Paul Grugan of Hudson, a retired Manchester police officer who has multiple sclerosis, is pictured at the summit of one of the many peaks he's conquered. He plans to travel to California next month, where he and his wife, JoAnn, will complete a fundraising climb up Mount Whitney. They are hoping to raise $5,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (COURTESY)
Seated in their Hudson kitchen, JoAnn and Paul Grugan pore over a photo book depicting their many mountain climbs. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)
HUDSON -- With 27 years of marriage under their belts, Paul and JoAnn Grugan share a love of hiking, dogs and the great outdoors.
Those passions haven't changed since Paul Grugan, a retired Manchester police officer, received a devastating diagnosis. Maybe that's because he doesn't have to face his battle alone.
Like their frequent mountain excursions, multiple sclerosis has been an uphill battle for the Hudson couple, complete with peaks, plateaus and some moments of impeccable beauty.
"We know what this disease can do," JoAnn Grugan said. "But at the same time, we're all about getting out there and enjoying our life."
The Grugans' ordeal began in May 2000, when Paul detected numbness on the side of his face when he was shaving.
Growing increasingly concerned after the numbness spread to his hairline, the father of two made a visit to the family doctor, who ordered a series of tests.
Grugan believed the cause of his numbness to be a simple spider bite, but an MRI revealed white spots on his brain indicating something else: multiple sclerosis. Six months later, after he began suffering double vision, doctors confirmed the diagnosis.
Initially floored by thoughts of the future, the couple ultimately opted instead to look for a silver lining.
"Yeah, we got a bad deal, but then you remember: There's always another way," JoAnn Grugan said. "Always."
During a conversation after Paul's diagnosis, the Grugans began thinking about the future.
"We'd talked about going to Ireland," JoAnn said.
Paul's response was, "I can do that when I'm in a wheelchair."
"It was one of those things," his wife added. "You just can't talk about 'someday' anymore."
So the couple immediately embarked on something they'd long contemplated: a 21-mile trek across the White Mountains, known as the Presidential Traverse.
"We stayed in huts on the route and really experienced the wonder of hiking above the tree line," Paul Grugan said.
Tan and fit from his frequent hikes, Grugan and his wife are now proud and practicing members of the Four Thousand Footer Club, having conquered all 48 of the Granite State's highest peaks.
Formed in 1957 by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Four Thousand Footer list was introduced to encourage climbers to explore some of the lesser-known trails in the White Mountains.
Flipping through a handmade photo album detailing their many climbs, the Grugans share memories collected like rare seashells: each one irreplaceable and unique.
There was the frigid winter morning when they'd slept outdoors on a mountaintop and proceeded to trace footprints left by a bear in the March snowfall. Then there was the time when they waded barefoot through a half-frozen river, one of their four hound dogs plodding along beside them.
These days, the Grugans are planning their next adventure to benefit a cause that's become near and dear.
On Sept. 3, they'll travel to California to hike Mount Whitney, which boasts the highest summit in the lower 48 states. Their mission: to raise funds for and awareness of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"We'll be traveling 50 miles over seven days, passing through three national parks and sleeping in a tent," Grugan said. "And why? Because I still can."
Entering August, the Grugans had raised more than $1,000. They hoped to raise at least $4,000 more.
While there's no cure for MS, Paul Grugan said he's responded well to his current medications. He feels pretty well for the most part, he said, though he does experience some pain in his feet due to neuropathy.
He's no longer comfortable driving the motorcycle he rode during his police days, and running has become too painful to continue. But the feeling he gets from being atop a mountain soothes his every excruciating step, Grugan said.
"You have to stay thankful for the things you can still do," he added.
For more information about the Multiple Sclerosis Society, go to www.nationalmssociety.org. To sponsor the Grugans on their upcoming hike, click the "Donate" tab, then the link under "Pledge" and then type in "Paul Grugan" and select New Hampshire.