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My Legs Don't Define My Legacy

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My name is Richelle Heath. I am 41 and I have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy.
My journey began in 1976 as an adopted child whose parents knew nothing about cerebral palsy. They were told by a fellow church member I may have CP because my legs weren’t moving in accordance with typical childhood developmental milestones.

After guidance and referrals, I had my first surgery at 2 and my last at 16 years old. My parents afforded me every opportunity so I had the best chance of walking independently, driving a car, graduating college and working in corporate America. I am proud to say I have accomplished each and every one of those goals. My dream was to be completely independent. The kind of independence that is often taken for granted.

At age 37, I began using Facebook to see if I could find other people with cerebral palsy facing the same daily struggles as I do. I just knew that somewhere out there, others were dealing with similar challenges. I also felt I couldn’t possibly be traveling this journey alone, one wobbly footstep at a time. I found four FB pages and that is how I met Heaven Ramsey.

I entered and won a writing contest that afforded me the opportunity of an incredible friendship. This led me to help admin and help create her cerebral palsy awareness page, “A Stairway to the Stars, Heaven’s Journey with CP.” We have had four magical and incredibly wonderful years of education, avocation and inspiration together.

Our collective journey and our friendship inspire us. Everyone we have met has taught us important lessons. The most important lessons we have learned are to never give up, that we matter and our stories matter! Our footsteps in our journeys leave a footprint for those who will follow behind us. We are walking this journey one step at a time. Together we all create the path for greatness.

The CP community is 17 million strong in our quest for acceptance. This common childhood disability is not as publicized as others are. Another concern is that as children “age out” of the system, they are left as adults to find their own way, their own help, their own insight, their own education and to do their own advocating. Truly, we are our own best advocates! We are stronger together because our knowledge empowers us as a community.

That’s how the #CPDreamTeam began. It was a vision for a t-shirt hashtag to let everyone know they are not alone. Our shirts hold the names of 250 Cerebral Palsy Warriors on the back of each one (we are in the process of number four now) in celebration of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day and World CP Day every year.

Just a shirt? Absolutely not! It’s a representation of the family and friendships we have built to remind us we are all in this together, and we are stronger because we have each other. My legs don’t define my legacy! Yes, my legs are spastic and sometimes uncooperative. That is my CP. I have CP, it does not have me. Part of my legacy is the gift of my legs because they have carried me a million miles. Miles of blood, sweat and tears, but without them I would not be me — steadfast, strong and true. The other part of my legacy is the gift of friendship. The many friends I have gained during this journey have opened my eyes to acceptance and understanding of other people.

Cerebral palsy is a part of me, but it does not define me. I hope to create an awareness of this disability through my successes and struggles. With my voice and experiences, I hope to leave a legacy of CP awareness and increase services for people of all ages.

Learn more at CP Dream Team.

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Originally published: June 13, 2017
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