Tag Archives: cerebral palsy

Overcoming Barriers With Cerebral Palsy

Hi! I’m Chris Klein and this is my story.

My life didn’t start out like my family expected. My umbilical cord was coming out before me, so the doctors had to perform an emergency C-section in order to save my life. I was without oxygen for 45 minutes and was given CPR for another 40 minutes. I should have been dead, but I survived. However, the lack of oxygen caused an injury on the motor portion of my brain. I have a disability called cerebral palsy.

Chris Klein HelpHOPELive

My disability affects my communication, so for the first six years of my life it was a guessing game for everybody. Do you know how frustrating it is not to be able to express yourself? Do you know how frustrating it is when your parents or siblings can’t understand you? This was what the first six years of my life was like. Every time I wanted or needed something the guessing games would begin. At times, I became so frustrated that I would curl up on the floor and just cry.

At age 6, Judy, my speech language pathologist, wondered if I could use an augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device. She sent us home with one, and by that night, I was already talking in complete sentences. I could finally tell my four older siblings to leave me alone.

I can truly say augmentative alternative communication changed the course of my life. I was put in the regular classroom after receiving the AAC device because I was able to communicate. I was able to show teachers my language was intact and I needed to be challenged more and more. My AAC device also gave me the opportunity to interact with my peers, just like everybody else. The relationships I built were a big part of my growth as a child. I can honestly say without an AAC device I wouldn’t be where I am today.

The AAC device paved the way for me to go to college. I was able to get a degree in kinesiology and a master’s in theology, because I had a way to communicate. The relationships I built in college and seminary grew into a community of personal care assistants. Again, I wouldn’t have been able to develop these relationships without AAC. You need communication to develop any type of relationship, so without my AAC device, I couldn’t have done it.

Chris Klein HelpHOPELive

“You need communication to develop any type of relationship”

Eight years ago, my friends kept bugging me to go on one of the Internet dating sites. You have to understand, I was very happy single, but I decided to agree to it so they would leave me alone afterwards! I didn’t expect to meet anybody I would connect with, but I did. Dawn and I talked for a month before we met. This was her first time experiencing a person using AAC, so talking on the phone and emailing each other helped her get to know the person I am. She had been around disabilities all of her life, but communicating with somebody with an AAC device was different. But she was willing to learn, and as we dated she began to realize how much I could do.

Three years after we met, we were married. It has been a real blessing to have a partner to share life together. Communication is a key aspect to any relationship, so we know if I didn’t have an AAC device, we wouldn’t be married. We have to continue working on our communication, but that’s just normal for any couple in a relationship.

After being unsuccessful finding a job after seminary, I decided to start public speaking. I figured I was given the gift to speak, so I put myself out there. Who would have thought a person who is unable to talk would become a motivational speaker? I have traveled all over the country and even the world speaking to a variety of groups. This is why I came to HelpHOPELive: we are in need of a new accessible vehicle. I have limited my speaking engagements because right now we don’t have a reliable vehicle.

Chris Klein cerebral palsy HelpHOPELive

Chris is fundraising for an accessible van

Everybody deserves a chance to live life to the fullest and dream big. This is why I started an organization called BeCOME: AAC. It stands for Building Connections with Others through Mentoring and Educating about AAC. We want to help beginning users become proficient communicators. We believe having expert AAC users, like myself, coming along side beginning users will help them reach their potential sooner. We know there are some people who are reluctant to try AAC and believe a mentoring relationship with an experienced user will help convince them an AAC device would improve their life. They would also have a chance to impact other people’s lives with an AAC device.

I want to convey through my outreach and writings that life doesn’t have to stop when you have a barrier of any kind in front of you. I want people to overcome the barrier or barriers they have in their lives. I believe too many people quit. We need more people to persevere, so that they can make an impact on other people’s lives. I have to believe my story shows people what you can become if you persevere. I want people to say, Chris Klein ran the race to the best of his abilities.

We all will face some type of barrier, and it is up to us to decide whether or not we can overcome it. I believe the easy way out is to give up. The hardest thing to do is to accept the challenge and live life to the fullest.


We are proud to support community-based fundraising for people like Chris who live with catastrophic injuries, including cerebral palsy, ALS and multiple sclerosis. Know someone who needs help? Visit our website to start a campaign for yourself or a loved one in need.

No Limitations: Equestrian Vaulting

We spoke to Alanna Flax-Clark, a paraequestrian who competes in equestrian vaulting and shows in paradressage events. In 2008, Alanna contracted an infection that rapidly destroyed her ability to walk. For Alanna, hippotherapy was an introduction to the immersive world of adaptive athletics.

