Breaking Barriers national grand prize essay

This was the national grand prize winning entry for Grades 7-9 in the 2016 Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Essay Contest run by Major League Baseball and Scholastic.

They twist
and turn
and tighten so
for what it is I do not know
for this to go It can't be done
for It and I
don't act as one

Barrier. What a daunting word. For many people, It makes their stomachs lurch and their minds swivel. They deplete our hopes for achieving our dreams and delay us from reaching our full potential. The poem above is a piece I wrote in fifth grade to express my feelings about my barrier, Cerebral Palsy. This neurological disorder affects my motor skills, muscle tone, and spatial awareness.

My barrier is an around the clock restriction that hinders almost every muscle in my body. That doesn't stop me. However, simple things such as putting on my shoes devour precious time. For my siblings, the task is nothing more than a quick slip of the shoe on their feet. First, I have to find a stool that is the proper height for my feet to touch the ground. Then I shove my tense foot into the shoe. Of course, nine times out of 10 I have to try several times before I prevail. After my foot is in the shoe, I adjust it at an angle that gravity will agree with. Now, I take two fingers and tug on the back of my shoe until my foot is snug inside. And there you have it, one miniscule task and I haven't even begun my day of navigating the menacing hallways of middle school.

What most people don't realize is this: An average day of school is a tremendous drain on my body and my mind. In school, I feel like a weed among the roses, with the sickening sound of my feet dragging against the pavement. My least favorite part of the week is gym class. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn. When we play volleyball, my back, legs, arms and even my fingers feel tight. It is a pressure in my body, like thousands of rubber bands that constrict my movement. That happens before the ball I'm not anticipating catapults towards me. Despite all of this, I continue to fight the laborious barrier in front of me.

You may wonder how I continue to remain positive and keep trying, no matter what. I have a very clear sense of myself, which helps me appreciate the things that make me, me. Also, I have core values that assist me in conquering this mighty beast. One of my most essential values is courage. To me, courage is everything, especially when the world around you seems as though it is a sea of derogatory remarks and belittling statements. Courage is key, because I constantly need it to advocate for myself. People assume that I am inferior to others due to my outside struggle. What they don't see is all the frustration I feel from the nagging generalizations. It takes courage to swallow that agitation and speak up. I have learned that if I tell someone what I want and how I feel, it gives them a new kind of respect for me. It's a bit easier for them to understand who I am and it shows them that my disability does not define me. Sadly a lot of kids think I'm frail because of the way I walk. It takes quite a bit of courage to stand up and explain that there is so much more to me than what they see, even though they might not listen.

In fifth grade, I was constantly ridiculed by the older children for moving slowly on the stairwell. Every time I would stand up for myself, the kids refused to listen and continued to shove me against the railing. So I used my courage to take action. I spoke to my teachers and made arrangements for me to speak to the middle school classes. I spoke up and explained what makes me slow and how their words made me feel. They seemed surprised by my confidence and understanding of my body. Since then, they see me as more intelligent than weak. I can thank courage for helping me change how other people view me. I have to give credit to my love of words, too, for guiding me in delivering this message.

Something else that helps me through the many trials of my barrier is determination. It takes a massive amount of determination not to be subdued by my disability. Determination means to not stop, to keep going no matter how difficult things get. It helps me to push boundaries and accomplish feats that people of my condition feel are near impossible. When I was younger, running a mile without stopping seemed like only a fantasy. When I would run my thighs would burn. The feeling would consume my whole body. There were many instances where the only word in my head was "Stop." To me, to stop means to give up. From a very young age my parents instilled in me a burning desire to never give up, so that's exactly what I did. Every time I had a free minute I would jump at the chance to run. I would run at top speed even when the pain seemed unbearable. Then, after months of enduring the tight fiery agony, running a mile became less and less of a demoralizing task. Without determination, I would do a lot of sitting and watching, instead of being immersed in the world around me.

The revered Jackie Robinson didn't sit on the sidelines, either. He bit the bullet and stood his ground. He didn't succumb to any urge of retaliating. I can relate to him because he and I share the same struggle. When Jackie first entered the world of professional baseball, people made assumptions about him based on his skin color. When faced with ignorant scornful taunts of opponents and patrons, he fought back with his persistence and skill instead of his fist. People would throw cleats at him and pitchers would nail him with the ball intentionally. Fans would "Boo" when he stepped on the field. Jackie didn't let his barrier get in the way of his passion. Like Jackie, I am a victim of assumptions but I won't let that break my spirit. Instead of focusing all my energy on the negativity of a situation, I center it on my love of writing and theater. I know If I stay true to my values of courage and determination I can go just as far as Jackie Robinson.