The high school where I used to teach has one of the best girls’ basketball teams in New York State. They are a perennial final four team at the State Championship in Glenn Falls. I try to see a game once or twice a season. The team’s hard work, commitment, effort and intensity on the court are an inspiration to watch. However, this year my attendance proved to expose me to an experience filled with inspiration different from any previous visits.
One of the school guidance counselors, a close friend, had offered to take me to the game because my wife was out of town. Steve introduced me to an eleven year old student, named Maia, and her mother who happened to be at the game. Maia has cerebral palsy and, in addition to the loss of motor control, is also unable to speak. She has not let any of that stop her. Maia can communicate very well through a combination of sign language, gestures, and mannerisms. We hit it off right away. I believe she was at first interested in my condition and my wheelchair, and I was amazed by her ability to communicate, her perception, and intelligence. Maia, with her mother interpreting, asked an amazing number of very thoughtful questions on a wide variety of topics, including how my situation affected my life. She was very uninhibited, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was fascinated by her curiosity and ability to express herself. I spent almost the entire second half of the game answering questions on a variety of topics. After the game, which the girls won, I asked her mother if Maia would like to take a ride in my wheelchair. We toured the gym for about 5 minutes.
Later, as I reflected on the experience, I could not get over Maia’s ability and determination to rise above the challenges she is dealing with at such a young age. What a confident and able young girl she is. Faced with a disease that has taken so much from her, Maia refuses to allow it to dictate who she is and how she lives. What an inspiration to those who have the insight to perceive it. Individuals with disabilities, as Maia demonstrates, need not allow a disability to influence how they conduct their lives. For me she is a welcome reminder of that and an enormous inspiration for finding quality of life while living with a disability.