Cerebral Palsy · thoughts

Counting Descent: A Book, an Author, and A Story

For the last week and a half, my AP Literature class has been reading Counting Descent, a collection of poetry by Clint Smith. Mr.Smith is originally from New Orleans, and much of the poetry details growing up as an African American, and how it’s affected him and altered his viewpoint on the world. He doesn’t shy away from topics such as racism and police brutality, but discusses them in a way that is both respectful and eloquent. Several of his poems made me stop and think, and he made me change the way I view certain things.

I fell in love with his writing from the first poem I read. It was beautiful, it was eloquent, and I loved the way he took something so ordinary and turned it into something that was deep and meaningful and thought-provoking. I can’t count how many times I would finish a poem and then just stop, because I was so touched and moved by what I had just read. I loved every poem in the book, and I highly recommend it to all of you.

Not only did we get to read his poetry, but this morning, we were able to Skype with him. He was awesome. Talking to him felt like talking to one of my teachers, (which makes sense, he used to be a high school English teacher) and more than once, our whole class cracked up at something he said. He was funny, he was real, and he was honest, too. I loved getting insight into a few of my favorite poems and into his writing process. Of course, being the writing geek I am, I asked him what advice he has for aspiring writers and poets. “Read,” he answered. “Read everything. Novels, poetry, nonfiction, short stories- read it all. And,” he added, “allow yourself to be bored every once in awhile.” He said that every once in awhile we need to put our phones down, let our thoughts flow uninterruptedly, and simply take in the world around us, because inspiration can be found everywhere. I loved that advice, because I feel like so often we’re so engrossed in a text message or Taylor Swift’s new Instagram post or the latest SportsCenter update that we miss out on what’s going on around us. And oftentimes, the little things are the most important.

As much as I enjoyed getting to ask him that question and receive his advice, my favorite part of the video chat came at the very beginning. A friend asked him how he got into poetry and spoken word, and his answer nearly brought tears to my eyes. He told us a story about how, not long after he moved to New York City, he heard a woman with cerebral palsy give a spoken word poem. He said at the time, he didn’t know much about CP, and listening to her not only changed his perspective on it, but it made him want to do spoken word, too.

He heard a woman with cerebral palsy. A woman’s poem about her CP changed his perspective on the disability and made him want to do spoken word. A woman with cerebral palsy.

I was overcome with emotion because the woman he heard did with her poem exactly what I want to do with my writing: impacted his life and showed him what life with cerebral palsy is like. She’s a living example of the power sharing your story has, and hearing Mr. Smith’s story only made my desire to publish my book grow stronger.

The thing is, while my book is labeled as fiction, much of it is reality. My characters are based off of the people I love, and while I’m not yet strong enough to walk with crutches on my own, a lot of what my protagonist experiences are things that I go through. Because of that, some scenes aren’t easy to write. I’ve cried, I’ve written with knots in my stomach, and I can’t count how many times a voice in the back of my head has whispered, “No one will read this. It’s nowhere near good enough to be published. Why would anyone want to read about your experiences in the first place?”

But I write through that self doubt and I write the scenes that hurt because somewhere within me I know that one day, those scenes will be the scenes that touch someone. Those scenes will be the scenes that inspire someone else to keep fighting whatever battle it is they’re fighting. Those scenes make my book real, and I think that reality will (hopefully) impact, inspire, and touch thousands of people.

Hearing Mr. Smith’s story about the woman with CP reaffirmed that hope. Though I’ve never met her, she inspired me to keep writing and sharing my story, because she’s living proof of how that can affect someone. I’m glad she shared her story, because Clint Smith’s slam poetry (and all of his poetry) is incredible. It was amazing to talk to him, and if you haven’t read CountingDescent, you should. It’s beautiful, and will quickly become one of your favorite books.

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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.

Faith

A Prayer Over Hurricane Irma

Just a few weeks ago, everyone was in awe of Mother Nature as the eastern side of the United States took in a solar eclipse. We saw how fantastic and amazing it is, and now, three weeks later, we’re seeing its other side, the side that is relentless, destructive, and catastrophic.

