Dreams Go On impacts lives

Life has a way of throwing curveballs when you least expect it. They can come from all directions — and be big or small  —  and hit so hard that you feel like you’re caught in the eye of a storm.

You might be a little lost and convince yourself that you don’t want what life has handed you. But it might be what you need. That’s the moment when you know you have to stop, adapt and adjust. There are times when you know what’s coming, or at least have an idea of what’s ahead.

That was me when I was a kid. I felt lost because I didn’t know how to live with cerebral palsy. I didn’t deny that I had a disability, however. I knew I’d always need help with certain things — whether I was waiting for someone to take me somewhere, getting dressed in the morning or even getting physical therapy every week.

Luckily, there was a local nonprofit therapeutic horseback riding organization for kids and young adults with disabilities called High Hopes and is now known as Dreams Go On, that was able to help me with things like muscle control and balance at a young age — and I’m still involved with the program all these years later.

I started riding when I was 4. My mom had signed on as a volunteer at the time and is now the program manager. I recall being in the car and pulling up to the barn for a field trip.

Mom parked the car on a warm day. The smell of hay filled my nose and a slight breeze blew through the surrounding trees. I heard the clink and clatter as mom got my wheelchair out of the trunk, put me in it and headed toward the entrance to the barn.

We stopped at the stalls where the horses were. One horse poked its head out of its stall. At that moment, my arms went stiff and a combination of utter fear and trepidation shot through my body. I’d never seen a horse before, let alone be nose-to-nose with one. So I decided I wanted to get right back in the car and have nothing more to do with these massive animals.

In my mind, I wanted to run and hide. Looking back, I think I was too scared to realize why mom brought me to the barn — and that these horses would end up helping me in the long run. We stayed at the stalls a few minutes longer before mom pulled out some apples she had tucked away in her pocket. She wiped one off with her jacket and held out her hand for the horses to come eat.

“They love apples!” she said.

Mom then put an apple in my hand to let me try feeding the horses. Once I saw how gently they took the apple from my hand, my fear melted away and I wanted to keep feeding them.

For me, that experience opened the door for a long-term bond with DGO. I continued riding throughout my childhood as my family began to see significant gains in my overall health by riding a horse backwards. It got to the point where I didn’t even notice I was getting physical therapy. I was just having fun — and that has always been one of the main goals at DGO.

I now volunteer to do clerical work for the board of directors. It’s my way of giving back to an organization that has given me so much. I’m also grateful to know most of the staff — and to know that this is an organization that was recently honored by the Blair County Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards ceremony last month and entered into its Hall of Fame.

So, congrats to everyone involved with DGO. My hat’s off to you for your hard work, dedication and service. Dreams really do go on because of you!

Erin Kelly, 31, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she also writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Upworthy and Real Talk Magazine. Email her at WriterWheels28@gmail.com.