Cerebral Palsy Victim Becomes Star Softball Pitcher

softballClaire Poeckes of Omaha, Nebraska didn’t walk until she was 18 months old. To her parents and physicians, however, the fact that she could walk at all was an incredible achievement. Upon her diagnosis with cerebral palsy, doctors said Claire might never walk. She was born with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which affects one arm and one leg (usually on the same side). Walking wouldn’t be the last time Claire beat the odds. She soon proved she wasn’t going to let her condition interfere with another dream – playing softball.

Cerebral Palsy and Sports

Contrary to what many believe, people with cerebral palsy can play sports. In fact, sports and recreational activities have many physical and emotional benefits for children with cerebral palsy. Engagement in sports can give kids with cerebral palsy a sense of belonging and importance. It can also teach important social skills, such as how to work on a team and communicate with others. Physical activity in a safe sports environment can improve mobility, coordination, and balance in youth with cerebral palsy as well.

Playing sports such as softball can improve range of motion and flexibility, build muscle strength, normalize posture, reduce emotional distress, and boost confidence for children living with cerebral palsy. If you have a child with this condition, find out if there is a sport that interests him or her. Your child may progress slowly in the sport, but if he or she really loves it, your child will keep at it. A connection with a sport, such as Claire’s with softball, can motivate children to do their best and succeed.

Claire’s Passion for Softball

Softball was something that interested Claire Poeckes from an early age. She never let her disabilities preclude her from sports or other activities. With years of physical and occupational therapies, Claire developed the abilities she would need to successfully play the game. Despite the right side of her body experiencing motor dysfunction, 15-year-old Claire made the fast-pitch softball team at her high school in Omaha, Nebraska. Through determination and hard work, Claire became a left-handed pitcher on her team.

Claire can pitch just like any other player – the only difference is she has to transfer her glove from her right hand to the left so she can field a ball. After endless hours of practicing pitching and glove switching in her basement, Claire thinks nothing of the glove change. Jim Abbot, a one-handed Major League pitcher, is one of Claire’s inspirations. Her dad showed her videos of the pitcher, which were Claire’s first introduction to disabled athletes.

Claire’s softball coach, Jan Headley, calls Claire’s ball movement, “phenomenal,” and says it’s an inspiration just to watch her pitch. While Claire’s coach, teammates, and family are all inspired by her feats as a star softball pitcher, to Claire she’s just a normal player. She has adapted the game to suit her abilities, and excels from the pitcher’s mound. Claire will continue to play on her high school team, and possibly pursue the sport into college.

Redefining Disability and Inspiring Others

Young people like Claire Poeckes serve as inspiration for all children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. Claire set her sights on something she wanted, worked hard, and achieved it despite her differences to other players. She became a talented one-handed softball pitcher and a major asset to her high school team. Like Claire, other children with various forms of cerebral palsy can play sports and explore their talents with help from supportive coaches, teachers, parents, and physicians.

Claire is a shining example of the power of hard work and determination. She is one of many youth with cerebral palsy who are proving disability does not mean inability. People with cerebral palsy are proving doubters wrong and pushing the limits of what physicians previously thought possible by swimming, golfing, painting, acting, water skiing, and more. If children with cerebral palsy put their minds to something, there’s no limit on what they can achieve.

Early Enrollment in Sports for Children With Cerebral Palsy

Early diagnosis and intervention are important to the future abilities of children with cerebral palsy. As a parent, it is your job to notice potential signs of cerebral palsy in infancy. These can include uncontrollable muscle movements, rigid tendons, drooling, delayed development, and trouble feeding. Physicians may diagnose cerebral palsy right at birth, or it may take a few years to diagnose the condition correctly. As soon as you receive the diagnosis, discuss your child’s options for treatments and therapies with your doctor.

As your child gets older, ask him or her about sports. If children with cerebral palsy express an interest in sports, parents should be supportive and encourage children to try it out. Many schools and organizations help disabled children play sports with mobile-assistive technologies and other innovations, regardless of ability level. As Claire and many other children constantly prove, cerebral palsy does not have to eliminate sports or recreation opportunities.