Friday, September 25, 2009

Maryland college students create disability awareness event

From The Towerlight, the student newspaper at Towson University in Maryland:

After playing high school football together, going away to individual colleges and having disabilities touch their lives in one way or another, three uniquely connected individuals have ended up at Towson University together again and are sharing their message about disabilities awareness. For these Towson students, dealing with a physical setback in some way doesn’t have to be a sore subject; the students will be hosting a campus and community-wide event Sept. 25 on Burdick Field to support their cause.

One of the students, senior Sam Breschi, whose sister was born with Cerebral Palsy, formed the event “Maggie’s Miles” to promote a more accepting community for those with disabilities. Maggie, 17, was born with her disability in both the physical and mental sense. She cannot eat, walk or talk. The only control she has is a little bit of her left arm and leg.

“She has all these disabilities that we see, like physical, and social and even mental but she has a super ability because she is very emotionally intelligent,” Sam said of his sister. “She has an intelligent ability just to be happy all the time.”

Sam explained that he is aware of his sister’s condition and that Maggie used to always be upset. She knows what she can and can’t do and has completely accepted that.

“So a big part of just growing up and going through life is just accepting your situation and making the best of things,” Sam said.

The event will feature a 5k race, a live band, food and a number of games. The money raised at the event will go toward an organization called Maggie’s Light.

Senior Brady Smith also has a sister who was born with a disability. Smith’s sister Shannon, 26, was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Smith said this syndrome is associated with an extreme and insatiable appetite, due to a lack of certain chromosomes and someone has to be with her to monitor her at almost all times.

“It’s always been a part of our lives, having our sisters… We understand each other and what we go through,” Smith said of everyday tasks that used to be a sacrifice, but are now no longer considered as such.

The third Towson student, senior Van Brooks, went to Loyola Blakefield High School with Sam and Smith. Disabilities entered Brooks’ life in a very different way than his friends.

“Van was a superstar. He wasn’t always disabled,” Sam said.

Brooks played a variety of positions on their high school football team alongside Sam and Smith. He was a prodigy athlete, destined for professional sports, according to his friends.

“I thought he was the best football player that I’ve ever played with,” Smith, who leads the defense on the Towson football team, said.

During a high school football game, Brooks was in position and went in for a tackle that he would never forget.

“My head collided with the running back’s knee and it compressed my spine [and] broke it in two places,” Brooks said. “When I went to the hospital I was paralyzed from the neck down.”

He was flown to shock trauma, where he spent the next three months. After that and months of therapy, Brooks said, he began gaining some movement back. Today Brooks is still paralyzed, but has movement in his arms and part of his upper body. He “can still do everything, but it’s just a different way,” he said.

“Right now it’s just kind of second nature.”

Brooks said he still goes out to parties, bars and friends’ houses like anybody else. The only difference is that he usually gets people to carry him in to sit in people’s houses.

“I think a lot of people in wheelchairs or with disabilities feel that they don’t fit in or that people look at them different, and for the most part when I go out it’s the complete opposite, Brooks said.

Brooks said he struggled with this feeling at first as well.

“There were plenty of times where I just wanted to stay in the house and not do anything but watch TV and stare at the wall all day,” Brooks said.

“But it was just the support that I had with people constantly calling me to do different things.”

Brooks said that little things still get to him at times.

For example, when the NFL draft is going on, he couldn’t watch it and said he still thinks about what could have been, if not for his accident. Despite that, Brooks is confident that everything happens for a reason.

“I’m a strong believer in that,” he said. “The reason I got hurt, I don’t know why yet… Eventually I’ll find out, but it did happen for a reason.”

Together the three friends are trying to bring a message to people of all different abilities: make the best of any situation, understand that everyone is different and understand that others will be accepting.