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AUGUST 18, 1997

Features

Woodinville Firefighter is married to his work

  By Deborah Bender
   Most people get married in a church or temple. Trusting that the weather will cooperate, some plan a garden wedding. Woodinville Fire Fighter Greg Ahearn and his wife Miriam picked a more creative spot- Camp Waskowitz, at the Muscular Dystrophy Association's (MDA) annual summer camp, where Greg volunteers as a unit leader, and Miriam works as the head nurse. Volunteering at MDA's week long summer camp has become a family tradition for the Ahearns, one that includes both of Miriam's daughters, 14 year-old Kristin and 11 year-old Lainey.
  
   It all began back in 1989 when Greg, now a lieutenant in the Woodinville Fire Department, heard about the camp at a Fire Fighter Union Meeting where an MDA representative spoke about volunteer opportunities.
  
   Ahearn explained his decision to volunteer. "At the time I was single person who just happened to have a vacation during camp time, so I said, "Sounds like fun!" and that's how it all started, nine years ago."
   At the time, Greg and Miriam were strictly friends. Miriam worked as an emergency room nurse at Evergreen Hospital and saw Greg whenever he brought injury cases into the ER.
  
   In 1992, MDA summer camp was in need of a nurse. With all the campers battling different forms of degenerative muscle disease, a nurse was a crucial need that summer. The friendship between the two soon blossomed into romance.
  
   "When Miriam came up to camp that first year, she fell in love with it just as much as I did." Explained Greg Ahearn. "It was the basis for our relationship, coming up and spending that week together."
   Even before he asked Miriam to marry him, he went to camp director Rosemary Owens, to see if it would be all right to have the wedding at MDA camp. The answer was yes.
  
   On the last day of camp in 1994, Greg and Miriam exchanged wedding vows down by the riverside at Waskowitz. Nearly all the campers came down to wish them the best in their new life together. "I still think about it (the wedding) a lot," said Greg.
  
   Aside from the obvious sentimental value of camp (the Ahearns' anniversary always falls during that week of MDA camp) the couple volunteers out of a sense of commitment to the children.
  
   "The kids here are wonderful," said Greg. "You develop relationships with them that are really long lasting."
  
   Greg has spent the last nine years watching camper, Terry Dizzard, grow up at the MDA camp. Assigned to Dizzard's cabin every year, Greg has formed a close friendship with him that goes beyond the week of camp.
  
   Dizzard acknowledged the importance of Greg Ahearn's commitment to camp. "It's great to have people like him donate their time and efforts to this cause," he said.
  
   At MDA camp, each counselor is assigned to work one-on-one with a child who has the neuromuscular disease. All of these children have limited mobility, and many use wheelchairs, requiring a great deal of assistance from their counselors.
  
   "It's a 24 hour a day commitment, being a unit leader, having to monitor the other counselors in the cabin," explained Greg Ahearn. "As you enter the fourth or fifth day you've been awake for a significant amount of time; it gets really tiring."
  
   Miriam Ahearn agreed that camp is a tiring experience. " Having enough energy to get through the week is probably the hardest thing cause its pretty much non-stop; in the ER you're only responsible for a shift then you can go home, but here it's 24 hours a day."
  
   Miriam has felt very comfortable in her role as a camp nurse. She oversees the campers' general care, making sure that they have their medicine and trying to identify and halt problems before they start. "Every year we've had something serious happen," said Miriam. "But everything always turns out all right."
  
   After a hectic week of camp, the Ahearns unwind at home doing basic household chores. "When camp's over, we do laundry," laughed Miriam. "With four of us here, there's always a ton of laundry to do."
  
   Even when camp is over, the Ahearns continue working to make life easier for people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities.
  
   In 1995, Greg started a wheelchair transportation company called Pacific Cabulance. He wanted to make a difference in an industry he saw as unresponsive to the needs of its clients.
  
   "Our goal was to raise the standard in the wheelchair transportation industry, and we've seen alot of change in the other companies, out of necessity to survive," explained Greg.
  
   With his wife Miriam, Greg has devoted hours of his time to people with special needs. "The last two years of my life have been divided between my wife, the fire department, the wheelchair transportation company, and summer camp," said Greg. You could say he's married to his work.