By Bill Renje
As a full-time wheelchair user for the last 26 years, I used to cringe at being called “inspirational” because I found it patronizing.
I just wanted to live my life to the fullest extent and be thought of as no more and no less as than anybody else. But as I’ve matured, and become less prideful through my 20s, 30s and now my 40s, I’ve realized our lives are not about us.
Our lives are about positively impacting others, and if people find inspiration in us, regardless of the reason, than that’s a good thing. For 18-year-old Hampton High School senior Devon Berry, he understands how his role in inspiring people has a positive impact upon those within his large sphere of influence.
“What drives me is never stopping,” Berry said. “In order to be something, you have to do something and I don’t let me disability stop me. I feel like God wanted me to (have a disability) to be a positive witness and testimony that through it all, God still prevails.”
Devon was born with cerebral palsy which primarily affects his ability to walk, as he uses a walker for short distances and a wheelchair for longer trips. But if he’s limited in mobility, you wouldn’t know it by his schedule.
He plays wheelchair handball, basketball and football for the Henry County Hurricanes. If the story ended at this point, there wouldn’t be much that would set Berry apart from so many other wheelchair users. But that’s just the beginning of what Devon does.
In addition to keeping busy in the classroom as an honor student, he also throws shotput and discus for Hampton’s track and field team, wrestles and plays defensive tackle for the Hornet football team. While his disability impacts his ability to walk, Devon has massive upper body strength which helps him in all three sports.
Last season was his first as a Hampton Hornet, but he made the most of his opportunities, in particular on the wrestling mat, winning two of his six matches while earning the praise of Hornet head wrestling coach and athletic director Britt Morton.
“He does not ever use his inabilities as an excuse,” Morton said. “He gives everything he has with a big smile. I enjoy coaching him and watching him strive each day.”
That big, infectious smile has not only been noticed by those around Berry, but by large media outlets and universities around the country. ESPN will be coming this week to do a story on him, and multiple colleges have extended scholarship offers.
Right now, according to Devon, he’s verbally committed to Saint Cloud State in Minnesota where he plans on majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in theology.
Before graduating and moving to the next level, he’ll still have multiple opportunities to spread his positive influence, both locally and beyond.
Stephen Roberts is on the coaching staff for both the football and track team. He’s gotten to know Devon and has seen the example he sets in the toughest of all athletic venues – the weight room.
“Sometimes as a coach, I go down to the weight room to watch the guys and I notice him working hard, pushing himself to do better,” Roberts said. “One time I saw him in there and he had his walker. He can take a few steps, and he was in there just trying to improve on how far he could walk, from bench to bench. That just sends a great message to the kids to work hard, and try to accomplish things in life.”
In the hallways and classrooms, he impacts his fellow students as well. Henry County sophomore Austin Bennett was a classmate before Devon transferred to Hampton last year.
“(He is) probably the coolest guy you could ever meet,” Bennett said. “He turns a bad situation into something amazing, just giving praise to God and wanting to share it with everybody else. It’s truly awesome how humble he is towards other and putting his mind to whatever he believes in really shows how much God works through us.”
And although he’s unlikely to see much playing time on the football field, his presence is seen and felt even by his opponents.
After Hampton — a second year football program — journeyed to Sandy Creek, a top-10 ranked Class AAAA football team last Friday night, one of the Sandy Creek players and his mother were extremely impacted by Devon’s attitude and presence.
I’ll let Heather Trompke’s Facebook post from Saturday morning speak for itself:
“Last night the Sandy Creek Patriots played the Hampton Hornets, winning the game. But I have to tell you the highlight of the night for me was when my son, Benjamin Rutland grabbed me down on the field and said, “Mom, did you see #62 on the Hornets play? He is what ‘No Excuses’ means. I want to shake his hand.
“We spoke with Devon after the game. He is the real deal. Grades, stats, scholarships, and most of all, a relationship with Christ. I want to give HUGE Kudo’s to Devon’s parents. I will be watching where you go and I have a feeling I won’t be the only one.”
No, she definitely won’t be the only one watching!
Bill Renje is a contributing writer for thecrescentbuzz.com. He is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where he serves schools in the South Atlanta Metro area. Follow him on Twitter @BillRenje and follow thecrescentbuzz.com @crescent_buzz.