I’ve been wearing a certain necklace for almost six months now; it’s 82 circular beads of eight assorted colors all lined up on a shoestring. It happens to be the finest piece of jewelry I have ever owned.
The necklace was brought to me by one of the strongest and most adorable children to cross my path. Six-year-old Mike Sosa of Birmingham, Alabama, came bursting through the doors on his walker to an afterschool program I work at exclaiming, “Mr. Jeremy! I made this for you!” He placed the shoestring around my neck, and that’s where it stays most of the time, my own personal rosary.
It was not long into our interactions that Mike asked me to ‘coach’ him on a one-mile fun run he was planning to be apart of in conjunction with the Birmingham Mercedes Marathon. I share this story from my heart in an effort for you to see the one that resides in this young man.
Mike was born with cerebral palsy, but as he showed me as well as a host of race spectators that day ‘disability’ is a word that lacks any imagination. Our course would take us one mile through the downtown streets of Birmingham. Mike had been training for these moments on his walker for a few months. Even so, his mother and I had a halfway point contingency plan should he become exhausted; it turned out that there would be no need for that plan.
As the race began we were swarmed on all sides by parents and children that were also taking part in the event. Mike began with a burst as a particular serpentine pattern developed over the first eighth of the race. I placed a guiding hand on the back of his walker to make the most of every step that the little man mustered, smoothing out his zigzags. Efficiency would be of the utmost importance if we were to finish this race.
As we crossed the finish line, some 40 minutes after the last of the main group, with the entire mile completed and an entourage of 30-plus at our sides, I scooped Mike up close and reflected. I would be lying not to admit that even I wondered whether he would be able to accomplish his goal. What I learned – the truth Mike revealed to me – is that to doubt ourselves is a learned behavior. The word ‘disability’ is a dead term that can be redefined in as many different ways as there are people to challenge it. Mike never doubted himself, and that is all that mattered on that day. I carry the lessons of heart this young man showed me, and I hope you can, too. I whispered into Mikey’s ear at the finish line how proud I was of him, and I thanked him once again for the necklace.