Conner and his twin brother were born 15 weeks early, weighing less than 2 pounds each. Now a sophomore at the University of Arizona (UofA), Conner, a member of the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), plans to inspire youth--and inadvertently, he is inspiring adults.
Over the years, Conner received a number of DDD services including Occupational and Physical Therapies when he was “much younger.” Conner also is appreciative of the rapport he has developed over the past eight years with his DDD support coordinator, Eric Rockinberg. “Eric is great! He’s amazing!” said Conner.
“I get a lot of services in terms of medical stuff and making sure that I’m able to have my braces and able to go to all the doctors that I need to go to,” said Conner. “I have cerebral palsy (CP). I had a brain bleed when I was a few weeks old … a lot of [my development] could have turned out differently if we hadn’t done everything that we did to keep me healthy.” Conner also had a growth hormone deficiency. “The doctor said, ‘You’re not going to be able to be 5-foot [tall] if you don’t do this.’ So, I took human growth hormones from the time I was about 8 until I was 16. That was really helpful.”
Additionally, Conner had three big orthopedic surgeries. Facing a series of grueling surgeries to his knees, hamstring, right foot and ankle, and knowing he’d face a long and painful healing process, Conner went ahead with determination and grit. “They’re one of those things where, right before you do it you think, ‘Why am I doing it?’ I know it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. And I know it’s going to take months for me to get better. Then after the surgeries were over, it made a big difference even though I didn’t know how big a difference it was going to make. My grandfather was really helpful because he had some health issues later in his life – a hip replacement and knee replacements – he was a really good mentor for me in terms of how to get through that type of stuff.”
Despite the challenges of CP and a growth disorder, Conner went on to play four years of high school basketball. “I went to a pretty small school so that really helped me because I was able to actually be on the team. Which if I had been at Catalina Foothills, that would not have happened. I got decently good [at basketball] but not all that great. I had a great time!” How did a person with CP go out on the court? “I wear orthotics when I go out and play basketball.” Since starting college, Conner has become an assistant basketball coach at his former high school, which is part of his education and career goals.
“I really like history. That’s always been my favorite subject in school. That’s my minor.” Conner’s major is Literacy, Learning and Leadership. “My major is teaching outside of the classroom – it’s not very well known.” According to the UofA, Graduates of the Literacy, Learning, and Leadership Major are prepared to lead in a variety of educational settings where multiple literacies and holistic conceptions of learning are valued and enacted. They use justice-oriented principles that draw out and build on the funds of knowledge and resources of learners from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Literacy, Learning, and Leadership graduates create visionary plans that inspire, support, and guide group and organizational goals.
Conner is also involved with the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques or SALT program. – “SALT was recently recognized as an international model for higher education institutions for students with learning and attention challenges,” states the UofA website.
“I want to go back and teach middle school history and be a high school basketball coach. My [former high school, The Gregory School] is an independent school, so I’d love to go back there. I can teach in middle school and coach in high school. Most schools aren’t like that.” Conner explained, “If 20 years down the road I decide to do something else, I’ll have a different degree that’s not just classroom teaching.”
During the pandemic, Conner spends much of his time at home rather than attending in-person classes. He also started a YouTube channel, CJHeroBall. Conner is the type of person whogives 100% to doing whatever he has committed himself to doing. About his philosophy of life: “I think a lot of it comes from some of the challenges I face with CP. I commit myself to [each task] fully. I’ve had to do that because with CP, I can do everything [that others without CP can do] but it still takes more energy. I’m still not going to get the results that I want, especially with sports. For me to get to where I want to, I have always had to work harder than everybody else.”