braxton

“Your sister is in the hospital,” the principal told me, a look of concern on her face.

I remember the day clearly, even now. I was sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school when I got pulled out of class because of my older sister, who was then 27 weeks pregnant with twin boys.

“The babies have to come out. And the doctor isn’t sure if they’ll live.”

Rushing to the hospital, the rest is a blur. Just a few minutes before, my mind had been on Spanish class and the latest teenage boy I had a crush on.

Suddenly, everything had changed: all I cared about was whether my sister, and her not-yet-born baby boys, would survive.

I remember the looks on my sister and brother-in-law’s faces over those next few days. Pure white with more than a hint of ghost. It was not an easy time for our family.

Seven weeks too early, the boys were born, weighing just over two pounds each. But that didn’t relieve anyone’s fears. They were hooked up to a ventilator for what seemed like weeks because their tiny, premie lungs didn’t have the capacity to breathe like normal babies did.

Still, the doctors didn’t know if they were going to make it.

That next year was tough for all of us. I was too scared to hold the boys (soon named Wyatt and Braxton) for fear I’d break them. And since they could have stopped breathing at any moment, they couldn’t be left alone in a room by themselves—even for a moment, for fear they wouldn’t be alive when you returned.

But they kept on fighting for their lives. And eventually, the boys convinced everyone that they were here in this world to stay.

The 10-year-old who could

Fast forward 10 years, and I have two happy, incredibly intelligent nephews.

Aside from one small little detail: a year or two after he was born, when most kids start moving naturally on their own, Braxton still couldn’t walk.

My sister knew something was wrong, and after several visits to the doctor, Braxton was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP).

CP is a disorder that causes movement impairments, but can also cause brain damage and result in mental retardation. There are several different variations of CP, but it most often means that those affected can’t have any sort of normal life.

But Braxton was one of the lucky ones. The son of two engineers, he’s probably the brightest kid I’ve ever met. He’s a math whiz and a computer genius. He’s so good with language that he often corrects my mom (his grandmother) when she makes grammatical errors or says the wrong word. He’s had a sense of humor since he was around a year old. He reads like a maniac.

There’s just one problem: he still can’t walk. And he certainly can’t work out in any normal sense of the term. But boy, does he try.

Fighting for normalcy

Since Braxton was a little kid, his life has been anything but normal.

He can’t walk on his own. He’s in a wheelchair most of the time. He can’t do the majority of things that kids his age love to do, and his freedom is incredibly limited.

The poor kid is at doctors appointments two or three times a week. He’s a number of surgeries and more physical therapy than most adults will encounter in their entire lifetimes.

And for the past two years, every three months, he goes to what’s known in the physical therapy world as “intensives”—insanely intense physical therapy sessions designed to boost his flexibility, make him stronger and give him more freedom to move on his own.

During these sessions, he’s put through the wringer—he does squats, push ups, sit ups, and walks up stairs using crutches until he’s so tired he looks like he’s going to puke.

He puts on a bodysuit that makes it even harder to move and goes through an obstacle course that many agile adults would have a difficult time with. At the end, he’s starving, exhausted and sore for days. This continues for two to three weeks at a time—yet I’ve never once heard him complain.

In fact, he does it all with a smile on his face, happy to be moving at all, set on the notion that someday he’ll be able to walk on his own—just like his brother.

The most positive kid you’ll ever meet

My entire family jokes that in spite of all that he has to go through, in spite of all the pain and the surgeries and the constant dependence on other people—Braxton is the happiest person in the entire family.

That’s because the kid is always up for anything, no matter how hard for him it is—whether it’s playing a game of tennis, or bocce ball, or having a push up contest, which he tries to start at most holiday family functions.

He loves swimming more than anyone I’ve ever met—even though he can’t kick his legs and could, in reality, drown at any moment.

He cheers on Wyatt, his twin brother and a natural athlete, at his soccer and basketball games even though more than anything, he wants to be out there himself.

He constantly wants to move, no matter how hard it is for him.

And he loves every minute of it.

Be thankful you can move

When I look at Braxton, when I see how hard he tries, when I see how much he loves his brother even though he can’t do everything that Wyatt can, my heart melts.

I feel guilty because I can walk. I feel so sad for him that he’ll never have an easy, normal childhood like I did.

But most of all, I feel blessed. I feel thankful I have such a tough little guy in my life. Braxton has also made me more thankful than ever for my own healthy, strong body—a body that’s gotten me through 26 good years, that can walk, that can do all these crazy exercises without falling apart.

Braxton would give anything to be able to play soccer like his brother or do burpees and jump rope with me.

But no matter how hard he tries, it’s always going to be harder for Braxton to move than it is for you and me.

And that breaks my heart.

Braxton is one of the reasons I view exercise as a gift—not a chore. It’s something I get to do. Something that he would give anything to be able to do easily like you and me.

So next time you tell yourself you wish you didn’t have to work out, just stop. Be thankful you can work out. Be thankful your body can do what it does.

Because Braxton would do anything to be in your shoes.