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‘Unstoppable Miss T’ keeps moving in the face of adversity

By Abbie Burke,


Watch the full special report on Tessa Taylor in the video player above.

(COLORADO SPRINGS) — 10-year-old Tessa Taylor has Cerebral Palsy. And, as one might have guessed, she’s unstoppable.

Tessa Taylor was not dealt a fair hand in life, but that’s not keeping her down. “Cerebral Palsy can mean a lot of things, it’s really just an umbrella diagnosis,” said Dr. Joyce Oleszek, a Pediatric Rehabilitation Doctor with Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“But what it means for Tessa is she has what we would characterize as spastic, quadriplegic, cerebral palsy. And what that means for the spastic part is that she has increased muscle tone or resistance in her muscles, and the quadriplegic part means she has weakness and difficulty in moving both her arms and her legs.”

Tessa’s cerebral palsy is a result of child abuse at an early age and when Tessa was six months old, Jan Taylor agreed to foster her. She would later adopt her. “I’ve just always been open from the time I got into foster care that if they needed to stay, they would stay,” said Jan.

Jan said for Tessa, movement is critical to her wellbeing. “All of her muscles get tight and if she doesn’t use them, she loses them,” Jan explained. “Movement is improvement and she just needs to keep moving all the time.”

At the young age of 10, Tessa has already tried more than 35 sports including skiing, horseback riding, and rock climbing. “Her body has to work six times harder to do anything than you and I do,” said Jan. “And that’s exhausting.”

Still, Tessa excels at shot put and has set national records in the sport and in club throwing. “One time she competed and qualified to go to Nationals,” said Jan. “So I thought ‘Ok, I guess we need to invest more time in this.'”

Sports encourage movement, but for Tessa, it’s just fun. “She’s so flippin’ happy when she is doing these sports,” said Jan. “She loves it.”

“Because of her involvement in so many sports, I think it really keeps her range of motion and it keeps her looser, it keeps her stronger,” said Oleszek.

Jan said social media showed her what was possible. “I started looking on Instagram under the hashtag ‘Adaptive Sports’ and this giant world opened up to me about the possibilities for her,” she said.

Tessa then blew the doors off any expectations. With every practice and competition, Tessa tears down stereotypes and reminds herself and others that anything is possible.

“As soon as somebody puts a challenge out for her, she’s down for it,” said Jan.

Jan said it’s challenging to find adaptive sports, so oftentimes Tessa is the only Para Athlete among other kids, but that doesn’t bother Tessa one bit.

“She’s a spitfire. She’s very dynamic and energetic, as is her mom. And, she is very determined,” said Oleszek. “I would say if you give her a goal, she’s going to meet that goal and exceed it.”

But being unstoppable doesn’t mean there aren’t any obstacles. As a result of her cerebral palsy, Tessa has a seizure disorder.

Great athletes know though, that hurdles are just part of the race, and it doesn’t matter if you fall down as long as you get back up and keep going.

“We all have challenges,” said Jan. “Whether it’s public speaking or whether it’s being able to drive in traffic without losing your cool or watching too much TV, whatever it is, we all have challenges. And any time I throw something down and say, ‘Do you want to try it?’ She’s all about it.”

Jan hopes sharing what Tessa is capable of will inspire other parents to get their kids involved.

“Having disabled children can be extremely isolating and can be very stressful and draining,” said Jan. “Going out and doing sports is happy stuff that we can do together instead of just doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments.”

“Kids with disabilities have different functional potentials, but all children have potential,” said Oleszek. “I think it’s important that we look at and understand the disability, but look at the abilities and really look at what kids can do, not what they can’t do.”

This year, Tessa participated in MOVE United Jr. Nationals and received two gold medals for shot put and club throwing.

“Tessa is not incapable just because she is in a wheelchair,” said Jan. “Being in a wheelchair doesn’t limit her in a lot of ways. Certainly, I’m not going to be foolish and say there’s zero limitations because of course there are. But sports help her see all the ways that she is able to do things and be successful and powerful and strong.”

Tessa can participate in the Paralympics once she is 14 years old.

“Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy are built into the under-18 system and then these people are so tired of it by the time they reach 18, they quit,” said Jan. “So I want her to love sports because her quality of life depends on it.”

Follow Tessa’s Journey on Instagram at @unstoppablemiss_t_andcp.

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