I have cerebral palsy (CP). The oxygen to my brain was depleted when the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck during birth. This caused brain damage that affected my gross and fine motor skills. The doctors were not able to make an exact diagnosis until I was between 6 months and one year old. When I was diagnosed, my parents were told that the best thing they could do for me was to put me in some sort of home, because I would never be able to function in a normal fashion. This was primarily concerning my ability to walk and speak. My mother would not accept me living my life in a home and she and my family fought for me to have a normal life. They succeeded. Today, I am 48 years old and live quite a normal life, perhaps even one that is a little exceptional. I am a bodybuilder, something no doctor would have predicted. I am sharing my story so that parents of newly diagnosed children have hope.
Early Childhood and the Toy That Changed My Life
As a child with CP, I functioned in the same fashion as any baby my age, simply with differing gross motor skills. For example, my walking and speech did not progress like other children my age. It was not until age three that I was able to walk or communicate very well. I went through many treatments, including physical therapy, to allow me to walk on my own. Even so, my parents were told by my doctors that I would not be able to walk. At the same time as therapies for my walking, I was undergoing speech therapy. As I was incredibly young and so I do not remember exactly what these therapies entailed other than various stretches and speech exercises. I do, however, have an incredibly positive memory towards the end of this time, at around age three.
The memory of the thing that changed my life was a yellow plastic scooter, shaped like a banana, made by Fisher-Price in the 1970s. Ollie was its name (pictured above). My Uncle Danny, who we lost to Covid in October of 2021, picked it up for me on a whim, at a random truck stop on his route while driving his tractor-trailer. My uncle thought that, perhaps, a riding scooter that encouraged the leg function of young children might benefit me. It’s funny to me how an unknown blue-collar truck driver from a small community in Franklin, Virginia, was able to find a simple solution that educated doctors were unable to see. I know that, very often, genius stems from unlikely sources. Shortly after this amazing gift was given to me and my family, my life truly began.
This little yellow scooter created an immensely positive change in my life; one that medicine had been unable to provide. Ollie went everywhere I did, from sandboxes to stores. My mother recalls the time I rode it into my doctor’s office. It’s funny to think that my childhood was, in a way, sponsored by Fisher-Price. That is an example of how miracles occur. Sometimes they stem from the most innocuous sources. Ollie skyrocketed me from professionals wanting me to live in a home to competitive bodybuilding by age 43. This is not an opportunity to boast of my accomplishments, but rather to give hope and strength to children who may suffer from cerebral palsy and the families that care for them.
Personal Medical History
Beginning around age 3 to around 11 or 12, I underwent a variety of therapies. My physical therapies included strength conditioning, but stretching my muscles was the primary concern. Individuals with CP have tightened muscles and difficulty relaxing, so this was a particularly important undertaking. Around age 10, I received alcohol injections (as it was called at the time). The injections were actually Botox. A common misconception concerning Botox is that it is simply used to enhance beauty. Many people are unaware of its history of treating serious medical conditions. These injections allowed for a reduction in spasticity as well as enhanced muscular function.
From approximately the ages of 10-12 years, I wore leg braces. This was to stabilize my legs and correct my gait. My feet naturally turn inward and these helped correct the position. Much to my chagrin, these consisted of two metal rods connecting to brown high-topped shoes. These shoes made me look like a young newspaper delivery boy from one of those old movies 1930s. Due to the nature of my walking, I was constantly wearing out the soles having to have them replaced.
My teenage years through the present presented some challenges. First, I will speak of my schooling. I attended public school. My intelligence is equal to fellow students but the powers that be thought it appropriate that I attend “special” classes. Luckily, this did not come to fruition. I was able to graduate alongside my fellow classmates in the class of 1992. Shortly after, I attempted to take some classes at a technical school but was unable to complete them due to circumstances with my fine motor coordination. I have difficulty writing. I will say, however, I was able to maintain a 4.0 average during that time. I began working at a family-owned business, where I am a parts manager at a mechanic shop, and have been ever since age 18. Obviously, my cerebral palsy has not excluded me from functioning, workwise.
Now for the various life challenges associated with cerebral palsy. I always wanted the same relationships as everyone my age, platonic and romantic, but somehow society convinced me that these were something unattainable for me. For some reason, society viewed me as “lesser” and as a caricature rather than an average human being with typical wants and needs. This idea became so ingrained in my psyche that by the time I reached middle age, I had become comfortable with never being able to have a fulfilling relationship in my lifetime. Although I made attempts, these were in vain and caused me to quit in the long run. My hope was quickly disappearing. Unbeknownst to me, my life was soon about to progress faster than I ever could have dreamed possible. For parents of children with CP and for individuals with CP who may be reading this, my advice is to not give up. Relationships are possible and deserved. Our physical limitations should not disqualify us from having fulfilling relationships.
Adult Life: Becoming a Bodybuilder with Cerebral Palsy
At the age of 27, I began doing basic physical activities at the YMCA in Franklin, VA. This was 2001. I was exercising at a moderate pace until I met the trainer who, unbeknownst to me, would change my life. Fast forward ten years, I went to the local Anytime Fitness facility in Suffolk, VA. It was a basic recon mission to size up the location. Chris was a trainer there who kindly approached me, showed me around the gym, and offered his services. It was refreshing to me to find someone who actually cared and wasn’t put off by my physical challenges. I decided to sign up. Chris became my trainer. For the next two years, I trained diligently. In 2013, we were trying to find something to level up. I needed a greater challenge. He asked me if I’d ever considered being a competitive bodybuilder. I never even thought that was possible. Individuals with cerebral palsy are rarely bodybuilders. Then it dawned on me, people do the impossible all the time, so why not me?
I began training to compete. I increased my weights to challenge myself. Before training for bodybuilding, I was regularly consuming approximately 60 g of protein, 40 g of fat, and 200 g of carbohydrates per day. My new, grueling routine found me consuming 120 g of protein, 80 g of fat, and 300 g of carbohydrates. I found that despite my CP, my nutritional needs were on par with others with no physical issues. Some people were concerned that I may face challenges in this arena, but I did not find it to be the case. I consumed a standard multivitamin daily as well 5 grams of creatine monohydrate for added bulk. My intake of water increased to around one gallon a day. I also took a pre-workout containing caffeine anhydrous as a stimulant approximately 15-30 minutes before my training sessions. Surprisingly, I did not require any change in prescribed medication. To summarize, I did not encounter any medical or nutritional hurdles while training with cerebral palsy.
Hope for Those with Cerebral Palsy
My family was correct, if those doctors who determined I was hopeless and should be confined to a home could see my life today, they would surely regret giving me and others with cerebral palsy such a prognosis. I am now 48 years old. I am a parts manager at a mechanic shop. I live alone, drive on my own, have a serious girlfriend, and have quality relationships. I face challenges, yet lead a life typical of others my age. Over the last 5 years, I have competed in 13 bodybuilding shows and come home with a winning trophy for each, except for one. All of this was possible because my family did not listen to the doctors. They never gave up and so neither did I.
If you are a new parent of a child with CP, know that he or she can have a rich and fulfilling life. All they need is hope, support, and a little yellow ride-em toy called Ollie.
I want to thank Arlyn Smith who, without her help, this article would not be possible.
Additional Articles and Links
One of my articles. This is from Newsweek: ‘I Am a Body Builder with Cerebral Palsy’ (newsweek.com)
YouTube channel: (3) Arlyn Smith and Steve Alexy – YouTube
Steve Alexy Instagram: @stevethefitone • Instagram photos and videos
Arlyn Smith Instagram: Arlyn Smith (@alusmith) • Instagram photos and videos
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