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Op-Ed: Admitting to a disability lead to a life-tranforming Ironman (Includes interview)

In his book “One More Step” he details the confession that at first caught him off guard but then propelled him to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro and participate in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
He realized by participating in those physically and emotionally demanding events that there was much more in life than a fancy car, a high-paying job and all the material stuff of financial success. “Everyone has challenges in life, he said. I was my own barrier in my life. I stopped trying to fit in like everyone else and acknowledged, I have Cerebral Palsy.”
To accept his cerebral palsy was important. It helped to free him from all the notions and misconceptions that had entangled him and kept him from genuine happiness.
Knowing about his handicap or disability was one thing. But to speak openly and honestly in public, without embarrasment or pity was something much more empowering. For most of his life Paddock strived to be the best he could be by aiming for all the things the American Dream emulates. Disability was something not talked about.

Forty years ago, he was born to a typical American home in sunny Southern California. He was all set to achieve what was expected in that American Dream except, complications at birth caused a chronic neuromuscular condition of hypertonia and spasticity. This form of Cerebral Palsy known officially known as Spastic diplegia, affected only his legs. “The umbilical cord was wrapped twice around my neck,” he noted. That brief time without oxygen impacted the part of the brain that operates the legs. Similar to having a stroke, Paddock’s legs and way of walking would be different from everyone else. Fortunately, nothing else about Paddock’s physicality was impacted.
Once a clear diagnosis was made and understood, and that in and of itself was an ordeal; Paddock and his family did not talk about it much. He was determined to play sports and particiapte in life as much as possible. His energy was boundless, his spirit eager. He writes that while he was not the first one picked for the team, he was a team player just the same. And, despite any set backs, he participated, regardless of any reservations some may have had.
In school, he tolerated the jeers, the whispers about why he walked and moved differently than everyone else. Yet in time, as he grew to six feet tall he found ways to “hide” or disguise his cerebral palsy. Often when asked that question, “why do you walk that way? Or, “what happened to you?” He would change the subject and the sheer confident manner in which he presented himself and his will to succeed deflected the inquiry.
Paddock’s life whether with or without a disability was not immune to things like his parents’ divorce and all the inner pain and conflicts that accompany it. Still, he pressed onward, getting to college and then a job with a career. His disability was a closely guarded thing.
But that all changed when a friend’s son was born with Cerebral Palsy. And then unexpectedly, due to complications, he died. Jake’s death was devastating. Paddock decided he would stand up to his disability and for CP. From that moment onward, Cerebral Palsy was a description for the situation, condition that he and an estimated 764,000 people in the United States have.
CP would no longer be something to hide from or deny. According to Stern Law Group of Michigan eight to 10,000 babies born in the U.S. are impacted by cerebral palsy, which is from complications during birth. And, according to the CDC, cerebral palsy is the most common condition affecting motor disability in childhood.
As Paddock began to connect to this ignored part of his past, his life, he became even more active. Speaking before the local United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County, acknowledging his CP, he then embarked on a journey.
At first it started as external goals, go to Kilimanjaro, then to the Ironman completion in Hawaii. Yet as Paddock later realized after pushing himself to the point of death, “it was no longer about what I set out to do in honor of Jake. I realized after Kilimanjaro and especially at the Ironman competition it was about all the people helping me.”
“The people and their efforts and their willingness to help, that is what changed my focus,” Paddock said. His sense of self became more centered upon what people could do and what they were doing to help others. The best within them, was shining through rather than ignorance or negative reactions to a disability.
When Paddock became connected to the disability community in Kilimanjaro, he also recognized something. “Even with the little that they had and all the daily hardships they face, they were still able to give of themselves.” That in itself, sparked a deeper sense of awareness in Paddock. “Our lives on this earth are more than just accumulating stuff or trying to impress others.”
He also noticed how small amounts of money go a lot farther in Tanzania than in the U.S. “It amazes me just $10.00 in Tanzania can feed an entire family.”

In terms of helping kids with disabilities, that modest amount of money, providing medical and orthopedic care, can be literally like moving mountains. Paddock’s perspective and life has changed dramatically as his travels brought him closer to humanity than ever before.
He most likely would have continued on “the treadmill” of his career. Yet that confession, that self-acceptance is one of those re-defining moments that transformed his life. It has allowed him to have a greater impact, not only in the people he works with where he lives in Laguna Beach, but on the other side of the globe in Tanzania.
He hopes the outreach he has been doing in Tanzania will inspire others to help and further this type of work to other parts of the world that need it most. “Much of what keeps people with disabilities from participating and being all that they can be is ignorance and fear.”

And, like he said, “learning to not let yourself be the barrier, the obstacle in life.”

To learn more about Bonner Paddock, his book “One More Step” and the outreach work in Tanzania visit his OM web site.

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