"If you think something is impossible, keep trying. If you like it, keep doing it, because you are succeeding."
These are words of wisdom from Joseph "Sepp" Shirey, a 12-year-old boy living with his family in Mechanicsville, Va. Like lots of kids, Sepp eats, sleeps and breathes sports. He's on a football, baseball and swim team, and also dabbles in skiing and basketball. Friends and teammates appointed Sepp "commissioner of neighborhood backyards and playgrounds." Unlike other kids, however, Sepp is living with cerebral palsy.
Now you might be surprised to learn that tackle football is Sepp's first love. He's been playing with friends since he was 5 years old.
"I love the hitting, reading the offense and reacting," he says.
When Sepp was nine, his friend Jack Goleski asked if he wanted to play organized football as a member of the Blue Star Cowboys, an affiliate of the Metro Youth Football League. Sepp said yes.
When I first met him, the physical signs of his CP were noticeable. He walks with an exaggerated limp. His muscle control is good, but not great, and his balance is easily disrupted. While he didn't fall during my visit with him, largely because he was sitting down for most of the time, Sepp falls down multiple times daily; occasionally face first into something unforgiving.
He goes to bed most nights telling stories of his new cuts and bruises, and apologizing for getting blood and grass stains on his clothes. In that way, Sepp is like so many other 12-year-old boys.
When Sepp was three years old, he underwent a neurosurgical procedure called a Selective Dorsal Root Rhizotomy, which aimed to reduce spasticity in his legs. Surgery was followed by strenuous physical therapy six days a week, and a lifetime of inconvenience that prevents him from, among other things, putting on and taking off his shoes. The experiences of a normal school day, which every other kid takes for granted, make Sepp so tired at the end of the day that he often comes home exhausted, covered in blisters on his hands and feet from his crutches. He often comes home sick from dehydration. It’s a grind that Sepp endures every day of his life, and yet, always with a smile that never seems to go away.
What Sepp may lack in physical ability, he more than makes up for with determination, effort, and a positive attitude well beyond his 12 years.
"I wanted to play organized football; it was simply a matter of convincing others that it was a good idea," Sepp says.
As it turns out, it was a great idea, and a story that inspires everyone who knows him, and many of those who don’t.
Mike Goleski has played football his entire life, and has been coaching his son Jack’s teams for a number of years. Jack¸ who has been playing football at school with his other friends and Sepp since they were five, came home from school one day and asked if Sepp could play on the Cowboys.
"Sure, he can be a part of the team," the father said to his eager son.
The reality was Goleski, like most others including the head coach of the Cowboys, T.C. Wilson, was thinking that Sepp would have a role as team manager, not as a player. Of course they wanted him to play, but how could he? What they didn’t realize however, was that Sepp and his dad, Hunter Shirey, had entirely different plans.Full Story >>