Cerebral Palsy, Florida Gators, thoughts

Where Gators Live

It’s beginning to feel real.

Earlier today, I moved into my dorm at the University of Florida. As I sat looking around at the tubs and boxes strewn about the room, I began to envision my freshman year. Watching football games at the Swamp on Saturdays. Going to volleyball games on Friday nights. Meeting new people, making new friends, and creating memories I’ll ultimately carry with me for the rest of my life.

My dorm highlights one of the things that makes UF special: its accommodations for those with disabilities. The dorms on my floor are completely handicapped accessible. All of my furniture will be adjusted so I can reach it, a tablet controls the lighting, thermostat, and shades, the bathroom is open and comes equipped with grab bars, and there’s a lift in the ceiling I can use to move around the entire room independently. Initially, I thought the lift would carry me, but I found out today that it would allow me to walk without using my walker. Two pieces sit snugly on my sides, lifting me up and easing the weight off my feet, thus allowing me to move freely. Now, instead of having to ask someone to get me a drink, I can get it on my own. The device will provide me with a sense of independence I’ve never had before, and who knows what that will enable me to do in the future?

Also in my dorm are two “bang bars”: vertical bars that perform the same function as the round handicapped buttons often seen outside stores and other public places. These, however, are more sensitive- all it takes is a tap of my pinkie and the door swings open. They’re everywhere- there’s one for my bathroom door and the door to the hall, one outside my room that I can use to get in, and they’re even inside the elevators. There’s one bar for each floor, and a bar that will open the elevator from the outside. Opening doors has always been a challenge for me. Doing so takes all my strength and effort, and even then, I still need assistance. But with these bang bars, I can go wherever I want to go with a tap of a finger. They may seem simple to someone just walking by, but they give me a special gift: freedom.

Dorms like mine must be everywhere, right? Wrong. UF is the only school in the southeast with this type of complex; the next closest is in Indiana (where it is entirely too cold). Several schools I toured weren’t options for me because they didn’t have the accommodations I needed to be able to go away to school on my own. Someone who knew this asked me once, “So if you weren’t going to Florida, where would you go?” And that’s the thing: I wouldn’t be able to go. I would be stuck at home, taking classes online. I’ve said this before: the effects of my disability are purely physical. It doesn’t affect my intelligence, and quite frankly, I think it’s sad that Florida is the only school with these kinds of accommodations. It’s the twenty-first century. An accessible university shouldn’t be a needle in a haystack. It should be as common as handicapped spaces in a parking lot.

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Cerebral Palsy, Florida Gators, My Writing, thoughts

Either

She asked me

If I was going to wear my wristband in Gainesville

I said,

“Yes I am. They can deal with it.”

I may bleed orange and blue,

But it’s not the only university with a special place in my heart.

He’s a part of my life,

And I have no intention of hiding it.

You see, it brings a bigger issue to the forefront:

UF accepted me.

All of me.

My fears,

My hopes,

My scars,

My dreams.

And they made me realize something:

People either accept me,

Or they don’t.

They either understand that I have a passion for sports,

Or they’re not true friends.

They either handle the fact that I use a walker,

Or they’re not people I want to be around.

They either accept that my cerebral palsy has built me into who I am

Or they don’t deserve a place in my life.

Florida Gators, Sports

More Than Just A Game

This morning, prior to Oklahoma’s Rose Bowl matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs, ESPN’s College Game Day aired a segment on Oklahoma QB’s Baker Mayfield’s relationship with Mackenzie Asher, an eleven year old battling cancer. As I watched the way he interacted with her and heard the love in his voice as he talked about her, I was reminded of what it is that makes sports so special: the way they allow people to connect with others and make a difference in the lives of so many. Tragically, Mackenzie passed away recently, and when he heard the news, Mayfield reached out to her family and told them he would be at her funeral. I love what he said there: “I’ve been able to meet a lot of special people, but I’ve never fallen for someone as fast as I fell for her…. we’re going to dedicate the rest of our season to Mackenzie.” The segment made me view him differently, and it made me fall in love with sports all over again.

I couldn’t help but think of times in my own life when sports have encouraged me and helped create relationships in my life that I’m beyond grateful for. While I was in the hospital, the University of Florida’s volleyball team was playing in the NCAA tournament. I watched every game on a laptop, and for the duration of the match, I forgot where I was. At a time when nothing felt normal, cheering on our volleyball team made me feel like myself. Because while I may not be watching where I normally did, my love for our team hadn’t changed. They were a source of encouragement and strength, because as I went through rehab, I kept thinking about how hard they had worked to get where they were. They were my motivation. But more than that, I’ve met a few of our players and coaches, and they’re all incredibly kind and amazing people. If I was ever having a rough day, I would think back to the time I spent with them, and I would have the strength and encouragement to keep going.

