Cheerleading with Cerebral Palsy


There's a lot more to living with Cerebral Palsy than what's visible on the outside. This Story comes in partnership with Bella Soul, supporting students with disabilities in USA




If someone was to ask me the triumphs I have come to because of my Cerebral Palsy, two years ago, I would laugh in your face and complain about being “handicapped.” But two years later, my life has a whole new meaning.

I no longer see myself as a handicapped individual but instead as Sarah, who just happens to have Cerebral Palsy. To understand my whole transformation, let me take you back to the fourth grade. In the fourth grade, I started to realize that I could only sufficiently use the left half of my body. Up until this point, no one had treated me differently. And when I realized I could only feel one side of my body, I just thought it was normal. I even came to the conclusion that everyone must only feel one side of their body.  The funny thing was not only did I attend physical and occupational sessions at school but I also received speech, physical and occupational through Easter Seals.

Upon entering middle school, I was quick to assume that my classmates would treat me the same as they did in elementary school, but boy was I wrong.

Right off the bat, my classmates would call me names such as “gimp” or “cripple.” I honestly could not believe what I was hearing. I was in middle school.

 I clung close to my friend group. I tried desperately to get people to accept me but to no avail. Looking back on the situation, I realized I needed to accept myself as a person and not a lesser version of everyone else before others could accept me. Despite feeling like an outcast, I was able to join various clubs and organizations with the encouragement from some of my friends. My mother recalls stories of her helping me tie my shoes when I was younger, but instead of her doing it for me, I would chirp up “me do it, me do it.” I honestly did not know any differently. I learned to adapt, without realizing I was adapting.

High School was a completely different story and boy, do I regret the first three years. Something happened. Although I am not sure what, I received even more stares and the name calling got worse. I cursed my Cerebral Palsy for taking away my life. Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else? I went to class and never left my seat, trying to hide. I was not involved in any clubs. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year that my outlook on life changed. God blessed me with my first boyfriend. I’m not saying that a boyfriend solved my problems but it was a start.  My boyfriend was my body guard. I would walk behind him, so people would be less likely to call me a name. As much as I don’t want to admit it, he was my security blanket. And just like the years prior, I let my Cerebral Palsy consume me.  I want others like me to understand that although they have Cerebral Palsy, it does not define you as a person. It might sound cliché but my friends would always tell me this but I could never listen to them. They had never stepped in my shoes.

Being 19, I still have a lot of my life left to live. At the same time, I probably avoided some of what would have been the best experiences of my life. 

My senior year was different. I made the conscious effort to be different. To stop caring about what others thought of me. I was, and still am my own person. Why should I be worried about what others thought of me? I was on Homecoming Court, and where as I would have typically rejected the offer because I didn’t want the whole school watching me walk, but it was at that moment I realized that I didn’t want Cerebral Palsy to control my life. My boyfriend got angry with me, always asking why I walked behind him when suddenly he said “Sarah, I love you and you’re my girlfriend, I’m proud of you, I don’t care how you walk.” It was at that point that I grasped the fact that I didn’t want to hide in the shadows any longer.  I joined various clubs such as Yearbook, French Club, and Interact Club. I no longer needed my friends to be my body guards. Cerebral Palsy is not a debilitating disease. It is my guardian angel, reminding me every day that I am my own person and that no one can control my own life but me, myself and I.

In order to keep my Cerebral Palsy in check, I attend weekly counseling sessions to talk about overcoming situations that my Cerebral Palsy could have previously ruined for me. This has helped me mentally overcome the bullying and name-calling and made me recognize the fact, that I was given my life because I am strong enough to live it.  Every six months, I have evaluations with my occupational and physical therapists, to make sure my measurements are still in the active range of motion. My occupational therapist was and still is one of my biggest support systems. She knew I was letting my Cerebral Palsy consume my life. I didn’t get my first job until the summer after my senior year in high school. I was too worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the tasks presented to me, and I didn’t want my CP to be the excuse as to why I could be treated differently. It is now my second summer at my retail job, and I love it. I have learned everything from cash register to inventory and stock. My bosses are great, they don’t treat me any differently and they know I strive for perfection. When I’m not working, I like to swim, run and bike, all activities that force me to use both sides of my body, strengthening the right side of my body.

Fast forward to present day, I have successfully completed my first year of college at the University of Northern of Iowa. I am a double major in Accounting and Marketing. I was involved in my Hall Senate, and Accounting Club, I also got involved with the local Catholic Church. Despite one instance at the beginning of the school year, when a guy muttered under his breath that I was a cripple. It did bother me at first, but with the amazing support from my college friends, I came to the conclusion that anybody who said those types of things behind my back were not worth my time. I am getting pumped to come back stronger than ever for my second year. I will be my new hall’s Secretary. I also tried out for the all-inclusive cheerleading team called the UNI Sparkles. This team takes traditional cheerleading to a whole new level.

Each cheerleader is paired with a kid who has a disability such as Autism or Down syndrome. They are called buddies. They cheer at football and volleyball games.

Previously, I thought I would have never been good enough for a team like this. Every club at UNI is highly competitive. I decided to throw caution into the wind and take a chance because in the end, we only regret the chances we don’t take. Prior to this cheerleading try out, I have never had any cheerleading experience. During the try out, they had an interview portion, where they asked various questions. One question was: “Why do you want this position?” My answer was not because I could relate to the kids because my different ability, but instead I want to be able to show these kids, that they are normal, that they are loved and that they shouldn’t feel like they have to miss out on the things they want to do most because of their disability. After the interview, we were required to perform a cheer, and although it wasn’t perfect, I gave it my best shot.

Later that night, I got an email from the captain, offering me a spot. Twenty-six girls tried out, and only three were accepted. You could say I was over the moon. Without a doubt in my mind, it was probably one of the best days of my life. My life had finally come around full circle. It was in that moment I knew I could do anything that I set my mind to. At the very end of my freshman year, I taught myself to longboard, one activity I thought I’d never be able to succeed at because it requires a good amount of balance and most people diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy struggle with balance issues and even hand eye coordination. Well I worked at it day and night and even though I fell down, more than my fair share, I never gave up. And sure enough, at this point, I am pretty decent.

In the end, God knows how much each one of us can handle, and I believe my Cerebral Palsy is a blessing in disguise.

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