Triathlons forge nurse-patient bond

Patrick, however, continues to give her a hard time. "It is still not sure she will finish safely," he says.

The little things

Sunday's race in what is now called the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon will be different, too, because Harte won't be the only one running for Patrick. About 25 others will join her, all wearing T-shirts with the logo of "All In My Head," a documentary being made by filmmaker Colleen Shaw about Patrick's story.

Last year, Harte was able to raise less than $5,000 for Patrick's cause. This year, with the help of Shaw's website and running team, the amount could be significantly greater. Harte is no longer Patrick's nurse, but she remains his friend and health advocate. Colleen Stein says her son looks up to her, and she's intensely loyal to him.

"She's such an intelligent nurse, and we go to her for so many medical things," she says. "She's a very trustworthy confidante to Patrick."

Patrick remains Harte's inspiration.

"You're never too old, you're never too fat, you're never too inactive," she says. "You can always do something. That's what he said to me. 'There's so many things you can do.'"

As she has improved, so has he. His attitude in rehab is paying off. He has regained tiny movement in an arm and hand, opening the door for him to use a computer and a motorized wheelchair. He also is relearning how to swallow.

Harte says Patrick has taught her that small improvements are life-enriching. A whole world can open up for him with a computer, and her improved fitness makes her life better. Now 35 pounds lighter, she admits "no one's going to describe me as thin."

But she takes dance classes, can jump rope, walk up stairs, stand up on her pedals and -- just maybe -- shave an hour off her triathlon time.

"There's all these small steps that I really have learned to appreciate," she says. "And with my personality, telling me to be happy with small stuff is not very motivating. I like to make a big splash. I have a big body, a big personality, and this is the lesson I needed to learn and continue to learn. Those small things change the quality of your everyday life."

Patrick, meanwhile, has a friend for life. How does he describe her?

"Good," he says. "Entertaining. Trusting. She'll be here for the long haul."

And for a third triathlon.

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