How Martial Arts Has Helped Me as a Person With Cerebral Palsy
A year ago I would have never thought I would be here telling you this. I am kind of a medical mystery. By the time I was 18 I had been through more battles than most people go through in their lifetime. The only reason I am even alive is because I fought. I have had two strokes, a blood clot on the brain stem, countless shots and blood draws, and hours and hours of therapy. My whole childhood was basically dedicated to making sure I would be able to be independent, because I wasn’t even supposed to survive. I have spastic right hemiplegic cerebral palsy; basically, my brain doesn’t tell my right side to work so I have to adapt to live in a world that wasn’t made for me.
When I went away to college I faced a dilemma. I knew I had to keep up with therapy, but I needed a motive and I knew I would not enjoy the traditional occupational and physical therapies. So I started looking into martial arts. I have always been interested in martial arts, but it wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing. I started researching it and saw there are a ton of therapeutic benefits for people with cerebral palsy. I had kind of put it on the back burner when I got an email that there was a para taekwondo team starting on my campus, so I inquired about the cost and I decided it was something I could at least try. I remember going into the first practice terrified. I knew they were accepting para-athletes, but I also knew this was their first year officially doing so. I didn’t know if they would know how to accommodate my specific needs, or if they even could.
After my first practice, I knew that martial arts was for me, but there were definitely a lot of challenges. Not everything came as naturally or as easily for me as it does for most people. One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is to never give up, and it has definitely helped in my martial arts journey. A lot of the forms and movements in taekwondo don’t come naturally to me, and my memory isn’t as good as most 20-year-olds, so it can take a lot of practice. I can work twice as hard as anyone else and I still won’t be up to par with the able-bodied. That’s frustrating, but because I never gave up I have gotten better.
Since I started taekwondo last August, I have gotten to compete in three competitions. I have a Bronze for local competition in Baltimore, a Gold for the collegiate national where I was the first para-athlete and a Gold in the national competition for everyone. I am so thankful for the opportunity to compete as a para-athlete because it has allowed me to see others like me competing too, and to understand it is OK that I’m not doing everything “normal” and I am not alone.
Taekwondo has been extremely therapeutic for me. I greatly benefit from competing and practicing this sport. When I started a little less than a year ago I was unable to kick above the waist, and I had zero motivation to keep up with my exercises so my muscles wouldn’t tense up. Now I can kick to chest height and I feel like my muscles as loose as they’ve ever been. I am extremely grateful to be granted the opportunity to practice this sport, and can’t wait to see how far I get these next several years. I highly encourage martial arts as a form of therapy if you can afford it. I have already seen countless physical and emotional benefits. My only wish is that I would have been able to start sooner.