Days after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas, Hurricane Irma came barreling toward the US after ripping many Caribbean islands apart. Knots form and tighten in my stomach as I watch the news reports and look at the radar- I have family and friends in its path, and some were unable to leave. So to everyone who has been or will be affected by Hurricane Irma, this prayer is for you:

Heavenly Father,

I lay the state of Florida and each state in Irma’s path in Your Hands. I pray for Your protection over each person affected by it; I pray for strength, for safety, for protection, and for comfort. I pray You would work against this storm to weaken it and minimize its effects as much as possible, and I ask that You would watch over each evacuee and person who was unable to leave Florida. I pray You would be with our first responders, our volunteers, our news crews, and everyone else who is braving this beast to help others and keep everyone informed. Please keep them safe and help everyone to remain strong and faithful. Help us to remember that You are good, that You love us, and that You will carry us through this.

Lord, we love You. Please be with us.

It’s in Jesus’s Name that I pray,

amen.

To everyone in its path or if you’ve already been affected: please know that I’m thinking of you and praying for you. Stay strong, be careful, and stay safe.

All my love,

Robyn ❤

Faith

I’m Anticipating…

When I first read the daily prompt, anticipate, my mind jumped to something I’ve been planning for months: a fundraiser for the Tim Tebow Foundation.

What once seemed like it would take forever to arrive is only a few days away.

Because they’ve done so much for me and my family, I wanted to give back. So last year, as a surprise for TTF, my family and I organized a spirit night at a local wing restaurant. Not knowing how many people would show up, I set a goal of a hundred dollars. The Lord, however, had other plans.

The restaurant was packed with friends, family friends, and people who had simply seen the flyer I’d put out. I was amazed by the response, and also by the generosity exhibited that night. Donations kept pouring in, and sizable ones at that. One man came with a fifty dollar check ready, and at the end of the night, a woman produced a hundred dollar bill and told me she’d brought it specifically as a donation. I was blown away. I feel like so often now you hear stories of the horrible things people do, but that night, you saw only the best human qualities: Kindness. Generosity. Humility.

The foundation recently posted this picture of me with Timmy from my W15H.

When my mom and I sat down and calculated how much we’d raised, we were overjoyed to see that not only had we hit our goal, but we’d raised over ten times that amount. I was so excited I grabbed my phone and called my TTF contact right then. She’d known nothing about what we were doing, and the pure surprise and joy in her voice was a perfect ending to a beautiful night. Timmy and everyone at the foundation were so grateful, and it felt amazing to give to people who have given me so much.

So this year, I knew we had to top it. We had to make the event even bigger; we had to raise even more. The question was, how?

My parents hit on the idea of adding a silent auction, and as soon as I heard it, I knew that was what we had to do. I made a list of local businesses I thought would be willing to help, and then created a small brochure to take to them, explaining what TTF did and why they mean so much to me. From there, my mom and I went to each place, and I did the talking. Again, I was humbled by the way the Lord lit the way and directed me to people who were more than willing to help. Only once was I unable to get what I had been looking for, and that was because I couldn’t reach the company’s corporate offices, not because someone told me no. And when a family friend heard about what had happened, she immediately offered to buy what I couldn’t get. Though it hasn’t taken place yet, the Lord has already blessed this event abundantly, and I can’t wait to see how He’ll use it to help TTF impact other children the way they’ve impacted me.

Sports

It’s About So Much More than Football

“What’s Urban Meyer really like?”a friend asked me last night.

As I tried to come up with an answer that adequately describes the Ohio State coach, a barrage of adjectives flooded my mind: Kind. Compassionate. Caring. The list goes on and on.

My perspective on Coach Meyer is unique, because I’ve had the blessing of meeting him and his wife. People ask me all the time how I root for Ohio State, and the answer is simple: Because Coach and Ms. Shelley are amazing.

I first met Coach Meyer two and a half years ago, at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic. I’d gone as a surprise birthday present, and that day is one I’ll never forget. Over the course of six hours, I met so many people that I’d either listened to on the radio or watched on TV for years. They were all so nice, and being able to hug Timmy and tell him how much he inspires me meant more to me than I could ever explain.

