PAINESVILLE - There is a hole in a Painesville mother's heart that will never heal.
It's been there since the day Sheila Nowacki got word her son died in the line of duty in Iraq.
But what she's done in the 12 years since, truly embodies seeing the possible.
Her journey is captured in a powerful short film that's recently been released.
One of the film's directors is Cleveland native, Ben Harper of Breakwall Media.
He and Chris Cymbalak set out to tell the story of the growth along the Cuyahoga River, but when they met Sheila Nowacki that changed.
She became their “passion project."
Nowacki who rows with The Western Reserve Rowing Association has spent 20 years rowing up and down the Cuyahoga River.
The cornerstone of the film is a letter Marine Andy "Ace" Nowacki wrote to his mom Sheila from Iraq on his second tour of duty.
An actor reads Andy’s words from one of the letters. In the film, Sheila is seen in her living room reading it.
"I know this isn’t easy for you but you are strong and every day is a new day and I'm always with you in one way or another. I’m right back there with you when you're rowing on the river."
Andy died at 24 years old.
It was a roadside bomb in Iraq, but Andy lives on through 37 full scholarship recipients.
They are, or will be, firefighters, police or EMS because of the Foundation Sheila and Denis Nowacki started in Andy's name.
Andy was also a Grand River police officer.
"They know how much Andy loved people and how much Andy wanted to help people and that's exactly what they want to do," says Nowacki.
"I call it the POWER OF ACE." Nowacki says through the smile that spreads across her face.
This mother with a hole in her heart that's never going away, setting an example for anyone who's grieving. Ace's words in that letter while he was living almost predicted how Sheila would deal with his death.
"I'm glad you have rowing. It helps keep you focused and helps you stay calm and keep moving forward."
Moving forward along the Cuyahoga River for 20 years, Sheila Nowacki has taken in firsthand how Cleveland has moved forward as well.
"So much is happening now in Cleveland particularly in the Flats and along the river. When I started to row, there was literally nothing down in the flats. Now you have all those wonderful restaurants and people at the rails waving at you. Its happened gradually over this 20 year period but its been awesome to see what it was to what it has become and there is still more that's going to happen in the future," Nowacki says.
Those are the perfect words, ironically, for how the Andy Nowacki Scholarship Foundation has grown. Expect two more scholarships in the next couple of months.
"I know he's smiling up there and every time I get into my boat, which by the way, I call the ACE. I know he's hopping in there with me and he's right with me as I roll up and down the river. He is with me, every day," says Sheila Nowacki.
Along with her husband Denis, they See The Possible even out of their greatest heartache.
The almost 40 young men and women who have careers because of them are proof.
Many of them actually call Sheila and Denis “mom” and “dad”.
Indeed, Andy "Ace" Nowacki lives on.
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