IMG_5355 Jeff and Johnny with shadow

 

“Now that I have crossed the finish line, I feel like I am officially an athlete.”

Athlete: a person who is proficient in sports and other physical exercise. Thanks to my Aquinas College education, I know what those words mean. However, all jokes aside, as I saw definition after definition, it is not the words I read that define it but rather the words I didn’t see. Words like limits, abilities, hard, impossible. Nowhere in the definition did being an athlete become defined by what you can do.

This is where my story started.

I wasn’t always an athlete. I was what I soon learned people liked to call disabled. Born with cerebral palsy, my shot at being an athlete was about as distant as it could have been. But sports were
never out of my life. Thanks to my Dad’s time playing as a relief pitcher for an organization, the Detroit Tigers, soon my passion for competing took shape as well.

My parents had a choice, they could have told me when I was little that I would never be the next Peyton Manning or Steve Yzerman, that I was disabled and destined for a wheelchair. They could have told me that my best shot was just to be able to feed myself and talk, as the doctors told them. But they didn’t. They chose, as they continue to do, to give me a shot, to believe in me. They told me that anything was possible with God. If I wanted to be an athlete the only thing stopping me was the doubt in my mind that I couldn’t. So you know what I did with that doubt? I threw it out of the window.

I am now 22 and doing things I never thought were possible. Thanks to my Dad, the idea to start running with me was born 5 years ago. We have completed many 5k’s, 10k’s, a few 25k’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, and most recently, a half ironman. One day recently, I decided to give my Dad a little break, after all, I’m not the lightest person to push. What can I say, I love my pizza and donuts a little too much! So I took it upon myself to start training for my own race, I mean, I had learned from the best!
 
My goal in mind was to walk a mile, something that would normally be easy for others but for me, it was my own marathon. I put in the work, the sweat, blood, and tears. Believe me, it was not easy. But it also made me appreciate what all other athletes, including my Dad, feel during races. Completing the mile brought on things I didn’t know were possible. Not only having an amazing impact on my local friends but also on strangers from other states, and people from as far off as Japan!  People who had seen my story and expressed how inspired they were. Thanks to the excitement surrounding that, ESPN’s E:60 caught
wind of it and before I knew it, I was being featured by them.

All this lead to where I am today, with the ability to inspire more people than I thought I ever could, the support of so many wonderful friends and family, and the title, finally, of a true athlete.