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From the Bleachers – Strength

From the Bleachers - Strength
By Beth Volpert

From where I sit, or stand and cheer, measures of strength can vary greatly. There is the obvious muscle power it takes to drive back an offensive line or push through a defense.

Bryce and his dad on Little Gasparilla Island.

Finesse and skills can be found on any field, court, pitch, pool, or arena, but true strength of mind, character or spirit cannot really be measured. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get a glimpse inside what makes a kid really strong and it might not be muscle at all.

This month, two kids have managed to create a very strong blip on my radar. They don’t know each other, but they both exhibit strength beyond the physical world.

The first is a kid I have known since he was “little”. He is a swimmer through and through. He can rough and tumble with his siblings and has a pretty independent streak going on despite the fact that he is not afraid to hug his mom in public. The past two Spring Breaks have found us all on Little Gasparilla Island which is a beach in Florida that you can only get to by boat and contains nothing of the typical Spring Break excitement. No putt-putt, no jet ski rentals, not even a restaurant, but the island and the waves are all our kids needed. Bryce, being the oldest, was often the daring one who sought the biggest waves and the “scariest” challenge. In the cut between Gasparilla and Little Gasparilla is a strong current that forbids the average person from even sticking a toe in the water. But Bryce, being the strong swimmer that he is, waded out and swam against the current, remaining in one place, for more than 10 minutes without even getting winded. It was boy against nature.

That boy, with all his physical strength -who challenged nature and didn’t bat an eye- found that physical strength was not all it would take to win a battle against the crushing blow of a car wreck. Just a tiny fraction of a second or a millimeter would have made the difference in how Bryce’s life turned out. For Bryce, real strength came a few months later, after his physical wounds were on the mend. Real strength came in turning to me at the annual swim team banquet and saying, “It changes everything-a wreck like that changes everything and makes you realize what is really important.” Real strength came to Bryce Peden as his body was beginning to heal and he was again able to swim the miles of training laps that had allowed him to swim against the current-physically and now, spiritually as he finds his voice to give witness to a faith that grew on a frightening day in December of last year.

Brayden-Chitwood 440

Brayden and his mom celebrate! 

Our next friend is a little boy I have only met once. I have known his mom since the 80’s, but our circles didn’t meet again until recently. Brayden is very special. Kids like him are some of my favorites. Kids with Autism truly ROCK. What goes on inside them is mostly a mystery, but make no mistake, a great deal goes on in there. Sometimes we are privy to their observations, mostly though, we are not. 

This year, for his mom, Jennifer Chitwood’s, birthday, Brayden did something out of the ordinary. This year, without prompting, Brayden looked his mom in the eyes and told her, “I love you.” Extraordinary moments like these come few and far between when you have a child who doesn’t communicate like most kids. Moments like these are precious and Brayden’s mom could have asked for no better gift.

Strength and courage are characteristics not always attributed to a kid whose outward affect is different than most. But it took a great deal of strength for Brayden to reach deep inside himself to share his affection for his mom. “It is a moment I will cherish forever,” says Jennifer. “It was a very special birthday.”

Athletics, academics and daily life provide moments to show the many strengths found in a kid. Remaining open to the possibilities of all sorts of kids yields gifts beyond measure and real, true strength is one of those gifts.

Beth Volpert is a freelance writer, blogger, and feature writer with the Gwinnett Citizen. As a mother, Beth spends a lot of time with her children watching them ‘From the bleachers’… 

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