Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today's Family Magazine Oct/Nov. 2009 Life's Miracles.

Mitch, age four, takes a spin on the ice with a skating friend.

A victorious Mitch shortly after he received his yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do!

Today’s Family Magazine

October/November 2009

When Someone’s On Your Side

"An inspiring story about a boy in leg braces who wanted to learn martial arts and the Tae Kwon Do instructor who encouraged him to never give up."

By Suzan Stirling-Meredith

Driving down Highway 146, I saw that sign again–Kentucky Tae Kwon Do and Fitness Academy. My son, Mitchell and I had talked about activities that interested him. More than anything, he wanted to do Tae Kwon Do. He’d brought it up a number of times but I’d not pursued it. You see, Mitchell is handicapped. When he was just seven days old he became very sick with a virus. The first six weeks of his life were spent hooked to a respirator fighting for his life. As difficult as that time was, we were very fortunate; my son did survive, but he was left with a condition called Cerebral Palsy that seriously hindered his ability to walk.

By age eleven, Mitchell had become dependent on a walker and wheelchair to get around. Physical therapy had helped some but as Mitchell grew taller his condition only worsened. Desperate to help him, my husband, Clay and I opted for major surgery. Dr. Laura Jacks, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Louisville performed this extensive, four-hour long surgery on our son. And it was a success! Six weeks later, the leg casts were cut off and Mitchell took his first tentative steps. I will never forget that incredible moment. What my husband, Clay and I didn’t know yet were that many more incredible moments were to follow.

After the surgery came physical therapy. In order for Mitchell to gain as much mobility as possible, it was crucial that he challenge himself and his new found abilities, but after a few months Mitchell’s drive was waning. He was bored with the routine and it soon became obvious–Mitchell needed an activity that would make him want to use his legs. Something fun. 

“Mom! What are you doing?”

We were about to the end of the corner when, on impulse, I flipped a U-turn and headed back in the opposite direction. “You’ll see.” I smiled. 

“Kentucky Tae Kwon Do... Really, Mom?  Mitch’s eyes lit up as we pulled into the parking lot.

I veered my car into the handicapped spot right up front. We could see a class going on through the large windows. I looked at my boy’s hopeful expression. This meant a lot. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I took a breath. We’d just go in, pick up a brochure and then leave.

My son wobbled in beside me, braces on both legs. I held his elbow to steady him as he took small, stiff steps up the walkway. The do-jang was big and airy with wall-to-wall colorful mats covering the floor. Gold, shining trophies lined the walls. There was a lot of action on the floor. Mitch and I watched a girl execute a palm strike to a stack of boards splitting them clean in half. My breath stopped. What was I thinking? The surgery had helped my son immensely but he was still handicapped. No way could Mitch do this.    

Just then Master Sean Ramey, a sixth degree black belt and thirteen-time State Champion, greeted us with a friendly handshake.  “I’m Sean Ramey, how can I help you today?”

“We were just driving by and thought we’d come in and get a little information–or a brochure.”

Master Ramey extended his hand toward the open doorway. “Great. Just follow me.”

Mitch and I followed him into his office. I motioned to my son. “He recently had surgery on both knees...and feet. He, um–he has Cerebral Palsy.” I hesitated. “He’s always wanted to do Tae Kwon Do... I’m just not sure...” I looked over my shoulder at the kids kicking and diving through the air. I looked at my son, his eyes downcast. I stopped talking. What had I been thinking?  I looked again through the open doorway at the class taking place. A child vaulted high though the air over a stack of pads and landed on the other side without fail.  “Thanks for the brochure but this probably isn’t right for him.” I grabbed Mitchell’s arm, turned to leave.

“Wait a minute,” Master Ramey said, rubbing his chin in thought. His eyes traveled again to Mitchell’s legs, the thick braces. “Mitch, can you come here a minute?” He motioned him over. “I want you to try and kick my hand. “ He bent down reached out his hand just above Mitchell’s left shoe.

Mitch’s face contorted with the effort, but he gave it all he had. The movement began at his hip, his face grimaced. His foot lifted only a couple inches off the ground.

“Good job!” Ramey encouraged. “Now let’s try the other!” His voice was full of enthusiasm.

Again, Mitch strained, his other foot came off the ground only slightly.

Master Ramey patted Mitch on the back, then said to me, “If you're looking to work his legs, Tae Kwon Do is all about the legs.” He smiled, turned back to Mitchell. “You want to do Tae Kwon Do, Mitch?” He asked.

He wanted this more than anything. My son shyly nodded yes.

I was stunned. “You mean you think this would be okay for him? Even with his handicap?”

“I think this would be great for him,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Two private lessons later, Mitch was on the floor. Each lesson brought about new challenges. I’d watch from the balcony tears filling my eyes. My son was working so hard but didn’t even realize it because he was having so much fun! Once, only able to lift his leg a few inches, he now was lifting it a foot off the ground. And something else... He was less timid; meeting people’s gazes, speaking with confidence and being challenged in a productive, safe environment. There were tests and there were promotions. One test, Mitchell was awarded a special medal for his achievements. He got a standing ovation that day. His medal hangs in his room as a reminder of his achievements.

Mitchell, now thirteen, boasts a green belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Last Wednesday when Clay and I entered the do-jang we ran into Master Ramey. “Hey, there!” He greeted us warmly, clapping Clay on the shoulder. “Come on in the office. I’ve got something to show you.” He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a sonogram picture and handed it to Clay. “We just found out today... Christy and I are having a baby girl!” He smiled. “It’s like no other feeling in the world.” His face beamed as he talked about the upcoming birth of his first child.

“I’m happy for you, Sean,” Clay said. “Only one thing–you’re not going to stop instructing here at the do-jang with all those diapers you’re going to be changing, are you?” Clay laughed.

Just then a ring of ke-yaps sounded out. Our heads all turned just in time to see Mitch complete a jumping front kick. Master Ramey turned back to us and smiled. “Nope. You don’t have to worry about that. I could never stop teaching. Those kids out there, my family...This is my dream. This is what it’s all about.”  

He’s right. Family, our children and community, is what it's all about. My dream, for so many years, was just to see my son walk. Today, not only can he walk but also run, jump and kick even!  We all will, at one time or another, face challenges. It helps to have people in your corner rooting for you to succeed. Someone like a Master Ramey, who said to a little boy in leg braces who wanted to learn Tae Kwon, “Good job, Mitch. You can do it!”  Thank you, Master Sean Ramey, along with all the other wonderful instructors at Kentucky Tae Kwon Do, for your encouragement and commitment to helping kids realize their dreams. 

Mitchell, at age eleven, just weeks after having a surgery that would change his life.

Testing is always a big day. Here, Mitch get's his green belt!


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Andrea H. said...

What a beautiful, inspirational story Suzan. And yes, Mitch made it because of all the support and most and foremost, because people believed in him. You are such a writer.

PositivelyOrphaned said...

Such passion and determination. What an inspiration you are Mitch!

Andrea said...

Wow Suzan! What a story! Thank you for sharing it! YAY Mitch!

The Unbreakable Child said...

Awesome, Mitch!!!! Awesome mum too! ; )