Strength can mean more than muscles

IT’S RECESS; every kid’s favorite time during school.

The sun beats down on all of us as we scrape our knees and ruin our clothes. I’m 6 years old, my velcro shoes are covered in mud and grime, and my school uniform is untucked and disheveled.

I run over to my group of friends organizing a game of tag. The instant I get to the group, I hear, “Ooh, Lucas is here!” Initially, I’m excited with the response, eager to spend time with my friends. But what follows is a comment I have never forgotten.

“Lucas is ‘it’ because he’s too slow to catch us.”

Lucas Johnson
Lucas Johnson, St. Paul Academy and Summit School.

Since birth, I have had an undi­agnosed muscular deficiency, an extremely rare and, as far as my family and the doctors are aware, completely new condition. I couldn’t swallow when I came home from the hospital, I stopped breathing spo­radically throughout my infancy and I couldn’t walk until age 2. Doctors were unsure if I was going to be able to even lift a fork to feed myself when I grew older.

Usually with a genetic weakness, a treatment plan and specialized care and equipment are used for a per­son’s entire life. But my situation was thankfully not nearly as severe. I’ve had no need for serious equipment, such as wheelchairs or crutches, to ensure my well-being, which is truly a blessing. However, I’ve had a number of bracing programs to ensure my posture and gait were not worsened as a result of weak core and support muscles.

Naturally, I’ve had countless doc­tor’s appointments to both check my physical progress in terms of muscle growth, and to attempt to diagnose whatever my body’s dealing with. When each of these appointments rolls around, I dread having to duck out of school and explain to the teacher, or even the class, why I have to leave. Confused faces and whis­pers generally follow. It bothers me beyond belief, and I constantly wish I could change the way I am.

With this reality comes a daily battle and a necessity for patience and understanding. I go to public pools and I get stares as my dra­matically thin body wisps by. I play pickup basketball and hear snickers as I approach the court, before they even know my ability. Honestly, I’m just always in a tough spot. I am able to do physical activity but at a dra­matically lower level than my peers. I can shoot a basketball with ease, but I can’t compete when it comes to outmuscling an opponent in order to score. I can run, of course, but my endurance is miniscule. I can build muscle, but the energy I exert while exercising is far higher than it would be for a normal person. And that’s where I struggle.

But then I get to the hospital. I see kids my age confined to motor­ized wheelchairs who are forced to breath through a tube. I see kids who can’t walk without crutches. I see kids who need help desperately, but there’s only so much a doctor can do.

Once I step through those slid­ing doors covered in Blue’s Clues and superhero stickers, I instantly regret complaining. In comparison, I am a picture of health in that hospital – I can walk, run, jump and relieve myself without any aid. Although I may be challenged, I am constantly reminded of what I could be dealing with.

I’m frustrated every single day of my life that I can’t compare to others’ physical abilities, but in the same sense, I am incredibly grati­fied to be able to move at all. There are days when I get fed up, wish I could change and daydream of a better me, but I’ve started to catch myself and realize that I am who I am, and there’s nothing I can do to change that.

Although I may be lacking physi­cally, I have no such deficiencies when it comes to mental strength. Whether that comes from a per­sonality trait or a compensation for minimal physical strength, I may never know. However, I believe that mental and emotional strength are accentuated when you have a greater challenge in your life.

This phenomenon most certainly does not apply to only me. There’s a reason why you hear countless stories about those with health chal­lenges displaying immense amounts of courage and perseverance; it’s because they have to. Without mental toughness or a positive out­look, you’ve chosen to let your condi­tion beat you, and that baffles me.

Yes, I can’t do a push-up or sit-up, and yes, my body is shockingly thin, but does that mean that the posi­tives in my life are harder to find? Absolutely not.

Although I have a challenge that almost no one else in the world is experiencing, focusing on that aspect of my life clouds my oppor­tunity to enjoy far more positive things. I have made the conscious decision to not focus on what is out of my control. That change in perspective makes way for things that mean far more to me, such as personal relationships.

And that change in perspective outmuscles any amount of physical strength.