It’s been 60 years almost to the day when a 12-year-old Darlys Every woke up early one morning with flu-like symptoms.
By the end of that fateful day, Every would never walk again. For four months he wouldn’t be able to breathe without the help of an iron lung machine and would spend a year and three months in rehabilitation, trying to regain the use of his muscles, at the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis.
It was Sept. 4, 1952. Every was stricken with polio during the height of the polio epidemic.
He was an active kid and enjoyed playing sports at Lowell Elementary School before he contracted polio. Baseball was his first love, followed closely by basketball and football. But he was never able to play sports again.
The 72-year-old Brainerd insurance agent did not let this devastating diagnosis get in the way of living his life. But it has spurred a passion within him to help children with special needs play sports.
“I think everyone thinks, ‘Why me?,’ explained Every. “But you’ve got to get over that.”
Every’s father, who worked at the Burlington Northern shops, salvaged an old coach train seat at work and installed it in his boat so Every could go out fishing with him. His parents worked hard to make sure he got out and was as active as he could be in his wheelchair. He spent his senior year at Sister Kenny undergoing bone and muscle transplants and rehabilitation, but was allowed to graduate with the Class of 1959 at Brainerd High School.
Every graduated from Brainerd Junior College in 1961 and married his wife, Sandra, in 1962. She had been a student at St. Cloud State University when she noticed a photograph of her future husband in one of her friend’s dorm rooms and wanted to know who he was. The two began writing to one another and she couldn’t wait to meet him. They went on a triple date one day and the rest was history. On June 2, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
“Darlys was sitting in the car in a green and white sweater with brown eyes and red hair,” Sandra Every said with a smile, recalling their first date. She was immediately smitten “I said, ‘Oh, let me in.’”
“It’s amazing how much trouble that sweater has gotten me into,” Darlys added, laughing.
Sandra is now in a wheelchair, too. With the help of patient care assistants, they live independently on South Sixth Street in their home that doubles as Every’s American Family Insurance office. He’s been with American Family since 1968. They also spend a lot of time at their cabin on South Long Lake.
Every is an active member of Brainerd Sports Boosters and rarely misses a BHS or Central Lakes College basketball game or BHS football games.
His cousin and one of his closest friends, Clem Maust, picks him up and drives him to the games. When Every returned to Brainerd from the Sister Kenny Institute as a child, Maust would drive him to and from school everyday, too. They are like brothers, Every said of Maust.
Last year Every and Maust were honored by the CLC Raiders basketball team for being their biggest fans and given lifetime passes to the games. Every was thrilled. He also loves watching the Minnesota Twins games.
“I love sports,” said Every. “That was my dream, to be a professional baseball player but I never made it. If I can’t play, at least I can watch them.”
Every’s current dream is to get a handicapped accessible field built at Bane Park in Brainerd for the Miracle League of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that provides kids with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. It would be the 10th Miracle League in the state. The Big Wiff Wiffle Ball Tournament was held Aug. 18 at Mills Field to raise funds for the organization. Every himself sponsored three of the wiffle ball teams. The field is being built with no taxpayer funds. Every said organizers still need about $65,000 of the $140,000 cost to build the field, made of crushed rubber over asphalt.
The Harmon Killebrew Foundation donated $60,000 for the Brainerd field. Killebrew was one of Every’s favorite players. He cherishes a photograph he had taken with Killebrew back in 2009 before the Twins baseball legend passed away.
Every recently won a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for raising the most funds for all the Big Wiff tournaments held at all 10 locations throughout the state. He raised $2,900, which will be used to build the Miracle League at Bane Park.
Last week Every traveled to St. Cloud to watch a Miracle League baseball tournament played by children ages 3-19 with special needs. It was an amazing thing to experience, said Every.
“Whatever I can do to help, I will do,” Every said. “I can relate to these kids. They need stuff to do, too.”
Every has fished for the past two years with Fishing Has No Boundaries, something he enjoys.
Peggy Kates, who has worked as one of the Everys’ PCAs for the past four years, said he inspires her.
“He never gives up. He’s on the go constantly,” Kates said of Every. “And he’s always positive. He doesn’t let anything get him down.”
Every is looking forward to his trip to Cooperstown. For someone who loves the game, Cooperstown is his version of DisneyWorld. It’s a dream come true he never expected since he was raising money to help children, not to earn a trip.
“I’d really like to see this go,” Every said of the Miracle League in Brainerd. “It would benefit a lot of kids.”
To learn more about the Miracle League, visit www.miracleleaguemn.com .
Donations may be made out to the Miracle League and dropped off at Every’s insurance office or sent to Brainerd Parks and Recreation, c/o Tony Sailer, 1619 N.E. Washington St., Brainerd, MN 56401.