Petra Verhoeven-Jordan knows the exact time she’ll stop and talk to her son Saturday at the Pikes Peak Ascent.
10:59 a.m., the time of his death.
“I know he’ll be walking in front of me,” Petra says of her son Gian-Luc. “I know he’ll be going ‘come on mom, let’s go, you can do this.’”
On Aug. 13, 2011, Gian-Luc was found in his room with a belt lassoed around the side of the top-bunk bed and his neck. The pressure of the belt had forced the life out of him. His father, Henry, who had come to get him for his baseball game, frantically gave him CPR before a pulse returned and from Penrose-St. Francis a helicopter took him to Memorial Children’s Hospital downtown.
It’s called the “choking game,” and five days later it took the 12-year-old’s life, Petra said.
“This isn’t an anniversary you want to remember,” said Petra who was with one of her other kids the morning of Aug. 13. (Aug. 18 is the date of Gian-Luc’s death and this year’s Ascent.) “But anything I can do to be closer to him on this day and spread awareness is good.”
The choking game is a way some teens try to get high “without the risk of getting caught with alcohol or drugs,” Petra writes on her awareness website LucaStrong.com.
Thousands of kids die and suffer permanent brain damage each year — and while Saturday will be therapeutic for her, Petra is hoping she can help others as well.
“Me and my two friends will be wearing ‘Luca Strong Shirts,’ as we walk up that hill,” she quickly explains. “I hope that people will see us and come ask about it so we can prevent this from ever happening again.”
Petra says she’ll never be the same — there is a hole in her heart that will never be filled.
“People ask me if ‘I’m better?’” she says as her voice cracks.
“How am I supposed to answer that?”
She spends her days caring for her two youngest children while she works on the side. She then blogs, tries to spread “TCG” awareness and often cries. At night, she sleeplessly rolls around before going on a run in some of her darkest hours.
But while her three kids and husband choose not to talk about it often, Petra does anything but.
“It’s tough,” Petra says. “Everyone mourns different. I just like talking about him because I like to think if he was here, that’s what we’d be doing.”
On the second Friday this month, Petra answered a phone call from one of her friends. And even though this was the same Friday as a year ago when Petra last saw her son before being hospitalized, this call was only to hammer out the details of the Ascent.
“Check the bottom of your email, there are some good pointers for the race,” Petra was saying.
Then she heard a click.
“Hi this is Luca — leave a message.”
Petra quickly pulled her ear from the phone. Somehow, on her smartphone, her cheek had pushed past the main screen, pulled up the address book and dialed her son’s number out of 240 others.
“It all made sense to me then,” Petra said. “He is here telling me that he’s OK.”
And Saturday, when Petra walks up 7,815 vertical feet on the 13.32-mile course, making sure she’s OK too will be Gian-Luc.