Through my work as a physical therapist, I have had the privilege of meeting a young man named Austin. Austin is 17 years old and lives in Batavia. He has been a Cincinnati Children’s patient for many years. Images of his brain suggest that he had a stroke when he was in utero. He has hemiparetic cerebral palsy. Austin plays computer games and watches television. He is a teenager and like lots of them, he spends an awful lot of time sitting still.
Although the damage to Austin’s brain will not get worse, his mobility and function can continue to deteriorate. Unwelcome changes to bone, muscle, and the cardiorespiratory system can occur over time when patients with disability aren’t proactive. One of Austin’s best defenses is also a hot topic in public health today. Research suggests that decreasing the amount of time we spend being sedentary, and increasing the amount of time we spend engaged in physical activity is critical for everyone, but especially for children with CP!
At a clinic visit in April, Austin felt frustrated. Physical fitness testing at school meant running a mile, and it didn’t go well. He seemed to be compelled to do something about it. So Austin set an admirable goal; he announced that he would like to run, in its entirety, a 5K race. He scoured the internet for his just right challenge, signed up for the Panerathon, in Mason, Ohio (probably largely because the race includes a giveaway of free Sketchers) and he named the team that would support him the CP Warriors.
He worked tirelessly over the summer. He spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with outpatient physical therapists at Cincinnati Children’s. He strengthened legs. He grew better abdominal muscles than most of the healthcare professionals who treat him. He practiced coordinated activities like skipping and jumping. He walked on a treadmill. He did silly things, like moving rings from one cone to the next with his foot or kneeling on top of big therapy balls without holding on. And he ran. He ran around the 3430 Burnet Medical Offices Building and met the people who live in the neighborhood. He ran up and down the big hill that the hospital lives on and doctors and nurses clapped for him. He ran in the August heat and sometimes in unexpected rain. Every weekend, he ran around the trail at Lunken Airfield, with a team of volunteers from the hospital and CP Clinic and people who believe in him. He ran with a dog, and sometimes a donated ipod shuffle and Rodney Atkins. He ran while he talked about zombies and fried pickles and how to beat Halo. He never ran without smiling. His Mom filled a scrapbook with photos because while he ran, she and her husband filled up with pride.
Two things happened during this journey.
One is that Austin grew. He threw up during a mile run in physical education class in April. On Sunday, September 21st, he will finish the 5K faster than many individuals without physical disability.
The other is that the people around him grew. We thank him for his inability to perceive hurdles. We thank him for reminding us that few things are out of the realm of possibility. And we thank him for reminding us to carry ourselves forward (unless we are practicing walking backwards).
Please share his story.
Please fill Mason, Ohio with astounding applause at his finish line.
And for heaven’s sake, can someone please make sure he gets a free pair of size 9 shoes?! (Update: We think this is taken care of! He’ll be thrilled!)