Alanna Flax-Clark paraequestrian adaptive athletics HelpHOPELive horses

Alanna Flax-Clark is a paraequestrian competitor.

“Sports like equestrian vaulting and dressage have played a big role for me in gaining strength, coordination and mobility,” Alanna said. “It’s important that no matter how you get around, whether you walk or roll, you feel confident and secure in your body. I’ve learned to feel stronger and happier through my participation in sports.”

About Equine Therapy

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, hippotherapy is a way for patients to “engage…neuro, sensory and movement systems.” As the AHA notes, “a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements work to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills,” and encourage patient responses that simulate the techniques used for walking.

horse therapy hippotherapy equine therapy

Hippotherapy can improve strength, flexibility and even cognitive skills.

According to Ride On equine therapy center, “the horse, in some respects, ‘lends’ his nervous system to the patient so that the patient may experience organized movement.”

While adaptive riding tends to be recreational, hippotherapy is considered medical rehabilitation and is always supervised by a physician or professional. Hippotherapy has been used to rehabilitate patients with cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and multiple other conditions.

HelpHOPELive equine therapy horse therapy rehabilitation horse riding horseback

Hippotherapy is always supervised by a professional.

New Challenges: Equine Athletics

Alanna began pursuing hippotherapy “with no expectations.” Today, she spends the majority of each week riding or training her horses for equine events.

hippotherapy horse therapy rehabiliation Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna spends the majority of each week involved in equine activities.

While initially she worked with horses for physical therapy benefits, Alanna soon realized that she wanted more of a challenge. “After going through rehab and not seeing any progress, I began to get frustrated,” she said. “I wanted to get stronger, regain more mobility [and] coordination, and just be able to go outside in the fresh air and have fun.”

Over time, Alanna graduated from hippotherapy to adaptive riding lessons. At a riding show, Alanna competed in three classes and took home two first place ribbons and one second place ribbon. On a fateful day in 2013, Alanna saw an equestrian vaulting group perform at her riding facility. “When I saw what they were doing, I knew immediately that I had to get involved!” said Alanna.

equestrian vaulting gymnastics horse therapy

Equestrian vaulting is an impressive and challenging activity.

Equestrian vaulting is essentially gymnastics on horseback. To most, Alanna’s ambition as a wheelchair-bound rider seemed lofty and even ludicrous. But with tenacity, Alanna was able to begin competing on horseback at a walking pace within a year.

training equestrian vaulting Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna kept practicing until she was able to compete at a walking pace.

The Benefits of Adaptive Athletics

Alanna identified some profound physical and emotional benefits of paraequestrian participation. “I didn’t grow up around horses and did not expect to fall in love with them as much as I did,” she said. “They really have transformed my life. Most people in wheelchairs participate in sports with other people who have similar disabilities. However, when I’m out of my chair on my horse, I’m on more of an even playing field with everyone else. You can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equestrian vaulting horse therapy hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark

“When I’m out of my chair on my horse…you can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative, Alanna confirmed. “At practice my teammates ask for feedback on their routines and form; they don’t even see my disability,” she said. “They want me to jump right in and help. It’s an environment full of respect and encouragement.”

Equestrian vaulting hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark teamwork

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative.

She hopes her tenacity will allow other individuals with disabilities to discover equestrian sports for themselves. “I’m the only [athlete] in a chair that competes at vaulting competitions, to my knowledge,” she said. “It’s a more difficult matter for people with disabilities to participate…at the competitive level – even though it shouldn’t be! Horses aren’t the first thing that people turn to when faced with an illness or disability. I hope that starts to change. Vaulting is truly an accessible sport for everyone, no matter your age or ability. When one person starts doing it, it opens up doors to others.”

Getting Started

Alanna urged fellow athletes to overcome their initial trepidation. “Many people think that getting on a horse is impossible depending on their disability, but if there’s a will, there’s a way!” she said.

equestrian vaulting equine therapy horses Alanna Flax-Clark wheelchair

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals.”

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals and can help people overcome their personal challenges. I never would have thought that I’d learn to post at the trot, be able to sit independently at the canter, and even do a shoulder stand or maneuver off my horse into my wheelchair!” Alanna said. I’ve made a huge amount of progress…I’m still continuing to make big strides and learn new things each day.”

Learn more about hippotherapy and paraequestrian athletics before you participate, and always discuss your plans with your support team. You can track Alanna’s progress in paraequestrian vaulting and dressage on her website.