Student Life Editor
Frustrated, he has to wait for his left hand to get a strong grasp on any sweatshirt or coat’s zipper. For him, this wait feels like an eternity.
Zipping up a sweatshirt or coat is a task that takes two seconds for most, but for Tyler Penn, zipping up a sweatshirt has the potential to become a chore – a chore that can take minutes rather than seconds.
“I grab stuff and I’ll think to myself, ‘Hang on to it as tight as you can,’” Penn said.
For all of Penn’s life he has been different from everyone else.
Being born with cerebral palsy (CP), a physical disability that is caused by damage to the motor areas of the brain, has forced Penn to alter his own walk and motions in order to accommodate the left side of his body, which is mostly affected by CP.
“The way I understand it is that there is a disconnection between one side of the brain and the other side of the brain. So the nerves in the side that is affected don’t quite work as well, so it results in a lack of fine motor skills and your reflexes are a little off,” Penn said.
At a young age, Penn knew he was unique, but he did not understand why.
“I just thought that I walked differently,” Penn said.
Tyler’s parents Dave and Donna did not want to give him a reason to be afraid to do anything. At age 13, Penn proved that he would not let cerebral palsy defeat his dreams of being active in sports. Penn developed a passion for soccer when he started to play with his twin brother, Kenny.
Even though Tyler’s passion for soccer continued throughout his high school education at Manchester Memorial High, he did not want to play on a team that was comprised of students who would pass judgment on him for his disability.
During his junior year of high school, Penn stumbled upon the U.S. Men’s Paralympic National Soccer Team on MySpace.
He took a chance and emailed Coach Hoffman.
“I didn’t think anything was going to come out of it,” Penn said. However, Hoffman saw the talent in this right midfielder.
The U.S. Men’s Paralympic National Soccer Team is one that trains athletes with physical disabilities like Penn.
“There are so many types of cerebral palsy within the team. You have guys that are affected in both their legs and both their arms and guys who are affected in one of their legs and one of their arms,” Penn said. However, this team is not limited to athletes who only have a disability like cerebral palsy. Athletes who have traumatic brain injuries or who have suffered strokes all have a place on this team.
These athletes, who walk or move differently than others, are trained equivalently to elite soccer players.
“My training is not structured towards somebody who has cerebral palsy. It is structured as an elite athlete would structure it. Everything that I do, the full national team would do,” Penn said.
“I think it is great how Tyler can overcome his disabilities and play on a soccer team. He has a lot of determination. He really appreciates life. There have been situations that I have been in where I think, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but he always tries,” Tyler’s friend, Jacqueline DeMaio, said. However, because Penn does not have full mobility, his stamina cannot keep up with the exercises he demands his body to achieve.
“My body gets tired a lot more quickly than somebody else’s who has full mobility. When my body starts to get tired, my mind starts to shut down. Sometimes I just want to stop, but you can’t,” Penn said.
Penn constantly wants to make his own limitations rather than living in the boundaries someone else has created for him.
“I really want to show people with disabilities that there shouldn’t be a limit to what they can do,” he said.
“I think a lot of people, especially when you’re younger, are afraid of what they don’t understand. And to compensate for that they think it’s better to make fun of people and belittle what they don’t know,” Penn said.
However, rather than letting his cerebral palsy affect his daily lifestyle, Penn has learned to embrace his obstacles.
Embracing his disability, rather than letting it consume his life, has allowed Tyler to grow as an individual and accept his disability, instead of letting others belittle him for being different.
“He is an important person to a lot of people because he shows people that he can do it,” DeMaio said.
Even though zipping a sweatshirt poses as a constant everyday struggle for Penn, he wouldn’t change anything about his lifestyle. These struggles are ones that have forced Penn to overcome the limitations his peers have placed upon him.
“I don’t want to change anything because that is what made me who I am. Everything that you go through, everything you encounter, you are always going to have your challenges. But, that’s something that you have, it doesn’t make you who you are,” Penn said.
Sam Norton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org