski said he’s had some dark times where he wasn’t as motivated, but now he feels rejuvenated. It took him years to recover from his heart attack and stroke, and at that time he also used the Casco Bay Bridge for therapy.

“I was told I would never walk again. I refused to agree with that diagnosis. I’m stubborn, that’s my only explanation,” said Krasowski, who formerly owned a property services company. “I don’t want to sit still.”

The pedestrian-car accident in 2003 reversed his gains, Krasowski said, and he spent a lot of time at home immobile.

“I was set back all the way to the beginning. It took me a long time before I said to myself, ‘I did this before, let’s do it again,’ ” said Krasowski, who is divorced with two adult children. He said it had been at least 15 years, if not longer, since he last walked the bridge before trying it again a few weeks ago.

Krasowski said he can’t explain what made him want to try the bridge again after more than a decade away. One day this year, he thought about it and decided to do it.

In the wintertime, he uses a cane and walks at the Maine Mall, but Krasowski said because the bridge is not flat, it does a better job of strengthening his muscles.

During good weather and if he can get a consistent ride, Krasowski walks the Casco Bay Bridge three or  four times per week.

Arroyo said she has learned to go slow while helping Krasowski, and she will push him in his wheelchair partway across the bridge, on the way back.

“He has really improved from a few weeks ago. I hope I have as much fight in me as him when I’m 65,” said Arroyo, who has also helped Krasowski walk on different surfaces, such as at the beach.

Nancy Kostovick, Krasowski’s physical therapist, said he has come a long way since she started working with him, and it’s impressive that he can now walk the Casco Bay Bridge.

“When I first met John, he was what I would consider homebound, not interacting with the community,” Kostovick said. “He could move a few feet, room to room.”

Kostovick said Krasowski’s physical problems are complicated, and he needs help with flexibility, balance and strength, but it’s also a psychological battle.

“He did a lot of work with meditation and goal-setting,” Kostovick said. “This is really complex work.”

Physical therapy is not an unlimited benefit under Medicare or private insurance, and Krasowski already has used up his permitted therapy for 2019 under Medicare.

Kostovick said her patient’s move from a single-family home to Ashton Gardens, a senior community with a flat walking trail, exercise classes and meals, in addition to other amenities, means the physical therapy is considered less necessary by Medicare. But it also means that it’s a place that, when he’s home, is better for his mobility.

“In a perfect world, John would benefit from PT five days a week, but with him having access to group exercise classes, that’s not likely to be approved by Medicare,” Kostovick said. “We have to justify what we do (to Medicare), that’s the bottom line.”

Krasowski wishes Medicare would pay for more physical therapy, but his major issue is he needs transportation to the Casco Bay Bridge, which Medicare will not arrange or pay for.

But he’s persevering, with the help of others, like Arroyo.

“I don’t want to get all into this spiritual stuff, sounding like I’m crazy bananas, but she was meant to be here,” Krasowski said, of Arroyo. “It means everything to me, the world to me.”

Arroyo is heading back to Alabama soon, and while he appreciates her help, he needs a long-term solution to get to the Casco Bay Bridge. Krasowski said he’s determined to find one.

“I’m not going to die in a wheelchair. I’m going to die moving. I’m going to die on my feet,” Krasowski said.


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