By Heather Killen
Most 17-year-olds see the car keys as a sign of independence, but Valerie Delong says her idea of freedom is walking without thinking about the leg muscles she’s using.
The Melvern Square high school student has Cerebral Palsy (CP), a brain injury that was caused when blood supply was interrupted. Symptoms vary and usually result in a degree of limited mobility, but it can also affect the child’s speech, learning and socialization.
In Valerie’s case, the muscles in her legs are most affected and until recently she needed leg braces for correction and support. Last year her goal was to get rid of her longtime leg braces, this year she wants to lose her cane.
“I want to be able to walk down the halls at school and talk to my friends without thinking about it,” she said. While she is able to walk without a cane, it takes most of her concentration. If she gets excited, or distracted, she can lose her balance and fall.
Last summer she went to a special summer camp in Orillia, Ontario. It was one of four therapy camps held by the Strive Learning Centre For Children. This nonprofit group specializes in offering conductive therapy, an intense rehabilitation program designed for children with Cerebral Palsy.
In July she hopes to attend again and on this coming Saturday her family is organizing a fundraising dinner at the Melvern Square Community Hall to help pay for the trip and travel costs.
Tickets for the roast beef dinner are $15 and available at the Annavale Country Store, and the Pharmasaves in Middleton and Kingston.
Karen Delong, Valerie’s mother, said she hopes that this year’s camp will help Valerie to build on what she learned last year and help her develop enough strength and balance to get rid of her cane.
While she’s at camp, Valerie will probably not be allowed to rely on her cane and will be encouraged to develop new muscles through special exercises.
The teaching method used at Strive was developed in Europe and combines disciplines such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychology.
The intense four-week camp gives her a rare opportunity to access the specialized private therapy she needs to improve her mobility and learn a range of skills.
Karen Delong says conductive aims to break down complex tasks into smaller ones that can be learned through repetition and then gradually expanded to build new skills.
The camps cost about $6,000 and that doesn’t include travel expenses. Last year the community rallied to send her to camp. About 260 people attended the benefit dinner that was prepared by the Melvern Square Baptist Ladies group and dished-up by 4H members.
Grateful to Volunteers
DeLong said they are grateful to local volunteers and businesses who have been wonderful in supporting Valerie and giving her a chance to access this opportunity.
“We’ve had so much support, it’s overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people and seen such goodness and generosity in people. It’s amazing.”
Valerie says that while she knows she’s going to be working very hard at the camp, she’s also looking forward to seeing her old friends again and taking some time to go swimming.
While the steps she takes are with great effort, she understands that the hard work pays off with big rewards sometimes. About six years ago, the Delongs applied to the Starlight Children’s Foundation to make one of Valerie’s dreams come true.
In February things finally got rolling when she and her family were given a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway to meet NASCAR driver Carl Edwards. Last month the family watched the Nationwide Race and the Coca Cola 600, and visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Now she’s hoping that another trip to the Strive Camp can roll her into her own Victory Lane this fall in the halls at Middleton Regional High School.
For tickets or more information on the roast beef dinner on June 16 at the Melvern Square Community Center visit the Annavale Country Store, or the Pharmsaves in Kingston or Middleton.