Superhuman

Nathan Collier greets people with a crooked smile and a handshake or a fist bump. From the moment he starts talking, you can’t shut him up about his favorite books and authors, especially To Kill a Mockingbird. He loves to read and write. And think. He will listen too, and not just nod his head and stare off into space like the typical teenager, but really engage. Although he is embarrassed in front of a crowd, he is a self-proclaimed extrovert. He says he is a totally normal guy, but you notice most teens are not as kind, thoughtful or optimistic as him.

Nathan was born four months premature, weighing 1 pound, 5 ounces. He was born a triplet, with brothers Jacob and Zachary Collier, who died minutes after their births. Nathan had a complication just after birth causing a lack of oxygen to his brain. Connie Collier, his mother, said from the day he was born the doctors knew he would have difficulties due to this complication. She said as Nathan grew he did not pass the typical developmental milestones, such as sitting up or walking. When Nathan was 2, doctors made the official diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Nathan said cerebral palsy causes walking and basic daily tasks like buttoning a shirt to be more difficult. Despite these obstacles, Nathan said he considers himself very fortunate.

“I actually got pretty lucky because I know there are a lot worse degrees [of cerebral palsy] that you can get,” Nathan said. “I know a lot of people that can’t talk because of it, and are completely confined to a wheelchair because they can’t move, and they are just as bright as the rest of us. But yeah, I got pretty lucky.”

Despite Nathan’s optimism, he still has faced nine different surgeries throughout his lifetime according to Connie. She said Nathan stayed positive through everything, with a smile on his face even during times of severe pain and through nine weeks of inpatient rehab after an intensive surgery his sophomore year. Connie said whenever Nathan mentioned pain, he would immediately apologize for his complaint because he is “just a freaking nice kid,” she said. Connie said as Nathan grew up she felt proud because every time a doctor said he would not be able to do something, he proved them wrong.

“Doctors would say, ‘Don’t ever expect him to be able to jump with both feet off the floor, and don’t expect him to stand on one leg,’ ” Connie said. “Nathan would hear these things at 3 and 4 years old and he would never say anything, but it would just be a couple weeks or a couple months and he would jump with both feet off the floor and say, ‘They told me I couldn’t do that’.”

Nathan said he never feels jealous of those without his disability because he has dealt with cerebral palsy all his life. He never had much of an interest in athletics, so although he cannot play sports, he does not mind. This is because his passions lie in his thoughts rather than in a stadium. He said he hopes to become an author one day.

“It would just be a couple weeks or a couple months and he would jump with both feet off the floor and say, ‘They told me I couldn’t do that’.””

— Connie Collier

Melissa Adams, English teacher, had Nathan in her class for Freshman Lit. and Comp. She said she considers him an intellectual and a joy to have in class. They still visit nearly every day and she loves his sarcastic humor. She said she could definitely see him having success as an author because of his strong sense of self and his ability to observe and understand people. Although she gives praise to his writing talent, she is impressed with his selflessness and strength to overcome any obstacle.

“I think he’s an interesting kid in the sense that he has this superhuman strength, in terms of his determination to accomplish his goals, and yet he has the kindest heart at the same time,” Adams said.

Nathan said he stays positive through all he deals with because he never has known anything different and because he cannot change his circumstances. He said it is simply a lot more fun to be positive. Although he sometimes ponders what life would be like if he did not have cerebral palsy, he said he never spends much time dwelling on these thoughts.

“Honestly, the only difference between me and somebody else who can walk really well and play sports, is that they have stronger legs,” Nathan said. “There wouldn’t be much differently that I would do, if my legs worked better. I’m still able to do everything everyone else can, just maybe not quite as well.”

Connie agreed, saying Nathan is a completely regular teenager (a boy who loves Xbox and refuses to clean his room when asked) but it frustrates her when others do not see this. She said she feels hurt when she sees people staring at Nathan in public, especially adults and teenagers who know better. Nathan said he notices people sometimes talk to him like they feel sorry for him, and that people talk slower upon meeting him. He said it does not anger him because he knows that people do not mean to treat him differently, but it is an annoyance.

“I wish people wouldn’t judge people on their physical appearance,” Connie said. “He walks different, or he rides his scooter, and that doesn’t make him any less intelligent, or fun, or funny. I think that everybody thinks that when you have a physical disability you also have a mental disability, and that’s extremely frustrating. If you just get one chance to talk to Nathan, you know that this kid is just like everybody else.”