Meet Nicole! She is a friend from undergrad who has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and continues to do incredible things. I was fortunate to recently listen to her story of mobility and I would like to share it with you.
Nicole is a special needs teacher who is able to be an extraordinary example for her students and their families. When asked what her story of mobility was she says “It has been a long road” with a smile on her face that tells you she has worked hard and she is proud of where she is today. Nicole starts her story of mobility with when she began to walk at the age of two. Nicole walked with two ankle foot orthosis (AFO) and started using a rolling walker in the second grade. For longer distances she used wheelchair.
To improve her mobility Nicole participated in occupational and physical therapy three times a week. Nicole also went horse back riding for therapy known as hippotherapy. She says this was her favorite and I can see why. What kid would not love to get on a horse and have it also be therapeutic. As Nicole developed she says she started having trouble with her “right knee turning in more” and so in the fifth grade she sought out more intensive therapy. She found a training program called Eureka that was developed to rehabilitate astronauts after they returned from space. The program helped her walk without an assistive device and by the seventh grade without braces. Nicole recalled that this bout of therapy was most beneficial for her and helped her see the importance of exercise.
Fast forward to college, Nicole continues to walk without an assistive device or an AFO. All of her life Nicole has been told to “STRETCH”. Her mom told her she should try yoga since it would help her stretch more. Nicole decided she would try it at her local gym and invited her friends to go with her. She was nervous about going with her mind racing from one thought to another. Wondering if she could do the poses, what will other people think of her, what if she fails, does she really want to deal with how her abnormal movement will bring unwanted attention to her? She spent the hour before her first yoga class preparing mentally for what she was about to do. With the encouragement from her family, the support of her friends and her desire to overcome she went to her first yoga class.
Nicole describes her first yoga class as awkward and surprising. She was surprised to find how welcoming everyone was, how helpful and understanding the instructor was and how much her body could actually do. Nicole says that there were people who stared and there were times she felt uncomfortable but those times were minimal compared to the positive experiences she had. It took her about a month to feel comfortable going regularly and by herself.
Now Nicole goes to hot yoga and practices poses on a daily basis. She says she can tell the difference on the days she cannot practice yoga. She does hot yoga because it is easier for her muscles to relax. With spastic cerebral palsy muscles have both increased tone and spasticity making them rigid and difficult to move. In a warm environment it helps relax the muscles decreasing both tone and spasticity allowing for more fluid movement. Nicole is now the one to invite others to go to yoga, introducing people to all the benefits exercise has to offer.
One thing that stood about hearing Nicole’s story is the role of social support in her mobility. Her family always made her try things for herself first. They encouraged her to be as independent as possible and taught her to not be afraid of failure. They would tell her if you cannot do it at least you know instead of being afraid to try it just because you think you cannot do it. Nicole’s friends also played a role in her mobility by being willing to be seen with her. They went with her to the yoga class, they encouraged her to go, they accepted her as she was. This made it easier for her to feel accepted by everyone else. As Nicole and I talked we both had the same question. Why do we not see more people like us? Where are these people. I know people like Nicole and I are out there. Some of them are even my patients. More often than not these people do not feel like they belong or have the support to go out in the world. They limit themselves to their homes and the homes of people close to them. I want to change this. I hope to encourage others to do more. As a friend be willing to be seen with your friends that might have challenges with movement. Being accepted by you will help them feel like they are accepted by the rest of the world. I know this to be true about myself. If I am with friends when I am trying something new or doing something that is challenging for me I feel much more capable and accepted when others are willing to be seen with me as I do it. I know too many people who limit themselves because they are afraid of what others might think of them. So I encourage you to be that friend to someone. You will help them do incredible things simply by being present.
If you want to find out more about Nicole follow her blog, I promise you will not be disappointed.
What is your story mobility? I would love to hear it.