Taking a big step

Bill Althaus
Danny Oakes realizes a dream tonight at Children's Mercy Park when he walks across the stage, without crutches, to receive his diploma and celebrate his graduation from Fort Osage High School. Oakes, who was a member of the Indians wrestling team, has had five major surgeries to help him deal with cerebral palsy.

The dream is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, yet Danny Oakes first dreamed that he might one day walk across the stage to receive his diploma as a graduate of Fort Osage High School more than a year ago.

Tonight, that dream becomes a reality at Children's Mercy Park, the site of the Fort Osage graduation.

Oakes has cerebral palsy, and uses crutches to walk around his high school. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. But tonight he will walk 24 feet across the stage to pick up his diploma without any help.

“I dreamed, back when I was a junior, that I would walk across the stage and receive my diploma without the use of my crutches,” Oakes said. “I marked off 24 feet – how long the stage will be – in our gym and began practicing.”

“With the help of my amazing therapists and the support of my family and everyone in my Fort Osage family, that dream is going to come true Friday night.”

His mother Angie smiles and nods in approval.

“If Danny puts his mind to something, he’s going to make it happen,” she said. “He’s had five major surgeries, including one when he was just a baby. Who would have ever dreamed that he would be a wrestler, and he said he wanted to wrestle and he did.”

Oakes wrestled his freshman, junior and senior years at Fort Osage, missing his sophomore year because of medical complications. At some away matches, a teammate would have to carry him up stairs to the gym, where he would crawl onto the mat to face a 106-pound opponent.

“He gives me a lot of perspective,” Fort Osage wrestling coach Brandon Ackerman said during the season. “Wrestling is bigger than wins or losses on any given night. Danny gives our program and he gives all his teammates and he gives me just a bigger picture of life, about what really matters.”

Oakes meant so much to his wrestling teammates that they honored him that past season by wearing a green cerebral palsy ribbon on their singlets.

“That was really cool,” Oakes said. “I’d do anything for those guys. If they need to cut some weight, I tell them that they can carry me up the bleachers in the gym to work up a good sweat. We have fun together, and we love life – I mean, what do we have if we don’t have a good outlook on life?”

And Oakes does live life to the fullest.

“The only disability is a bad attitude,” Oakes said. “That’s my motto. If I can inspire a little kid who is in a wheelchair or a classmate who is also using crutches, I want to do it. I want to show the world that you can do anything you want if you just want it bad enough.”

“I wish everyone could meet Danny Oakes, because he would inspire them to do great things,” Fort Osage principal Scott Moore said. “He doesn’t see cerebral palsy as a disability.

“I loved it when he said the only disability is a bad attitude. He embraces life and makes the most out of every minute of every day.”

In his dream, there is nothing but silence as Oakes walks across the stage. When he receives his diploma, the audience bursts into wild applause.

“I’ve climbed a lot of mountains,” he said, “and I’m going to climb my biggest mountain Friday at Children’s Mercy Park. And I’m going to get to the top and share that moment with all my friends and teammates and teachers and Mr. Moore because they have always been there for me.”

“I’m going to get my diploma and in that moment, I will be able to thank everyone for their love and support the past four years. That will be a moment I will never forget.

And neither will his Fort Osage family.

“We’re all going to miss him,” Moore said, “and we can’t wait for graduation night to watch him walk across the stage to pick up his diploma. What a moment that will be for all of us.”