Falls student overcomes disability, empowers others to become active
Teen exemplifies Adaptive Adventures mission
Menomonee Falls - As Adaptive Adventures staff began to develop the first Youth Empowerment Award, Menomonee Falls High School student C.J. Cahala fit perfectly. He also set the bar exceptionally high for those who may receive the award for years to come, said Angela Allen, program coordinator for Adaptive Adventures.
"With the award we were looking for a youth participant who exemplifies our goals and mission of the organization, which is to empower athletes with physical disabilities and help improve lifestyles through physical activities," Allen said in a phone interview from Adaptive Adventures office in Chicago.
Adaptive Adventures is an organization that promotes recreational activities to people with disabilities and their families.
Student becomes teacher
"It's about ability, rather than disability," said Lynda Laugavitz of Adaptive Adventures, who was the occupational therapist for C.J. C.J. was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child.
When staff and volunteers began to think about youth participants, C.J. was one of the first to come to mind.
Following one of the organization's ski and ride programs during the winter, C.J. found himself stepping into the role of teacher. The ski and ride program had injured veterans participating who were eager to learn how to snowboard. There were plenty of ski instructors at the event, but not enough snowboard instructors to assist some of the veterans.
C.J. was glad to help and offered the veterans, who had snowboard experience, some tips.
"It was clear that C.J. was the first inaugural person to receive the award," Allen said.
It was the first time C.J. went from an attendee to a teacher at one of Adaptive Adventures many activities - a role he gladly accepted.
"The guy learned a couple things here and there and I was the one who taught him that and he went down a run without falling down," C.J. said. "The teacher role was really cool."
Happiness in recreation
C.J. has been snowboarding since he was 8 years old. Although his fine motor skills are affected by his cerebral palsy and he has a hard time with simple tasks such as tying his shoes, he is a master on the snowboard. His disabilities have not stopped him from wake boarding, knee boarding and water skiing. This summer, he plans to take up bike riding.
C.J. is also a member of Best Buddies and the Future Business Leaders of America through the high school. His goal as a ninth-grader is to attend MIT after graduation.
C.J. recommends Adaptive Adventures for anyone with disabilities. It is the laid back atmosphere that he enjoys most.
"I would recommend it to someone like me who is technically disabled but still wants to go out and have fun and do something, but also to the person who is thinking 'pity party, poor me,' " C.J. said. "That group does not let you sit in your pity pot.
"It's about going out there and being active and being a part of something," he said.
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