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.

thoughts

The Gift of Friendship

Mama at Mama’s Empty Nest nominated me for the 3 Day 3 Quotes challenge (thank you!!!) where I share quotes I’m inspired by three days in a row. The rules are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.

2. Post a quote for three consecutive days (one quote for each day).

3. Nominate three bloggers each day.

I nominate Following Him Beside Still Waters and anyone else who wants to participate!

My quote for today is:

Friendship is a gift, and every time I talk to you I feel as if I’m getting richer and richer.”

-Unknown

On the first day of my second semester of high school, I walked into a class where I didn’t know anyone. I was one of two freshmen in the room, and when I scanned the room, I caught sight of a senior I’d seen around campus. He’d always seemed like a nice guy, and I knew two things about him: he played baseball and he was an Alabama fan. So, naturally, I asked him about Alabama football. He answered my question, and then asked if I was an Alabama fan, too.

My response? “Heck, no. I’m a Florida fan all the way.”

His face was priceless. I’m not sure what answer he’d been expecting, but what I said wasn’t it. I’d surprised him, and then he returned the favor the next day, when I walked in to class and found him sitting in the desk next to mine.

His reason for moving seats probably had nothing to do with me, but I’ll always be glad he did. Over the course of that semester he became a friend I can always count on, and someone I know will always be there for me. He never minded helping me, and we got through the class together, an AP course that was difficult for almost everyone. I still remember what he said when I made a comment about my walker one day.

“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t care about that at all.”

And he didn’t. I could tell just by the way he spoke to me. He didn’t mind turning assignments in for me, and once, when we had to evacuate the building, he got up and grabbed my walker before I had a chance to say anything. He helped me outside, staying with me until a teacher told him to keep going. Even then, I saw him turn back around to make sure I was alright.

Even though he’s in college now, we still keep in touch and get together whenever we can. When I was on the homecoming court last year, he made the nearly-hour long drive home to be there, and when I was in the hospital, he texted me every day-sometimes multiple times per day- to see how I was doing. I hadn’t seen him in a few months until yesterday, when I was walking down the hall at school and looked up to see him walking towards me.

“I had to come drop something off and I wanted to come surprise you!” he said as he wrapped me in a hug. He made my day, and the way he hugged me as if my walker wasn’t there reminded me of one of the many reasons I cherish our friendship: to him, I’m just Robyn.

thoughts

Mixed Emotions

I picked up my cap and gown Thursday, and that was when it sunk in.

I’m graduating in two months.

Even though I’ve known for months the day when I’d toss my cap in the air and move on to the next stage of life was coming, the realization that my days in high school were numbered was jarring. In two short months, the routine I’ve grown used to, the people I see every day, watching sports with my family…. all of that is about to change.

My AP Literature class on the first day of senior year. (Photo courtesy of my awesome teacher. 😉)

And I’m feeling a little conflicted about all of it.

On one hand, I’m incredibly excited. In just a few months, I’ll be a student at the school I’ve loved since I was a little girl, and the dream I’ve had since I was six years old will come true. (We’re still working out details, but me going to UF looks promising.) I can’t wait to be on that campus every day and be surrounded by people who have as much passion for the orange and blue as I do. I can’t wait to jump into college life and begin gaining the knowledge and experience I need to be successful. I found out yesterday that UF students get in free to all athletic events except football games-and football season tickets aren’t expensive- and I really can’t wait to cheer on the Gators. You can bet I’ll be at every sporting event I can make it to.

On the other hand, I’m nervous and anxious about life beyond high school. What happens if I can’t open a door on my own and there’s no one around to open it for me? Will I be able to balance the rigor of college courses with covering Florida sports? How do I find my way to classes and the dining hall? And-God forbid this happens- what do I do if I fall? What happens if no one’s around to help me get back up, or if I get hurt?

These questions bounce around in my mind and wind knots in my chest, but then I think back to my first day of high school.

I had similar fears. In fact, I was so scared that on the first day, I sat in first period with my hands in my lap so no one could see they were shaking.

I’ll be honest. That first day and the first semester weren’t the easiest. There were many times when I felt as if I didn’t fit in, and I wanted more than anything to go to another high school, the one the majority of my friends went to.

But you know what? It worked out.

I made friends, many of whom were seniors who helped me become acclimated to high school. I took journalism and joined a few clubs, and slowly, I began to feel like I belonged. As a freshman, I would’ve given anything to switch schools, but now, I dread the day I’ll have to leave. And when I think about the last four years, I think of memories I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. My W15H with Tim Tebow. Being named the Writing Club President, and running it with two of my closest friends. Junior year, walking the school’s halls as a member of our homecoming court, and then this year, being crowned homecoming queen. There were down moments along the way too of course, but they taught me lessons and helped me grow in ways I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Me, moments after being crowned Homecoming Queen. It was an incredible honor I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

My high school experience has been a ride to remember, and I have a feeling college will be similar. Will the first few months be difficult? Probably. Will I encounter challenges and obstacles to overcome? Definitely. Will the next few years be unforgettable? Without a doubt.

Note: I’m going to start posting more regularly- twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.

