|Cerebral palsy not an obstacle for Centre student
RELEASED: July 3, 2003
DANVILLE, KY(The following story appeared in the June 30th edition of the Danville Advocate-Messenger. For more on the Advocate-Messenger, go to www.amnews.com).
By Emily Burton
At 4 a.m. on June 13, Justin O'Malley began his journey to Washington, D.C., to start his internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's legal aid section. Behind him was the support of his classmates at Centre College, his friends in Frankfort and his legacy as a champion horseman. As the list of his accomplishments grow, it is easy to forget that O'Malley was born with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy affects the nervous system, creating a separation between the brain and the muscle groups and causing difficulties with walking, talking or eating. While symptoms do not worsen with age, they also will never improve.
"Cerebral palsy is a blessing, not a detriment," said O'Malley. "I think my disability has made me a unique person."
O'Malley is not only unique, he is lucky to be alive. Born 12 weeks premature, O'Malley spent his first six months of life in the hospital. When his parents finally brought him home, he was accompanied by an array of medical monitors.
His father, Brian O'Malley, remembered the difficult first months. "My finger was the size of his thigh. Then when he came home he was on a respirator and heart monitor. It went off continuously so we never got much sleep," Brian O'Malley said.
Now he rides Mickey in dressage competitions, but not only for the prestige. Riding keeps his legs in shape and helps work stiff muscles.
"The gate of the horse mirrors the human gate, so it helps work the leg muscles I don't use," said O'Malley.
Though he has difficulty walking, O'Malley has yet to slow down. He is a well-spoken college student, double majoring in English and history at Centre while keeping statistics on every event at their track meets. He writes eloquent letters to help Central Kentucky Riding for the Handicapped raise funds for a new indoor riding arena. He recently finished an internship with the Horseman's Source, a local tack shop. Now he has accepted an internship with the Department of Agriculture.
"I think since coming to college I've been able to break some stereotypes associated with disabilities," said Justin.
His mother, Gale Stivers, agrees. "He's taught me so much, even as a child. He's almost like an old soul in a young body," she said. "I guess it's made me so much more aware of people with abilities, and less aware of people's disabilities."
O'Malley has changed others' views of disabilities as well.
Despite participation in national horse shows and government internships, O'Malley said his personal outlook on life is his greatest achievement to date. "I'm able to never really lose sight of that sense of self, what makes you happy. I remain myself in the face of a monumental adversary," he said. "Kids were cruel but as I've gotten older, I haven't had to stand in that shadow."
Even as an adult, no achievement is without sacrifice, as O'Malley pointed out, "I continue to strive to do more, and I think that comes with a very heavy price. When you are chasing the next challenge, you don't get much time to yourself."
O'Malley's personal time might remain scarce, with so many goals for his life after graduationowning a horse, pursuing a successful legal career, traveling the world.
"Kentucky will always be home to me, but I'd like to go see the world. I'm Irish, so I'd like to go to Ireland, maybe trace my ancestry," said O'Malley.
For the moment, O'Malley will remain a Centre student, even when far from home. But his ambitions will continue to grow. As he put it, "If you want it, you have to really go out there and strive to get it."
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