Coach Meyer is someone else who gives me inspiration and encouragement. He was the first coach I ever watched lead the Florida Gators, and I can’t count how many times my father would remind me of the way he pushes his team as I went through physical therapy and the other obstacles cerebral palsy brings. “He pushes them to the max,” Dad would tell me. “That’s why he’s successful. You have to push yourself that way, too.” I’d always had a feeling that he was a great man in addition to being a great coach, and I found out at the golf tournament that day that I’d been right.

He was the last golfer to come to our hole, and I remember nervous adrenaline pumping through my veins as he made his way toward me. Before I could figure out what to say, Coach Meyer told me, “I’m going to give you a huge hug” and then did exactly that. The kind way he spoke to me made my nerves disappear. I noticed right away that more than anything else, he’s a father. He made me feel comfortable and he made me feel normal at a time when I often felt like my disability defined me.

A year later, six months after Timmy and his foundation granted my W15H, I gave a speech at their Celebrity Gala. My dad stepped out of the room for a moment not long after I spoke, and when he came back, he was wearing a bright smile.

“What?” I asked.

“I just talked to Urban Meyer,” Dad answered. “He said he remembers you and he’s going to come talk to you.” I couldn’t believe he remembered me in the first place.

Sure enough, I looked up not long after that to see Coach Meyer and Ms. Shelley making their way towards me. They both wrapped me in huge hugs before pulling up chairs and talking with us for at least fifteen minutes-if not longer. Ms. Shelley talked to me with the same warmth and kindness that her husband did, and I was floored when she said that my speech had made her cry. They made my night, and since then I’ve cheered for the Buckeyes the same way I cheer for Florida.

Me the night of the 2016 Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Gala

The answer to the above question applies to not only Coach Meyer, but to Ms. Shelley as well. They’re both amazing, incredibly kind, wonderful people, and I’m so grateful to have been able to meet them both. That night is something I think about whenever I need encouragement, and Coach Meyer is so much more than just a football coach. He always brightens my day, and I’m so blessed to be one of the thousands of lives he and Ms. Shelley have touched.

Cerebral Palsy

Another Part of Cerebral Palsy

Lord, please lay Your Hands on my legs and take away this pain. You are stronger than it; please take it away from me.

That’s my mantra right now, as I watch football and try to fight the intense pain in my legs. Thankfully, the pain in my right calf has eased, but it’s alive and fiery in in my left one. Maybe it’s because of the stretching I did at physical therapy today. I don’t really know. All I know is it hurts. A lot.

That’s another part of living with cerebral palsy: pain. When I wake up in the mornings, it hurts to take a step because I haven’t moved in so long. And I’ve just come to accept the fact that the day after big events such as prom or being on the homecoming court last year will be spent in the recliner because I can barely move due to the pain in my feet. Days like that aren’t fun, but the events and the memories I bring home are worth it.

I remember squeezing my mom’s hand as tightly as I could as the needle went in Botox injections when I was little. The medicine helped loosen my muscles for months, but the procedure itself was less than fun. Usually, I was in for at least ten shots, and I would always make the neurologist count to three before he injected them. He was a great doctor and an incredible man, and he was patient and kind, even as I cried on his table. I was back to wearing a smile as soon as the shots were over, but during them tears streamed down my cheeks and I had to make myself get through it, one breath at a time.

I remember the searing pain when my casts were removed after having surgery at eight years old. Then, it hurt to simply straighten my legs. That was the only time I ever asked to wear my night splints, as straightening my legs brought me some relief. Trying to use my walker after six weeks in casts was pure agony, and I remember crying and screaming during physical therapy sessions. My physical therapist remained encouraging, telling me that the only way I would overcome the pain was to rebuild my strength. At the time, I couldn’t even make it from one class to another without breaking down in the hallway. But the more I walked, the stronger I became, and eventually I was able to zip around the school again.

Nowadays pain doesn’t come very often, praise the Lord, and I’ve learned how to get through it’s morning visits. It’s times like right now that are the most difficult, when I’m not sure what caused it or what do about it. All I can do is take ibuprofen and pray that He will make it go away.

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.