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Weekly Roundup: From Teacher Going to Great Heights to Showing Great Strength

Story written by: Demetrius Mason

Cerebral Palsy News

A Teacher Goes to Great Heights

The story of a teacher going above and beyond for one of her students for a class hiking trip has caught the entire country’s attention. Maggie Vazquez is a student at the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago. Maggie also suffers from cerebral palsy and needs a walker to get around.

For the most part this isn’t an issue during school, but around May the class started to plan for a hiking field trip. Maggie’s teacher Helma Wardnaar was trying to come up with ways for Maggie to go on the trip.

“I looked into renting a pony, but those aren’t allowed on the pedestrian path,” Helma told Good Morning America, “I considered accepting a fine if we would be caught, but figured that it would set a bad example.”

Helma continued to search for different ways that Maggie could make the trip. The next plan was to talk with the outdoor company REI for something to help Maggie transport. At first the company couldn’t find anything to use, but then they found the “Free Loader”, a backpack Helma could use to carry Maggie on the trip.

For Maggie going hiking was a moment that she will never forget.

“She loved the trip,” Helma said, “We saw deer footprints, butterflies, birds, etc. Maggie sang along while I hiked. She wrote an original song about the camp and how much fun the time together is.”

Of course, there were other people involved then just Helma. Maggie’s mom Michelle is a valuable member to making sure that the school and her are communicating on each decision.

“Thank you, Michelle Vazquez, for being an amazing mom,” Wardenaar wrote on her Facebook page. “It’s a pleasure working with you. Together we always find solutions!”

“Ms. Helma really took this on personally and spent a lot of time tracking down this piece of equipment for Maggie,” Michelle said.
Helma has spent her whole life trying to make things better for the people around her. She saw this as another opportunity to make someone’s life a little bit better.

“I really want to make a difference,” Helma said.

Showing Great Strength, Literally

Toni Soto is the kind of person who lives life to its fullest—each and every day. Toni was diagnosed with cerebral palsy one year after she was born but has worked incredibly hard her entire life.

This work ethic led to her facing her disability head on in the weight room and she is constantly trying to get in the best shape she possibly can.

Almost every day Toni is in Top Guns Gym in Pass Christian, MS. She strives to accomplish all she can out of every second once she enters the facility.

“I didn’t hit the milestone of walking at a year like most children and my family noticed I was unusually stiff in my movements,” Toni told WDAM.

For Toni the toughest part of having CP was her childhood. This often is the case when kids don’t understand what is truly going on in the world around them and the damage that they are causing others.

“It was a little difficult coming into my own,” Toni said, “People did not understand why I walked the way I did. I got teased and made fun of. That was very hard for me when I was trying to always be kind.”

He has a personal trainer at the gym named Ed White. The two have formed a very good bond with each other and Ed has learned a lot from being around Toni.

“The attention she gives to her exercise is amazing. I can be having a bad day and I look at what she has to go through every day and think my problems aren’t so bad,” Ed said.

Toni’s next goal is to compete in a bikini wearing contest. She went to one held by the NPC last year and was amazed by what the women had accomplished. But the other thing which caught her eye was how confident they looked with each movement.

With the training underway, both Toni and Ed are continuing to find out what heights she is able to reach.

“Once she started seeing what she could do these fear factors she had started decreasing,” Ed said, “We’re doing things now she never could’ve imagined. Sometimes she gets emotional doing things she never thought she would do in her lifetime.”

Toni is currently trying to compete in the NPC battle on the Gulf Coast. Whether she wins or doesn’t isn’t what matters in the end because Toni has found out that her abilities have no limits.

Toni said, “I just want to see how far I can push myself, to give the best package I can deliver.”