I was born with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, affecting my entire right side. I wore a brace on my right leg from the age of 15 months to the fifth grade. I went through extensive physical therapy during my early years, from therapists and my dad. Plenty of people get more sedentary as they age, but I refuse to let all those therapy sessions go to waste. So I devised my own fitness program, with swimming, weight-bearing exercises and stretching as my priorities. I'm 51, but I can do splits.
Coming from a very sports-minded family, I was never held back from trying anything. But due to my disability I did not have the coordination to try different sports. Nor as a child was I outgoing enough to try and compete anyway. Instead, I was always the spectator. I would watch my older brother play football, my older and younger sisters swim, thinking to myself, "I will never be able to do what they are doing.''
In my 20s I started competing at the National Cerebral Palsy Games, which led to four Paralympic Games as well as world championship teams, earning medals in track and swimming, setting a world record and gaining a ton of confidence.
From there, I entered able-bodied road races, triathlons and Masters swimming events. To date, I have earned over 240 trophies. The respect I have received from my competitors is amazing. I just love to go after a goal! I even received Florida Masters Swimming's 2003 Overcoming Adversity Award, which has been renamed in my honor.
How I do it
I'm usually up by 5 a.m. Stretching exercises start my day. Then, it is off to the pool to swim 3,000 meters. I swim freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly (I can use only my left arm for the breaststroke and butterfly). Swimming is a daily part of my life. I refuse to allow my body to go backwards.
I'm home by 7 a.m. to eat breakfast and watch the news. Then I'm off to work as a substitute teacher. No day is the same — subbing gives me a different challenge every day. Once my workday is done I try to go for a walk. I am very grateful to be able to live each day to the fullest, from sunrise to sunset.
Monthly, I participate in Masters Swim Meets/Open Water events. These events give a concrete purpose to all the time I spend in the pool.
I have learned that it is up to you to make the most and best of your situation. You can sit back and complain about an obstacle in your way or you can grab the obstacle and utilize it as a benchmark. I choose to be content, but never complacent.