Graeme Crowther— math teacher, father, wheelchair rugby player, and soon-to-be assistant principal

By JACQUELINE COLE

Monitor Staff

Published: 06-27-2023 6:50 PM

Graeme Crowther was sitting in his wheelchair at his desk at Concord High School in front of a bright red “We Are Liverpool” flag when a student came through his always-open door for an early peek at his final math grades.

“Monday,” Crowther insisted. “We’ll talk about it in class with everybody.”

The boy respectfully accepted Crowther’s decision.

“Bye, Mr. Crowther,” he said.

“Bye! Have a good weekend,” Crowther responded.

Crowther is the top-dog math teacher at Concord High School, also serving as the department’s curriculum facilitator. Next year he’ll take on a bigger leadership role as he becomes one of the school’s assistant principals. Though this was not a stop on his original career path, a turn of events brought him to this position he now cherishes.

Crowther was born and raised with his older brother in Scotland until his family uprooted when he was 10 and moved to Laconia. He always excelled in school, graduating from Laconia High School in 1997 in the top 10% of his class.

Though his instinct told him to study math at UNH, after one semester his passion for sports told him otherwise. He switched paths to focus on kinesiology sports studies and later did post-grad work at Texas State University in the same field.

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In July 2000, Crowther married the woman he had been dating for seven years, his current wife, Cristina. They honeymooned to Jamaica for 10 days where they enjoyed river walks and the beach.

Just five weeks after returning from paradise — on August 24, 2008— his daily commute to work as a team leader at Target went awry. He flipped his car in Deerfield, leaving Crowther with a broken neck, a crushed spinal cord and zero nerve activity below it.

Crowther was paralyzed.

“We all drove over to the hospital in a state of shock, trying to figure out what happened,” said Cristina.

Crowther spent two weeks at Massachusetts General Hospital followed by a three-month-long stay at a spinal cord injury rehab facility at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Out of the 93 days he spent in the hospital, Crowther only spent one day alone.

“I kind of got to see what my funeral would be like,” he said, seeing the family who showed up for him when he couldn’t get out of bed without machinery or two or more people.

After months of inpatient and outpatient rehab, he was able to function independently enough to go home to New Hampshire.

After the accident, Crowther didn’t want to give any of the people who sat for hours in the waiting room a reason to doubt him, a mentality that would get him far.

“It’s just level of positivity that’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but it’s more of a determination positivity,” said Cristina.

Crowther went home in a power wheelchair with remote controls but decided he wanted to go through extra physical therapy to be able to use a manual chair. His level of injury deemed him a quadriplegic but not a “high-level” one, according to Cristina, so there was room to push.

Crowther knew that his career at Target was no longer sustainable, so he went to visit an old mentor, Bob Champlin, who was the assistant principal at Laconia High School when he attended.

With Champlin’s guidance and “here’s what you need to do” mentality, Crowther sent teaching applications to schools across New Hampshire and ended up getting hired right back where he started: Laconia.

“There was an immediate familiarity and comfortability,” said Crowther. “I was very lucky that that’s where I ended up starting my education career.”

Meanwhile, during his first 2½ years teaching at Laconia, having parent-teacher conferences with some of his friends from high school whose kids were now his students, he was also pursuing his master’s in education at Plymouth State. This degree would allow him to graduate from a teaching intern to a full-time licensed teacher.

Crowther’s life took another turn, this time for the better, on the day of his masters graduation. Instead of celebrating another degree, he was unable to attend due to an even bigger milestone: the birth of his daughter, Allyson.

Allyson — thoughtful, emotional and empathetic — and his son, Jackson — wild, bold and sweet — are now 10 and 8. Crowther is invested in watching his kids grow up but, as any loving father would, trying to keep them kids as long as he can.

He attends as many sports games and family excursions as possible, and the family will get creative to make sure Crowther gets to where he wants to be. “If it’s an inaccessible field, we decide how inaccessible that means,” said Cristina.

Crowther’s job allows him to invest himself in more than just his own kids, whether that be a student who is homeless or one that has not shown up to class in 30 days. Caring for children beyond his own is a balancing act.

“Realizing that I have a 10- and 8-year-old who only see joy in life right now, and making sure that that is the priority when we get home – we make a concerted effort to do that,” Crowther said.

Crowther was at the top of the math department at the high school in New Hampshire’s capital and when COVID tried to shut his life down. In true Crowther fashion, he kept pushing and enrolled in a doctorate program at Southern New Hampshire University, a degree he will continue to pursue as assistant principal next year.

Somehow, on top of his ambitious academic and career pursuits, Crowther never left sports behind. He plays adaptive sports like waterskiing, lacrosse and downhill skiing, but found his community through competitive wheelchair rugby.

“ ‘If you’re going to be a real quad, this is what you need to get used to,’ ” he recalled the team telling him on his first day of practice, taking any extra equipment and cushioning off his wheelchair.

At first he wanted no part of it. A chair-on-chair contact sport after recently breaking his neck sounded nightmare-ish to Crowther.

“Second practice, they made me get in a chair, and I’ve loved it since,” he said.

The Northeast Passage Wildcats, his rugby team, helped him through major lifestyle adjustments, one of which was travel.

Crowther’s first time traveling in his chair was to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a tournament with the team. Ever since the team taught him how to navigate an airport, he has traveled comfortably, returning home to Scotland three times since the accident.

Rugby has built a community for Crowther and also for his family. Cristina has other wives of team members to ask questions to, and the kids hop into their dad’s chair after games to wheel around as fast as they can, smashing into everything around them.

When asked about how he talks about his accident and handicap abilities with his kids, Crowther put it simply: “It’s never been a hard conversation.”

During the first few days of each school year, Crowther tells his students about his accident and the things he is still able to do. For many students, Crowther’s wheelchair was familiar, as Gene Connolly was also in a chair when he was principal at Concord High due to his battle with ALS.

“If you knew Gene, he was always one to be self-deprecating and a man with a great sense of humor, as am I,” said Crowther. “So when we were both on wheels, we had a couple of funny conversations back and forth about that.”

Since the accident, Crowther has felt unwavering support which powers him forward.

“I’m going to pursue all my goals and make sure that I don’t give anybody a reason to doubt me,” said Crowther.

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