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My son stands tall in his wheelchair

MartMeissner~AP FILE PHOTO

Martin Meissner~AP FILE PHOTO

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:07AM

I remember your proud smile: an immensely happy 11-year old boy enjoying the Home Run Derby during the All Star Game in Detriot. You wore the orange jersey of the National League and a Cubs hat.

Sponsored by the Make a Wish Foundation, you and other kids had the chance to be on the field that day. By then, you had been in a wheelchair for about three years.

I also remember that luminous smile during a park district soccer game. You were the goalie and stopped several balls.

Back then, you were still able to walk on the field, but you couldn’t get back up when you fell. So I stood behind the goal during the game, ready to help you up every time you threw your body to stop the ball.

Parents on both teams cheered you on.

A few months ago, you smiled again with that wonderful mixture of joy and pride when you learned that you had been admitted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study journalism.

You don’t realize how many people you have touched with your love for life in spite of suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that progressively weakens your muscles.

Your aide at Oak Park-River Forest High School said it best: “I’m a better person after helping Daniel at school for these three years.”

You have taught me to face life’s challenges with courage, dignity and hope.

I know you must occasionally despair, as I do, seeing how your illness has robbed you of some of the things most kids take for granted, like riding a bike, swimming and driving a car.

I admire how you always focus on what you can do.

And you have achieved so much already. You are not only a great student, but you also have become a writer.

Last summer, I was impressed when you landed an internship as a sports reporter at the local weekly newspaper. I was filled with pride to see how you wheeled yourself up the field to talk to players and coaches after a game, and how you hurried home to write your story on deadline.

And you turned out to be a poet, too. For four years, you belonged to the nationally recognized Spoken Word club at high school. I watched as you gained confidence in your writing and performance.

Your solo performance as a senior was most memorable. Your poem about how you wish people could see beyond the wheelchair brought many in the audience to tears.

I will never forget that moment. You performed with the brilliance and confidence of a seasoned poet. The audience gave you a standing ovation while you smiled.

Next week, I will see you wheel yourself to receive your high school diploma. And in two short months, we will drive together to Champaign-Urbana so you can start life as a college student. It won’t be easy, but then again, you have already overcome many challenges.

I’m sure your mother, sister and I will see your proud smile again as we say goodbye and drive back home, knowing with all our hearts that you are about to write another wonderful chapter in your life.

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