Casanova deals with setbacks with characteristic good grace
On the day two and a half years ago when Tony Casanova learned he had multiple sclerosis, everything took on new meaning.
“My life changed 420 percent,” he said.
Since then life has grown difficult, to say the least. His speech is impaired. His hands and legs shake. His memory is failing.
Despite the new direction his life has taken, Casanova is still a man full of life and happy to be alive.
This day he appears in a natty tweed jacket over a loud Hawaiian shirt. His curly hair is pulled back in a ponytail. His smile is broad, his laugh strong. He smiles and laughs often, and as he speaks he shapes the story with his hands.
He’s also something of a local celebrity. Last week he was named the Glenwood Spring MS Fighter of the Year to highlight the annual MS Walk that will take place Saturday, May 18, at 9:30 a.m. beginning at the Grizzly Creek Rest Area.
Casanova, like many in the valley, came here for the skiing. Fresh out of Northwestern University Dental School in 1979, he practiced for a few years in Colorado Springs, then moved with wife Leslie to Glenwood.
Casanova decided to become a dentist because it was safer than being a ski racer.
“I was a downhill racer and during a race I had a scary fall. I thought to myself, if I keep doing this I’m going to kill myself,” he said.
Active in outdoor sports, Casanova first had an inkling of his disease in the 25-mile Fall Color Classic foot race in Glenwood in the mid-1990s.
“The first 23 or 24 miles went really well. For the last two miles I couldn’t stay out of the left-hand ditch. I went through the finish line and I was shooting for the right upright and almost hit the left one,” he said.
But it didn’t occur to him that he might have a serious physical problem.
“I thought I was getting old,” he said.
Now he’s had to put away for the most part thoughts of leading an active life.
“I used to be a marathon runner. Now I get tired going to the refrigerator,” he said.
He fights depression every day.
“It’s such a sneaky thing. It just bushwhacks me,” he said.
Life dealt Casanova two more blows two and a half years ago. He and his wife of 26 years divorced and his partner in the dental practice left.
When he became too debilitated to continue, giving up his dental practice, surprisingly, “was not too hard. Dentistry is a hard business. I think I was definitely ready to get out of it. But I do miss the people,” he said.
Living with MS “is an interesting situation. It teaches you a heck of a lot about yourself. When you’re young there are no limits. I could run forever. The MS teaches you how to really appreciate things,” he said.
Casanova has a big circle of friends and family who support him. He is still close to his ex-wife, and dearly loves his two sons, James, 28, and Adam, 24.
James, who lives in Boulder, “has taken over the Daddy position, and I am the child. I feel very well cared for,” he said.
There is also one thing in Casanova’s life that has been an anchor through his devastating illness.
A ski patroller at Sunlight Mountain Resort for 21 years, he’s been able to continue that work despite his disabilities.
“Being a ski patroller at Sunlight has given me the will to do things, to survive, to continue on,” he said.
In the last couple of years as the disease has progressed, his friends – Casanova calls them his family – on the ski patrol have found ways to keep him involved.
“I don’t do regular ski patrol things,” he said. Although he skis with difficulty, he now teaches would-be ski patrollers how to handle the toboggan used to haul injured skiers down the mountain.
“When I see a light turn on in somebody, it gives me such a rush,” he said. “If I didn’t have ski patrol, I would have dried up and blown away … It’s really a good family situation for a guy like me who needs a family.”
Casanova was recently honored by the National Ski Patrol with a National Number given to outstanding members not for their skiing ability but for consistently helping others.
His number is 9,506, which signifies the consecutive number of awards given since the award was established in the 1940, he said. He wears the small numbered plaque on his ski hat.
“It tells people who know this person has been involved in ski patrol for three million years,” he laughed.
It means much to Casanova that he can continue with a part of his life that he values the most.
“In the worlds I have lived in, dentistry and ski patrol, ski patrol has been the one I honored most,” he said. “Winter is when I am alive. In the summer I try hard to be active, but I don’t have any energy.”
For Casanova, the future holds promise instead of fear.
“I have a feeling of greatness, of richness,” he said. “I feel I have not got a bad form of the disease. I still can walk around. People who have it bad I really feel sorry for because they can’t do things. To them go most of the accolades and honor. They are the true heroes.”
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