Florida’s volleyball team exemplifies what’s so amazing and special about sports: they give people a platform to leave a mark in the lives of others that can never be erased.

Florida Gators

Tennessee: A Chance at Redemption

Nine first downs.

Three turnovers.

Seventeen points.

And perhaps the most telling statistic, eleven rushing yards.

Yes. You read that right. The Gators only had eleven rushing yards total against Michigan.

I’ve refrained from blogging about Florida’s opening game until now because quite frankly, I’d rather pretend it never happened.

We heard from Coach McElwain all offseason long that the offensive line was the strength of the team. More than once, he said the “Florida speed” was back. I have one question: Where was it?

Because from what I saw, our offensive line is far from the strongest unit on our team. Who knows? Maybe that Florida speed is back, but our running backs never had a chance to do anything because Michigan’s defense was right there as soon as they got the ball.

I know I’m being really critical and slightly harsh here. If you’re a frequent reader, you know I love my Gators to death. I feel terrible for writing about Florida this way. But… this is getting ridiculous. We haven’t had a solid offense in about eight years, and McElwain was hired because he’s an offensive guy. He was supposed to be able to come in and fix this mess. I understand it’s going to take some time, and we’ve been dealt a tough hand with the injuries and suspensions we’ve had since he began his tenure. But it’s been three years, and we still have a less than stellar offense. Something’s wrong, and I have a feeling if McElwain doesn’t fix it and fix it fast, his time in Gainesville may come to an end sooner than he would like to think.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that out, let’s get to some positives, shall we?

Here’s What We Know.

  1. Felipe Franks has potential. He went five of nine for seventy five yards, including a thirty-four yard bomb to Josh Hammond on the opening drive. Could he have been better? Of course. But it was his first collegiate start. I chalked things like the fumble where he dropped the ball up to that, and honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered if Tim Tebow was under center with the way our offensive line played. From what I’ve seen of Kyle Trask and Malik Ziare, I think Franks is our best option moving forward, and I think as he plays more and gains more experience, he’ll become a lot better.
  2. Our defense is the backbone of the team. They carried us through that game. No, they weren’t perfect. Yes, they have work to do, but let’s be real here: if Duke Dawson and CJ Henderson hadn’t snagged a pair of pick sixes, the score would have been a lot more lop-sided and a lot uglier. They played pretty well, especially when you consider how young of a unit they are. And they’re only going to get better.
  3. We have the entire season ahead of us. That game was far from pretty, but I think we all need to keep in mind that it was only the first time those guys have played together. Like Franks, they’ll get better as they play together and gain experience. One game does not make our season, and I think we’ll see improvement with each passing week.

That being said…

We have questions to answer if we want to beat Tennessee tomorrow and go on to win the SEC East for a third year in a row.

How can we protect Franks and give him an opportunity to throw?

What can we do to get the ground game going?

What would our offense look like if Doug Nussmier opened it up and play-called more aggressively?

How can the defense continue to grow?

What can we do to begin righting the ship and take home a win tomorrow?

And perhaps the thing every Florida fan wants to know: What will we look like when we get the nine suspended players back?

We can beat Tennessee tomorrow. I truly believe that. We just have to come together, eliminate as many mistakes as possible, play smart, and be aggressive. We have the talent and makings of a successful season, and that success starts at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon. We need to take home a win, get a little confidence back, redeem ourselves, and maybe, gain a little respect.

That’s what tomorrow is: a chance for redemption.

All stats taken from floridagators.com and Scott Carter’s Twitter.

Florida Gators

#EverythingSchool

I recently got a Twitter account (my handle is @Robyn_1513, in case you were wondering 😉) and one of the reasons I got it was so that I could better keep up with Florida sports. To be honest, I’m on there entirely too much, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that a common hashtag in Tweets about UF is #EverythingSchool, because of our success in multiple sports. This past weekend reaffirmed that.

The weekend kicked off-literally-with our women’s soccer team defeating top ranked Stanford 3-2. Minutes after the match ended, Florida’s volleyball team began a set with Texas, who was also ranked number one. While I wasn’t able to catch the soccer game, I did watch the volleyball match, and let me tell you, those girls looked fantastic.

They didn’t play as if it was the second game in the season at all. They moved about the court with confidence and trust in one another, and they fed off the electric energy from the 7,523 people packed in the newly-renovated O’Dome. The bond between the girls was evident from the beginning, and it didn’t take long to see that the 2017 Florida volleyball team is a force to be reckoned with.

