For many, the pause on events and future plans due to COVID-19 has been met with disappointment and frustration. But for Catherine Gac, 62, the disruption of busy, daily life and social obligations has brought opportunities to learn new things, reconnect and live life with more purpose.

Catherine Gac, and her husband, Gregory, are avid bikers. They are adapting to the COVID-19 world by forging stronger connections with nature and each other.

She has found time to pursue her photography in earnest, learn to play guitar and enjoy time with her husband, Gregory Gac, 65. She reflects on sunrises and delights in long walks among clouds of snout-nosed butterflies. 

“We forget to pause for one moment and relish it,” she said. “I think when everything kind of stopped, it gave everyone a chance to step out of that crazy, busy life that people lead and slow down and make more mindful choices about what they do with their time.” 

For Catherine Gac, finding the good in a bad situation is a skill that she learned from experience. As a self-proclaimed “constantly recovering athlete,” she is no stranger to injuries and subsequent surgeries. After years of wear and tear to her back, she found herself barely able to walk, suffering from stenosis, spondylolysis and a degenerative disc. She shuffled around with the aid of a cane and was mostly bedridden for nearly a year.

“Sometimes you think about what you’ve lost, what you can’t do, the pain. It’s very easy to get into that dark place,” she said. “But it forces you to find what is not dark. To pay attention to what is good instead of what is bad. It’s a choice.” 

Last year, she finally underwent long-overdue back surgery from UT Health Physicians’ neurosurgeon, Viktor Bartanusz, MD. The surgery was a success, and in time, she regained her ability to walk and be active once again. Her experience of loss, healing and recovery has since helped her cope with the current pandemic. She is grateful for her health and takes advantage of this time, especially with her husband. 

“Life has a way of making a long marriage new again,” she said, noting that the simple act of cutting her husband’s hair became a “pleasant bonding surprise.” They have also discovered the unassuming enjoyment of puzzles, homemade cocktail hours and long bike rides together. 

While she relishes the new-found time for learning new hobbies, she does miss being able to travel to visit her family. As a mother of four grown children, she admits that “it’s hard to stay away” and that after seven months of lock-downs and restrictions, she too is growing weary of it. However, she looks to gratitude to get through the difficult moments. 

“It doesn’t have to be big things,” she said. “It can be a beautiful piece of music or piece of chocolate. It’s finding the extraordinary in the ordinary that leads to gratitude. And the ability to pause.”