by JARRITT ORLANDO

An orange silicon bracelet on my right wrist reads “JOIN THE MOVEMENT.” It is a constant remind to do my best because I know that’s what my dad would want, even though he’s more than two hundred miles away.

My dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007, just as I was entering high school. His muscles would cramp. He had trouble balancing and his coordination decreased. The disease has slowly progressed and my dad now relies on a scooter as his only form of movement, the reason the MS Society encourages others to “JOIN THE MOVEMENT.”

 

The Orlando family

The Orlando family on Christmas Eve, 2015

 

Growing up, I was a hyper kid, always wanting to be outside playing football, baseball and basketball. I was an only child until my brother was born in 1999 so my dad was the one who had to keep up with me.

He would take me to the softball field by our house and throw my batting practice until his fatigued right arm limply hung by his side. My dad fostered my abilities and went out of his way to ensure I had the right tools to be successful, as long as I stuck with it.

For example, during my eighth grade football season, my dad used a ladder to climb to the top of our 10-foot high garage and nailed two pieces of wood 18 feet apart to resemble a field goal post. I would practice kicking the football from a patch mowed in the grass. With a thud, my foot connecting with the football, flipping it end over end towards the makeshift goal post. Seconds later, a crack would echo out towards me as the football crashed into the siding of the garage.

“Keep your head down,” my dad yelled as he retrieved the football for me. “You can’t kick what you can’t see.”

Moments like this happened less often as I progressed through high school. I was busy with practice, worked on weekends and my dad’s MS worsened, making it difficult for him to chase after footballs or throw me batting practice. He became weak when he was in the sun for too long and moving around in the snow was difficult for my dad. The fact that I no longer had my dad to play sports with was difficult for me.

I completed my senior year of high school and thanks to my dad’s coaching over the years, I was offered the chance to play college football. I almost turned down the opportunity, contemplated staying close to home to help my family. My dad had none of this and did what he had done his entire life. He put me first.

“Don’t worry about me,” my dad said. “Accomplish your dreams. I’ll be all right.”

Now five years and three schools later, I’ve found a home at Western Michigan University. I’m preparing to graduate and slowly accomplishing my dreams on the other side of Michigan. Even though he’s not in the same city as me anymore, my dad sends me texts and calls on the phone, a reminder of how proud he is.

My dad’s MS continues to deteriorate. The covering of his nerve cells are eroding, as is the color of my orange bracelet, but the message, his message to me, remains. When the disease eventually takes my dad’s life, he will always be with me in the form of a silicon band around my Jarritt Picwrist, telling me to keep pushing and to accomplish my dreams, not only for me, but for us.

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