Maybe we all have things we don’t believe are achievable. In instances like this, cerebral palsy might reek more havoc than it should. There could be different lists for different areas of someone’s life, or just one long list. In the world we live, things weren’t designed for someone with cerebral palsy challenges. It has become something accepted more and more throughout my journey through life. But, that fact doesn’t mean all has to be lost. There seem to be times where we become surprised by our abilities. Cerebral palsy can be looked upon as an opportunity. It does sound kinda weird to think of having a disability as being given an opportunity. However, it seems the opportunity to embrace the challenge and maybe more importantly trust the people around you attempting to help. Sports and the gym have always been one of the most enjoyable parts of life. They have often seemed to provide an escape from the daily challenge of my disability. Sports also leave me in surprise of how much ability people have. Watching others play sports, or train in the gym, has often left me with this list. The list of things it has seemed, there would be no way for me to accomplish.
My first experience with the inside of a weight room was in high school. Junior high had seen me make an attempt at playing sports. Trying out for the basketball team had been enlightening. The athletic ability of my peers exceeded mine, leaving me with the understanding, even with the ability to play basketball, my disability held me back. Friends of mine were both stronger and more coordinated. But, there was a position as a basketball manager for me to make an impact. It was an exciting way to remain part of athletics, even with the challenges of my disability. That basketball tryout may have been near the beginning of my list. Up until trying out for the seventh-grade team, the athletic gap between my friends and I didn’t feel too big. We would play all kinds of sports in the neighborhood, and it felt as though keeping up was relatively feasible. It also could be a tribute to my friends, who seemed to help me feel included. The high school weight room would turn out to be another eye-opening experience.
The weight room was one of the most exciting and scary places. Taking a physical education class in high school brought me into that room. When thinking of taking the class in high school, it seemed to occur to me that someday working out would be helpful. The problem was, not understanding the amount of weakness inside my body. It also didn’t seem to be clear during that time, how much of a toll cerebral palsy took on my strength. Hardly anything could be lifted in that room during my high school years. So, sticking to simply working on the guided machines was my limit. Anything involving a free-weight wasn’t going to work and that weakness seemed to shy people away from working with me as a partner. I was overmatched inside the weight room. Those days felt extremely discouraging, because my weakness compared with peers seemed so evident. The feelings were kind of scary, wondering if strength will ever be part of my body. As time went on, I found myself in and out of weight rooms. For years they felt foreign, leaving me feeling lost and alone. Looking around at other people working out, there seemed no way much of what I was seeing, would ever become possible.
After spending years working with a couple different trainers, much of those feelings have changed. Each trainer seems to have their own ideas about training clients. While moving on happens for a variety of different reasons, hopefully we improve with each move. When training began with Ian, things started changing. The list in my head of movements that seemed impossible, started coming into question. Through my years of working out, there were many exercises that seemed out of the question. It was fun to watch people perform a lift that looked way too complicated. With age, watching people in the gym no longer left me feeling depressed. It seemed I could understand cerebral palsy held me back from doing those things that seemed exciting. But, then work began with a trainer who truly believed cerebral palsy shouldn’t be holding me back. In his mind, things might take longer to achieve, but we should be able to truly strengthen the body. He began with more simple movements and kept me working diligently. Things were tedious and frustrating at times, but we kept after the process. Soon, he had me doing things on the list that I’d only seen people do. The one that always comes to mind has been the deadlift. It was always a cool looking move, but seemingly on the no-way list and over my head. However, we found it could be done, but it could also be done with more and more weight as we kept working. When our journey ended, we were deadlifting more than I could have imagined. All because of our slow, diligent hard work.
When the current trainer came along, things changed again. Bernard has been working with me about four months to this point. He has brought more knowledge about cerebral palsy than any trainer that could be imagined. Our work together has brought many different emotions, possibly due in part to his young son having cerebral palsy as well. It has felt like there becomes a little extra riding on our work together. He seemingly wants to learn about what his son’s life might be like growing up, which fills me with the ambition to work harder. Together, without putting it to words, we work on that list of things that seemed impossible. Bernard calls it pushing the boundary of what I think it means to be Pete. This week we did a plank, with my arms holding me up on a bosu ball, and my feet on a platform, maybe a foot or two off the ground. The position had me suspended off the ground in a challenging position. Getting into the position had me anxious, so I halfway jokingly remarked, “just make sure I don’t kill myself.” As my arms extended to the ball and my feet went up onto the platform, Bernard extended his arms to grab me if need be. He was ready, but it wasn’t needed, as the position was held. Then, I did it successfully again, and for a third time. When I came down from the position for the first time, I gave Bernard a high-five, which has never been done before, and I don’t usually do after an accomplishment. But, like making a twenty-foot putt to win a golf tournament, the excitement of that accomplishment could not be contained. Balancing myself like that would have never seemed possible to me, but Bernard sees things differently. So, on we will go, continuing to cross off those items on the no-way list.
There is a framed poem that hangs in my home. The poem is entitled “Don’t Quit” and it hung in my room growing up. Many times, in the gym, our work feels tedious. It can feel as though we have to do things that others aren’t required to do. Things that would be deemed too simple for someone not challenged by a disability. Bernard combines movements from physical therapy in with our training, it can leave me feeling isolated. Those are the moments when I want to give up, feeling like we are doing something that appears silly. It leaves me feeling incapable and sometimes wondering why I even try. These are the moments I think about Bernard’s son and others who battle cerebral palsy, what message would it be sending to give up, just because something that looks simple is actually hard. It keeps me pressing on because I begin to understand they need to be done in order to improve, in order to accomplish the bigger things that didn’t seem possible. And because somehow it seems to provide hope, if I can do it, then Bernard’s son can accomplish it too, and hopefully even more. We push the boundaries of cerebral palsy, so others, like Bernard’s son, have the hope to push the boundaries even further.
As for the poem that has been with me since childhood. There are two lines that have always stuck out. The first reads, “Rest if you must-but don’t you quit.” It reminds us that challenges can become overwhelming sometimes and taking a break is okay. But, after becoming rejuvenated, always come back to your challenge. The second line reads, “it’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.” That’s how the poem ends, reminding us to keep trying no matter what happens. There isn’t any way to know how many times I’ve read that poem. It has helped me continue my battle of cerebral palsy in the darkest of times. Hopefully, it can help with the challenges before you, as you read this. We seem to find our strength when things get difficult, finding an extra gear we might not have realized we had. It helps us cross items off the no-way list.
Speaking of accomplishments, one was just reached that didn’t seem possible. With this post, I’ve written at least one post per week for an entire year. For 52 weeks’ strait, something new has been written and posted to be read. Thank you so much for reading, as it has kept me going when I wanted to give up. With that, it’s time for a little break. I’m going to play some golf with one of my favorite people. Remember whatever the challenge, don’t quit. Hopefully, we’ll talk soon!