by Cynthia Tintorri
December 11, 2012
Benjamin Jackson wasn't dealt an easy hand in life. Ben was born with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, and doctors painted a bleak picture of what his future would be like: Never able to walk, and confined to a wheelchair. Unable to attend school, and no social life. "They even suggested that my mom just let me die, because I would be a burden and too much to deal with," Ben says. "Fortunately, my mom put it in God's hands and took me home."
Proving the doctors wrong is a way of life for Ben, who took his first steps at 18 months old and has continued to not just walk, but play sports; to not just go to school, but make the honor roll and go on to Northampton Community College. Conquering goals he sets for himself, in defiance of his disability and the challenges it presents, is just part of who Ben Jackson is.
Not content to sit on the sidelines, Ben has followed his passion for sports since he was young. His first hurdle was basketball in elementary school. "Although basketball wasn't easy for me, I was eager to learn, and adapted a strong work ethic that I have to this day. Sports taught me discipline, which helped me in school and allowed me to excel in all subjects," he contends.
In junior high, with his parents' encouragement, Ben decided to join the wrestling team. "It was the biggest physical challenge I had ever taken on," he says. After two years of intense workouts in the weight room and on the mat, his hard work and persistence paid off -- he won his first wrestling match by pin. "That's when I discovered that, with hard work, anything is possible," Ben attests.
Ben went on to become the heart of Pocono Mountain West High School's wrestling team, winning multiple matches and receiving, in his senior year, the school's Chris Hernandez M.V.P. Award, given to the wrestler who has showed the most courage on the mat, and the Ray A. Kroc Youth Achievement Award, which honors junior and senior high school students who demonstrate the characteristics exemplified by the McDonald's founder: persistence, determination, hard work and excellence.
Ben's wrestling coach can vouch for those qualities in this courageous wrestler. "I witnessed every bit of Ben's struggle," says Coach Gregory Theony, "but what I remember is the spirit and perseverance he showed. He serves as an ambassador for our sport, our school, and our community. He really is an inspiration."
At his senior-year wrestling banquet, the school proved how much it thinks of Ben by presenting him with an award named in his honor, to be given to a new wrestler every year: the Ben Jackson Courage Award, "for overcoming immeasurable odds, dedication to his team, and courage to lead by example."
Even though he doesn't currently wrestle ("because, unfortunately, NCC doesn't have a wrestling team!"), Ben continues to train in the weight room, and frequently goes back to his high school to encourage younger team members as a mentor. He has also been in contact with the U.S.A. Paralympic Team to possibly compete in powerlifting. He hopes to not only make the team, but also be an ambassador for wrestling and one day make it a sport in the Paralympics.
Lately his biggest challenge is college. Now in his second year at NCC as a computer technology major, Ben says, "My goal was to go above and beyond in my academics, and I did exactly that by making the Dean's List." His efforts have impressed many at NCC Monroe. Adjunct instructor William Robinson says of Ben, "He's a young man of tremendous determination, drive and commitment. Ben's day-to-day activities would defeat most people; he not only strives, he excels -- and with a smile on his face."
Ben is now thinking of changing his major to speech communication, both to improve his own ability to communicate, and to one day reach out to others by becoming a motivational speaker. After graduating from NCC, Ben hopes to go on to Penn State, and make their wrestling team.
"I don't believe in sitting back after accomplishing a goal. I say, 'okay, you did one, now what are you going to do after that? How are you going to make yourself better after that one?' I hope to continue the positivity to make other people look within themselves so they can fight their own battles and accomplish their own goals," Ben asserts.
Given what he's done so far, there's little doubt Ben Jackson will accomplish exactly what he sets out to do.
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