We took the first set 25-16, going on a 10-3 score run towards the end to secure the victory. The second set was a little closer- the final score was 25-23. By the end of the second set, Rhamat Alhassan had racked up six kills, while Rachael Kramer was responsible for five. One of the things I was most amazed and impressed by was how high they could jump- Alhassan’s highest vertical at the time was 30.5 inches. Much higher than I could ever jump.

We headed into a fourth set after dropping the third 25-18, and while it too was tight, there was no way our girls were going home with a loss. Somehow, despite the fact that they’d been playing for over an hour, they came onto the court with the same fire they’d started the night out with. Carli Snyder also played a key role in the win- not only was her hitting solid, but by the time the match ended, she’d served a team-high six aces. She’s developed so much since she was a freshman, and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow into being not only an incredible player, but into a leader, too.

One of my favorite things that night was seeing the pure joy and excitement on the girls’ faces after we won. They’ve worked so hard practicing and preparing for the season, and to see them overflowing with happiness made my night. I’ve met a few of the girls and one of our assistant coaches, and I can tell you that they’re even better people than they are athletes. They made me feel welcome and showed me so much kindness, and I can’t wait to go down to Gainesville in October and cheer them on in person.

Florida Gators

Callaway Out for Season Opener

Late in the afternoon on August 13th, Florida head coach Jim McElwain announced that seven Gators will be sidelined for Florida's season opener against Michigan, most notably junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway.

Last season, he started eleven games for the Gators and became the first Florida player since 1996 to score a rushing, receiving, punt return, passing, and kick off return touchdown. He's obviously talented, but lately it seems more talk has been about his life off the field than on, most recently his involvement with credit card fraud. Perhaps it was this latest incident, the news of which broke yesterday, that led McElwain to suspend him.

What It Means
A daunting task just became a little more daunting. However, on a more positive note, it gives other guys a chance to step up and shine. With Callaway out, another wide receiver has the chance to gain valuable experience, show Coach Mac-and all of Gator Nation-what he's made of and how he can play, something that will only make him-and the entire team-better in the long run.

My Thoughts
I think this was the right decision. This suspension shows Callaway that there are consequences to your actions, an important and invaluable lesson. Obviously, we want to leave Arlington with a win under our belt, but what's more important is helping him learn from his mistakes and grow as an individual. Winning is important, but it isn't everything. I think we also need to remember that Antonio Callaway is one guy, and one guy does not make a team. Yes, losing him hurts, but we have other playmakers and other stars who will carry his weight and (hopefully) lead us to a win.

What are your thoughts on Callaway's suspension? How do you think this will affect us?

Note- The six other players suspended are James Houston, Kadeem Telfort, Keivonnis Davis, Jourdan Smith, Ventrell Miller, and Richard Desir-Jones.

All stats taken from FloridaGators.com

Faith, Florida Gators, thoughts

Blind Faith

Since I was six years old, it's been my dream to go to the University of Florida. I've always wanted to live in Gainesville-my favorite place on this planet- and truly be able to say, "I'm a Gator." But now that the time has come to start applying to schools, I'm not sure if I even want to submit an application.

You see, despite the fact that I've taken the ACT twice and the SAT once, my score isn't that great. It's not terrible, but it's not amazing, either. And since I made my first B last semester, my unweighted GPA is no longer a 4.0. Knowing that the chances of my getting into UF are slim, I haven't looked up when their application is due or what all they want in it. I don't want to get my hopes up just to have them shot down.

I want to make something clear: I'm not afraid to fail. That's not it at all. I don't want to set myself up for heartbreak. Because if I apply and then I find a letter in my mailbox that says, "Thank you for applying. However, we unfortunately cannot accept you at this time" my heart will shatter. I'll be crushed. If that happens, that means I'll have to sit there and watch my dream slip from my fingertips.

Yet I can't help but think God's put passion for the Gators in my heart for a reason. I can't help but think there's a reason I love Florida the way I do and Gainesville feels like home. There are no accidents. He does what He does for a reason, and He's got a plan that is good and perfect. There's a reason applying to UF has come up twice in as many days. There's a reason a little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering, "What if? What if it works?" In the words of one of my favorite Rascal Flatts songs, "I've seen You make miracles, and hopeless dreams come true/ You made the heavens and the stars/Everything/Come on, how hard would it be…" If He created this beautiful Earth, He can help me get into a college… Right?

Somehow, just writing this has helped calm the tumultuous wave of emotion I've been feeling. I'm not sure if I'll get in, but there's only one thing for me to do: Try. Take a breath and trust God. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of blind faith.