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Why I No Longer Feel Like the 'Underdog' Because of My Cerebral Palsy

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My name is Bradley Steenburgh. I’ve been described as a lot of things throughout my life. “Happy,” “caring,” and “outgoing” are a few examples, but also “disabled.” The words “disability” and “disabled” have been pinned to me for as long as I’ve been alive. I was born with left hemiplegic cerebral palsy as a result of my brain not getting enough oxygen at birth. My cerebral palsy limits the use of both my left arm and leg. This has and will forever continue to make a monumental impact on my life.

At a very young age, I would visit a hospital that specializes in the care of people in situations like mine. I hated it. Every visit, words I didn’t understand would be dangled in front of me. At the time, everything was quite frightening. But reflecting back on it, that was one of the most powerful and influential times in my life, and would forever shape the way I look at my disability.

I remember one instance in particular when I had to pick up a brace from the hospital. As my family and I entered the room, we soon noticed that the occupational therapist working there was missing a hand. Her hand was replaced by a prosthetic hook. At the time that really frightened me; I was young and didn’t fully understand the amazing and medically advanced world we live in. However, that moment made a huge impact on my life. Up until recently, I thought I was limited by my disability. But when I think of that woman, she serves a constant reminder that “disabled” people can accomplish a lot.

However, things weren’t always so easy. Between my mother’s constant reminders to fix my posture and the grueling physical therapy sessions, at a young age, I thought I had a problem that could not be fixed. I hated my disability and the world it put me in. I thought I would always feel like the underdog. When I was born, the doctors said I’d be unable to walk, but with the hard work of my parents and I, we proved them wrong. My teachers and school staff would try to give me special treatment. I wouldn’t have to carry my books myself or navigate stairs. But I refused many accommodations that were being made for me, because I wanted to prove to myself and those around me that “disability” is just a word.

I no longer feel like the underdog, but rather the champion. I believe that no matter the situation, you can overcome the negative expectations anyone has for you. People often use the word “suffering” when referring to disabilities. But the truth is, we’re not suffering, but rather living up to our bodies’ potential just the same as anyone else.

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Originally published: November 17, 2016
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