Some people born with cerebral palsy have spastic movements of the head, arms or legs. Others have affected speech. But to Michael Crawford, these are small issues. Crawford was born without a heartbeat.
He was born dead during an emergency C-section, the result of his mother's gran-Mal seizure while giving birth. Life came back to Crawford and for the past 26 years he has battled cerebral palsy very effectively. His slurred speech and spastic movements let people know right away he has CP. However, what he can't stand are people who assume he is intellectually slow.
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"Just because I'm all jerky doesn't mean I'm dumb," Crawford says.
In fact, Crawford graduated from Willowbrook High School in 2006 and is studying for his associate degree at the College of DuPage, planning to one day earn a bachelor's degree in behavioral science.
He has participated in Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association programs since he started playing basketball with the Junior Wheelchair Bulls at the age of 6. Though Crawford is not confined to a wheelchair, basketball eligibility is allowable for various conditions.
Crawford credits his coach, Craig Culp, now executive director of the North Suburban Special Recreation Association in Northbrook, with developing his confidence.
"I am so proud of Michael," Culp said. "He has represented CP with style and grace and is a great inspiration to others."
Other NEDSRA programs, like Friday Night Socializers, gave Crawford a chance to develop social confidence and friendships.
"NEDSRA has a great support system and it helped me adapt to everyday life," he said. "I was also able to grow bonds with people throughout the organization."
His association with NEDSRA led to his current job as program leader for Adaptive Powerlifting. Crawford has the look of a drill sergeant with his short hairstyle and an air of intensity.
"I develop individual fitness goals for each one in the program and make them sign the workout paper," he said. "This gains their commitment to the workout."
At a recent workout session, Crawford shows his intensity by yelling "Move!" as one of his athletes does situps on the floor. With a joker's smile he sits in the participant's electric wheelchair and rides circles around her while saying, "You gotta move."
Crawford also is paying back the support he received in his formative years by being involved with NEDSRA's TREC program, an acronym for Transition-aged Recreation Experiences and Community. Crawford serves as a mentor for kids with intellectual disabilities leaving high school. The program serves to further develop social and life skills. He shares his life experiences with the participants.
His hobbies include playing golf, attending White Sox games, and helping others. He drives his own car and is engaged to his fiancé, Heather, whom he met online three years ago. His philosophy of life: "Live your life like there's no tomorrow and laugh about everything, especially yourself.
"Forget the CP," Crawford says.