CAMANO ISLAND, Wash. -- As Ric Shallow sits down for his weekly vocal lesson, he never thought it would be so difficult. Shallow croaks through a few notes of America The Beautiful before coughing in exasperation.
“I can't do it,” he says, casting his eyes downward.
It's so frustrating because Ric's true voice is a tenor worthy of Andrea Bocelli. One his proudest moments was nailing a Bocelli piece at his eldest daughter Laura's wedding in 2007.
“I’ve always sang. Weddings, baptisms. It’s what I do,” he says.
Ric’s voice is a gift that was stolen one day last January. Ric hit black ice on his way to work and crashed into a tree. He lay in a coma for a week with a serious brain injury. He broke four ribs, his collarbone, collapsed both of his lungs and lost the sight in one eye.
Doctors said he never should've survived.
In spite of all that, Ric has made monumental strides toward recovery. He has learned to walk and write again. The one thing eludes him, however, is the thing that means the most - his voice.
“When they told me I wouldn't sing again, I wanted to curl up and die,” he says.
But he didn't. Instead, Ric resolved to find his voice.
Erik Ronning, an old friend who happens to be the Stanwood High School choir director, volunteered his services to give flight to Ric's soaring voice once again.
“I've had to learn to walk and talk all over again,” says Ric, his speech halting and breathy. “Now I'm learning how to sing all over again.”
Ric and Erik work together every week.
Progress comes slowly, but it comes.
He is planning to sing in the church choir again by fall and hopes to be crooning carols with his family this Christmas.
“I've heard him sing so many times,” says Erik. “To hear his voice recovering, I know it's incredibly meaningful to him. It’s pretty exciting.”
As his teacher speaks these words, Ric breaks down in tears. He is speechless, but not for lack of a voice. It's from a heart filled with song and overflowing with gratitude.