Disabled Teen Changes Minds and Lives

In fact, Doug has competed internationally in Australia. He placed third in the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter races, and won the 50-meter backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in swimming. In a national competition in Connecticut, he placed first in the 100-meter race, and third in the 200-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meters.

But one of his most impressive achievements is in the respect he has earned from the younger children he counsels and assists — when he helps train them to play basketball, for example. It's where the charisma he has developed is put to its best use, in dealing both with children and their parents.

Working to Change Minds

To parents who are reluctant to allow their wheelchair-bound children to compete in athletics, he says, "I'm in a wheelchair. I don't have legs and I'm playing basketball. This kid can play. … We'll teach him.

"My whole goal in life is to change those moms' minds."

Jean Brown has been impressed by the way Doug counsels children at the Shriner's Children's Hospital. "When he rolls in with his wheelchair they're kind of taken aback, because they say, 'Something's not right here.' And less than 10 minutes into it, they're talking and laughing. He just has a very good way with people.

"Doug gives them advice about life. He says … 'There's going to be an occasional jerk that comes along. Recognize that they're the jerk and not you.' "

Doug says he eventually wants to marry and have his own children, "but it's very rare to find someone open-minded enough where they can just treat me as a person. And not as a person in a chair."

"The fact that he has sacral agenesis does not mean that he can't father children," said Brown. "If he decides he would like to have a child, we'll probably go for a fertility workup to see. But I certainly wouldn't take that out of his future at this point in time."

Next fall, he plans to go to the University of Illinois — a school considered one of the hubs of wheelchair sports — where he was accepted after writing an entrance essay on what it means to him to be able to counsel children. He doesn't mind being called a role model. But he says he hates being called an inspiration.

"I'm not. I'm doing my only choice. The people who get hurt or are in a wheelchair — you have two choices. You can say, 'OK … I'm stuck with it. I can go live my life, have fun, no big deal.' There's no reason to sit in my room and cry.

"There's … a Limp Bizkit song, 'Life is a lesson, you'll learn it when you're through.' And that's something I believe in. I think it takes time for you to realize what's going on, for you to really learn it. And I'm hoping I get to that the point."

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