World travelers and avid bikers, Greg and Ellen Braatz understand that the toughest roads can lead to the most scenic vistas, and the best way to climb a hill is one pedal at a time.
Faced with infertility following the birth of their son Alex in 1986, the Braatz’s sought medical advice from all the experts they could find. One day, following an appointment in Chicago, Ellen saw an article on the front page of the Chicago Tribune about China opening its doors to U.S. families wanting to adopt baby girls.
“You know what? We should do this,” Ellen said,
So, they did and in 1996 they brought their daughter Elizabeth home. Five years later, they went back to China and daughter Lili joined the family.
In an effort to help the girls stay connected to their roots, and to socialize with other parents of Chinese adoptees, the Braatzs formed a group they called NEW Families with Children from China.
“Ellen would meet people in the grocery store and they’d exchange phone numbers,” Greg said. “Eventually we took all those phone numbers and invited people to a potluck dinner we were hosting. We told them to invite other families who might be interested. We ended up with 30 families at that first dinner.”
The group continued to grow and, at its peak, NEW Families hosted a dinner at the PAC for more than 300.
Adventurous and artistic, the family hummed along. Alex, a gifted woodworker, graduated from college and moved to Chicago where he works as a scenic designer. Elizabeth, who began volunteering at Memorial Gardens at age 12, developed a passion for environmental protection and launched the first high school compost program in the district. Lili learned to play the harp so beautifully she and the instrument deserve their own blog some day.
Then, on Feb. 17 four years ago, Ellen suffered a massive stroke and, with her family’s support, began the long climb back to them.
She spent two months in the hospital and 12 more weeks with intensive in-home therapy, as she worked her way through physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Though Ellen still battles some residual effects from the stroke, she, Greg and their family have resumed their lives.
“Some people say you have to work hard at marriage,” Greg said. “I never felt like I had to work. It has never felt like work to me at all. Any problems we’ve had, jobs, infertility, relocation, the stroke, they just happen in life and you work through them. You take it one day at a time and you believe you’ll get through it.”
Greg and Ellen still enjoy long bike rides, Ellen just rides a modified recumbent cycle. In fact, their rides have gone so well, Greg has organized several group rides for stroke survivors and their families.
They also still travel. The two enjoyed a trip to Israel Greg calls “life altering”. They also took Lili to South Africa for an early high school graduation present.
“We do all the same stuff, we just do it differently,” Greg said. “There’s no magic in it at all. We just decide what we’re going to do and then we go do it.”