Cerebral Palsy, thoughts

Worth It

I’ll be honest: I have a lot to do before I’m fully independent. A lot. And when I went to bed last night, I was feeling really overwhelmed by it. A good night’s sleep didn’t take that feeling away. Unshed tears were a weight on my chest and I took a breath, trying to breathe through it as I wondered how I was going to climb this mountain.

Suddenly, that pain morphed into a quiet resolve to overcome this obstacle. I have to- I got in to my dream school, and I’m not going to lose the opportunity to live my dream. Will it be easy? No. Is the University of Florida worth it? Absolutely.

I think part of the problem is I’m trying to ascend the entire mountain in one day, and that isn’t possible. I’ve got to take it one day at a time and learn to not be frustrated with myself when I can’t do something immediately. I’m a perfectionist, so when I try something and fail, I beat myself up about it. Why I do that, I don’t know, because whenever one of my friends is trying something new or struggling with a class, I always remind them to do what they can today and be easy on themselves. It’s time I take my own advice.

I can do this. I know I can. I just have to work hard, go day by day, and remember that when I reach mountain’s summit and I’m living in Gainesville, it will be worth it.

Cerebral Palsy, thoughts

My War With Technology

For Christmas, my parents gave me a Google Home Mini, so that we can sync a lamp to it and I can turn lights on and off on my own, without having to wait for one of my parents to come in and do it for me. I was excited by the way it allows me to be more independent, and I spent much of yesterday marveling at how far technology has come and the amazing things it can do. But then, this morning, my father and I were having a conversation and Google randomly began giving us NFL scores. We hadn’t asked for them. We weren’t even talking about sports. It creeped me out a little, and it made me wonder, When is enough enough?

Technology can do amazing things. It can give someone a voice, it can save a life, and in my case, gives me independence and aid I otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, when I was younger and needed my mom’s help in the middle of the night, I would call her name again and again and hope she would hear me. But now that I have a cell phone, I can pick it up and call her, and have peace of mind knowing that she’ll see it and answer. And the technology I saw when I was in the hospital was amazing. During rehab, I used a Functional Electrical Stimulation bike which fired muscles for me that I didn’t know how to use. While I pedaled on the stationary bike, electrodes on my arms and legs would stimulate my muscles for me, strengthening them more quickly than I ever could without it.

But then, there’s the other side of technology, the side that I feel is overtaking our society. So often, we spend time on our phones instead of talking with one another. I’m guilty of it. The first thing I do when I get to lunch is pull out my phone to check my text messages and other notifications. Email has replaced the art of letter writing, and more people read the newspaper online than holding a physical paper in their hands. Yes, it’s convenient and faster and gives us instant gratification, but… is it truly necessary?

And I have to wonder: with all of the technological and scientific advances we’ve made, why haven’t we found a cure for cancer? Why haven’t we found something to treat AIDS or discovered what causes Alzheimer’s? I don’t understand, and my heart breaks for everyone affected by illnesses and disabilities that can’t be cured. We’re smart enough to cure these. I know we are. We’ve got the technology and science to do it- we’ve got to make that a priority. Who cares about a newer model of the iPhone when a little girl is fighting for her life in a hospital room?

I’m not saying technology is bad and I’m not saying I don’t use it too much. It’s not and I do. What I’m saying is we need to learn boundaries with its usage and harness its power to help, not be a distraction. It has the ability to change so many lives and solve so many problems- but only if we use it the right way.

Cerebral Palsy, Faith, thoughts

The Two Sides to Cerebral Palsy

I came to the realization the other day that there are two sides to cerebral palsy: the side that is beautiful, and then the side that’s ugly.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been living in the ugly side- the side that’s filled with anger and frustration and tears and pain. So often lately, I find myself wishing I could snap my fingers and change all of this. I’d get rid of the walker, fix my bent knees, and be able to live independently, without any assistance whatsoever. So often, I try to do something myself and am overcome by anger and frustration. I’m angry at myself for not being able to do it, and frustrated for the same reason. I feel like my disability is a chain that’s confining me and holding me back, and I hate it. I hate that things are so hard and frustrating, and I hate that I have to jump so many extra hoops to be able to go away to college. So often, I’ve found myself questioning God’s plan and wondering why I have to go through all of this. That’s the side I try to hide; I push it in and hide it behind smiles and encouragement.

But then, there’s the beautiful side of my CP, the side that gives me a platform to be an inspiration and make a difference. I saw that side last Sunday, when I gave a sermon about my sweet friend Kate. People came up to me and thanked me for sharing her story, which reminded me that this is about something bigger than myself. It’s the side I see whenever I’m with Tim Tebow, because he always makes me feel so special. I talk about him all the time-all the time- and I realized the other day that that’s why: because he and his foundation put the beautiful part of my disability at the forefront of my mind instead of its outskirts. And it’s what I was reminded of today, when I watched the amazing video of a boy with CP score a touchdown. He reminded me that no matter how hard or frustrating it gets or how much I hate it, God’s got a purpose for me and my CP. He’s going to use it for good; He’s going to use me to spread His light and love, which is all I want to do. I want to shine for Him. I want to be His Hands and feet. So when the tears flow and the frustration is overwhelming, I have to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and remember that God is in control… always.