Breaking through Limitations and Clearing up Misconceptions
Ever wish you could escape your daily boundaries or limitations to let your spirit soar, if only for a few minutes? That’s exactly what Jay Smith did. Twice. The first time was about 10 years ago when he went sky diving. The second time was when he went zip lining in Las Vegas.
What’s particularly remarkable about these flights of fancy is that Smith was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder of the brain that affects one’s body movement, muscle coordination and balance. Since childhood, Smith spends most of his days in a power wheel chair. He also is legally blind. Challenging – yes; limiting – not for Smith.
A member of the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities since childhood, Smith has grown to be a driven, outgoing and people-friendly person -- another leap in his development. According to former DDD Support Coordinator Sean Romans, “We were able to find quality staff to teach Jay self-help skills and find a support group outside of paid supports to assist him with social skills and help teach him to advocate for himself. He now lives independently and has a support group of friends that he has known for many years that he can rely on and trust.”
Free Fall Sky Diving
“It was quite the adrenalin rush!” exclaimed Smith.
Funded by friends of his father, Smith first had to get clearance from his doctor before a sky diving instructor would agree to teach him. Because this would be his first attempt, the lesson would be carried out in tandem. “Basically, until you have X-amount of sky diving hours under your belt, you have to [dive] in tandem with [an instructor].” After about one-minute of free falling, the instructor coached him as they flew the parachute together.
“I was able to get clearance from my doctor and I managed to land without breaking anything,” explained Smith proudly.
When asked by members of the group home where he lived at the time, why he wanted to jump out of a perfectly good plane, Smith replied, “Because you only live once.”
While visiting Las Vegas with friends, Smith decided he would like to sail over Freemont Street.
“Zip lining was so much fun!” exclaimed Smith. “It’s all about the freedom because I have people who place limitations on me. And I just want to prove to them and myself that the limitations don’t mean anything to me. I don’t let little things like limitations stop me from doing what I want to do. It may be a little more challenging figuring out different ways of doing things, but I can figure it out and get it done.”
Would he zip line again? Absolutely! “That was the most amazing experience I have ever done because it was outside of my comfort zone. The sky diving thing was, too” but as most adults will admit, one gets a little less flexible as each decade passes.
March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month
Advocating for awareness, Smith explained, “People who don’t have [cerebral palsy believe that] they can easily catch it from somebody who has it. I feel like this is a major misconception. It’s not a disease. It’s not a sickness. It’s just something that happens.”
Thanks to his determination and positive attitude, along with supports from DDD and his cadre of friends, Smith has been able to spread his wings and actualize his independence.
“Just because I’m in a wheel chair doesn’t mean I can’t do everyday things,” said Smith. “It may take me a little bit to figure out how to accomplish it, but I can get it done.”
Romans agreed. “He has come a long way and all of us at DDD are proud of what he has overcome and achieved.”
Free and unencumbered, Jay Smith enjoys the swoosh of a tandem free fall in his first attempt at sky diving.
Gliding over Fremont Street in Las Vegas. “It’s all about the freedom...” said Jay Smith.
“I don’t want [people] to feel like they’re going to catch something from someone who has cerebral palsy,” said Smith. “That is one of the major misconceptions that people have and I’ve seen it ever since I was a kid.”
At home in Mesa with his housemate and partner, Chris Clements, Jay Smith advises, “You’ve got to try new things and you only live once.”