Less than a month after her boyfriend’s deployment to Afghanistan, a Facebook message brought junior political science major Loren Cowan news she didn’t expect to receive during a day at the mall with her mom. He was wounded.
“I literally fell to the ground and was crying,” she said. “That’s all I remember.”
Cowan met Spc. Michael Crawford in October 2011 through a friend, sophomore social work major Maelee McCalley.
“They just connected,” McCalley said. “There was something about the other that they were drawn to.”
In December, just weeks into Crawford’s deployment, a roadside bomb struck the vehicle he was traveling in, killing three, and leaving Crawford with a severe injury to his spinal cord, which threatened his mobility.
Though Cowan received word from Crawford’s father, she knew little of his condition or what could be done.
“This was all new to me, the whole Army thing.” She said. “I just didn’t know what to do.”
And while their relationship was still new, Cowan didn’t considered giving up on it, before or after the injury.
“I never knew how close we were going to get. I had barely known this boy, and then I felt like I was in this huge commitment, but never once in the entire thing did I ever feel like I was going to break up with him or leave him,” she said. “People were, like, you could have taken the easy way out and left because you’ve only known him for two months, but that never crossed my mind.”
McCalley, whose husband was deployed with Crawford, admired this mindset in her friend.
“They didn’t know each other for a terribly long amount of time, and in the Army it is common for a soldier to deploy and their significant other to leave them, but not Loren,” McCalley said. “She is a one of a kind girl.”
On New Year’s Day 2012, Crawford returned to Texas to continue the road toward recovery in San Antonio, where Cowan traveled to be by his side nearly every weekend.
Doctors had warned of potential paralysis, but even in the early days when little was known, Cowan remained hopeful.
“They never said he was going to walk or not going to walk, but I felt like he would,” she said.
Today, with the help of braces, Crawford is able to do just that in his therapy sessions.
But even with the progress, the journey has been full of many ups and downs.
“The recovery process has been just a roller coaster ride to say the very least,” he said.
“There are some weeks that I progress very quickly, and then others I do not have much improvement.”
By his side through it all, Cowan has witnessed both the victories and setbacks, and seen how difficult it has been.
“There are moments where he doesn’t want to give up, but he wishes it would go faster,” she said. “At first he was progressing really quickly, and now he’s at a point where he’s still doing what he can, but there aren’t as many improvements, so I think that’s hard for him.”
The injury may have taken its toll on Crawford physically, but in many ways, it has strengthened both his spirit and the relationship between him and Cowan.
“This recovery process has taught me to push through each and every day,” he said.
The experience has shown Cowan her boyfriend’s strength, and she believes it has even changed him for the better.
“He’s not a negative person. Through all of this, he’s had the best mindset. He’s never once wanted to stop or give up. He works his hardest, and if he’s willing to work that hard, that’s how he’s getting through it,” she said. “Some people in these situations are mad all the time at everybody, but he’s sweeter now than he was before.”
Crawford, too, has seen the best in Cowan throughout the ordeal. “Loren has gone way beyond the duties as a girlfriend,” he said. “She is someone who I can always rely on to be here for me and has really been the one that has helped me stay positive and look at the brighter things in life.”
The pair has had to endure a great deal more than most in the early stages of their relationship. However, it has forged a bond between them that is growing stronger day by day, just as Crawford does in therapy.
He said, “Through this recovery it has shown me that I really want to spend the rest of my life with Loren, and I hope someday we will get married, and I will be able to stand there waiting to watch her walk down the aisle.”