This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/unique things. This is the story of James and his wheelchair.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m 24, from Stamford, Connecticut, home of WWE – I’m a HUGE professional wrestling fan. Working there would be my dream job; I’m currently looking for work after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in English from UConn. I enjoy following the Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets and of course the 2011 Men’s National Basketball Champion UConn Huskies…I’m a volunteer fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association; my website
helps send kids with neuromuscular diseases to a special summer camp, and if things work out the way I hope, I’m about to cross the $100,000 mark on fundraising this year. I also do other volunteer work for Literacy Volunteers and other local charities, I write poetry, I listen to a lot of music; I actually am in the process of writing my autobiography just so I can give my family and friends a glimpse into what my life feels like.
How did you come to be in a wheel chair?
I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after birth. Actually, I was born 11 weeks premature and spent 55 days in intensive care in an incubator. I got my first wheelchair at age 5 after having spinal surgery, but I also use arm crutches to maintain my independence and mobility.How does being in a wheel chair affect your daily life?
It makes getting around both easier and harder. Harder in that not everyone in your group of friends has room to fit even a completely portable, folded-up wheelchair into their trunk, easier in that if I didn’t have it, I really don’t know how I’d travel long distances, especially in public places.
Do you have more than one wheel chair?
Some people have more than one wheelchair; it depends from person to person. There are “manual power” chairs you “push” with your hands and electric ones that use a joystick. I like my manual chair; with electric chairs, not only are they generally more expensive, you also have to worry about battery life and portability in some cases.
How much does a new wheelchair cost? How often do you have to replace your wheelchair?
Goodness, at least thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands. It’s like buying a new car, just without steering wheels, sunroofs and fancy rims. I still want to “pimp” my chair out, though. Thankfully, my dad has a flexible job and we have insurance to help pay for some of the cost, but it’s still expensive.How has being in a wheelchair affected your body?
My upper body strength has always been tremendous. Prior to being in a wheelchair, I did a lot of crawling as a baby and young child – that helped build up my arm strength. The wheelchairs out there now have contoured seats with lumbar support and things like that, but as with any kind of chair, if you sit in it all day, your back aches along with the rest of your body, which is why I’m active on my crutches most of the time. I really only use the chair out in public or when my legs feel to weak to go to the bathroom at home, for example.How do you get around on a day-to-day basis?
I can drive, but outfitting a car is even more expensive than buying a wheelchair. The bus service is unreliable here, unfortunately; I talked to a local politician who is a quadriplegic recently and even he said that he doesn’t use the bus service where we live because it’s unreliable. Right now, I depend on my family or friends to take me places, and it can be extremely frustrating when no one can take you anywhere, sitting in your house for weeks at a time. While I’m more open to learning how to drive these days, the fact that I’m “stuck” at home sometimes just means I have to think creatively to keep my mind occupied and entertained, which is actually a huge plus sometimes.
Do people treat you differently because you’re in a wheel chair?
When I was younger; definitely. The good news is that it was a positive difference when I was younger in that everyone at school wanted to push my wheelchair…I had a perfect record on Field Day in the wheelbarrow race, and I’m not athletic at all! These days, I don’t think the wheelchair really factors in people treating me a certain way, because they either see me for who I am without the wheelchair or they choose not to become my friend. It’s as simple as that. Now, honestly, another positive about the wheelchair is that when I go to WWE events or concerts, I usually get a pretty good seat! It’s all in how you approach life in general. Believe me, there are days when being in a wheelchair can make you angry and depressed beyond your wildest imagination. But in the big picture of life, I could be in such worse shape physically or otherwise, so I’m thankful.
What advice would you give to someone else who’s in a wheelchair or is struggling with mobility issues?
When I was younger, doctors really weren’t sure if I was going to do all the things a healthy child would be able to do. They were right: I did all of that and then some! I’ve been on worldwide television with my idol, Jerry Lewis, I’ve met countless athletes and celebrities not because I’m in a wheelchair, but because I decided to raise awareness about other kids with disabilities…to those with mobility issues, don’t give up on yourself. Adapt to and embrace your situation.
This advice is to everyone reading this – please don’t treat disabled people like me differently. I’m just like you. I have hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations…I don’t know if I’ll get over my fears of flying and driving, I don’t even know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow! I do know that I’m here to make people happy, to make people appreciate what they can do and not dwell on what they can’t, and to help an awful lot of disadvantaged children get better and lead healthier, more positive lives!Do you or any of your friends/family have a disability? Any questions for James?