Nathan Baker is proof positive that kids with disabilities can compete in sports.
Nathan Baker and Coach Mike Miragliuolo :
Nathan Baker was a participant in a study conducted by Dr. Deborah Thorpe at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation. Dr. Thorpe’s study compared the efficacy of treadmill training versus aquatic therapy in improving quality of life and motor function in children with cerebral palsy aged 12-19 years of age.
From Nathan’s Mom…
We are so thankful for the research funds that the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation contributed to Dr. Deborah Thorpe of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Division of Physical Therapy. Nathan’s physical therapist, Cathy Howes (also UNC Hospitals), recommended us for the study. We soon discovered that Nathan would be in the treadmill portion of Dr. Thorpe’s study and this meant that he would be on the treadmill for 3 times a week for 40 minutes at each session. Nathan decided to combine this study participation with physical fitness work he needed to do for his Boy Scout Personal Fitness merit badge.
Dr. Thorpe, Nathan, and I were amazed at Nathan’s progress on the treadmill as he participated in this study. He increased his speed to 4 mph and higher and was able to sustain this pace for the two 20 minute sessions. As Nathan’s participation in this study was coming to completion, Dr. Thorpe began to educate us on how important it is for individuals with CP to exercise throughout their lives so they can ward off loss of function as they age. She also inspired Nathan to inquire about Cross Country or Track opportunities at his school.
Nathan inquired about Track at his middle school and was not enthusiastically received. We found some coaches are unwilling or fearful to include those with disabilities in physical endeavors. Other coaches will embrace the idea and know the benefit it can bring to all members of the team as they learn lessons of perseverance and “heart” from those with disabilities.
We decided to be persistent and inquired about Cross Country as Nathan was making plans to enter High School. Coach Mike Miragliuolo urged Nathan to join his team at Green Hope High School. He promised Nathan that if he was willing to attend practices and put in the effort, he would be part of the team. Nathan began his workouts with the team that summer. North Carolina is gruelingly hot and humid in the summer and the municipal park where the high school team often trains has some challenging terrain for a person with motor disabilities to navigate.
Coach’s first goal for Nathan was to be able to run 3 miles without stopping to walk. The first two weeks were daunting. Nathan grew discouraged. Coach began to reconsider what was possible and offered Nathan the opportunity to remain as part of the team in a support role(help with water/towels, etc.). Nathan “dug in” and founded it within his character to continue to try and by the time the team was ready for its first meet, Nathan could run 3 miles. He ran this first 5 K with a time of 33:55. The lead runner’s time was 19:08. Nathan’s current personal record for the 5K has improved to 24:18.
Nathan discovered a fountain of inspiration:
1) others inspire him to run his best with their cheering and 2) he inspires others to run because “if I can run, so can others with CP”. Nathan became an advocate for people with disabilities to exercise and he challenges those without disabilities to join him as well.
Read more about Nathan Baker and the Green Hope, NC running team in an article in USA Today.