BY SAM BRIDGMAN
Every kid has a dream. This was mine.
Standing on the pitcher’s mound in a major-league ballpark going against a full count, two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth with a 2-1 lead. The adrenaline rushing through my veins. My heart beating faster than it ever has.
Baseball was my life. It was a part of me. I lived and breathed the sport that America calls the National Pastime. I played Little League growing up and practiced with my Mom and Dad whenever I got the chance. I made sure I did each drill right every time. I remember spending hours and hours at the ballpark doing drills again and again. Practice makes perfect, right?
As I got older, my body began to change, along with my friend’s bodies. Yet somehow I was getting worse at baseball while my friends were excelling at it. During my freshman year at Nathan Hale High School, I got cut from the baseball team. I didn’t even make the freshman squad and didn’t play high-school baseball that spring. I would never play organized baseball ever again.
In the summer of 2006, my family and I learned that I have Friedreich’s Ataxia, called FA for short. Through many doctor’s visits, we were told that FA is a genetic, progressive, life-shortening neuromuscular disease that causes loss of coordination from the toes to the fingertips. Symptoms include scoliosis, diabetes, and worst of all, heart disease. FA will eventually cause me to use a wheelchair full time. Daily tasks will become nearly impossible. There is no treatment and no cure.
At first, my world was shattered. My dream of standing on that pitcher’s mound and playing for a Major League Baseball team was obliterated. I didn’t know what to do. I did not want to lose the game I loved. So I made a choice.
I became student manager for the Nathan Hale High School baseball team the next spring. It did not feel like I was just the student manager, however. I went to every practice, wore a uniform on game days and was treated as if I was one of the players. All the while, I was losing the ability to do things like tie my shoes and run from home plate to first base.
I made it out of high school without having to use a wheelchair, but was not as lucky in college. During my freshman year at the University of Portland, I was forced into a wheelchair part time. A year later, I had to use one full time. I now switch between a power and manual chair and do not stand unless I am holding onto something.
This progressive disease has taken away my ability to play the sport I love, but I have not let baseball leave my life. I strive to live every day to the fullest! No matter the challenge, I keep moving forward! With the help of friends and family, anything is possible!
My dream – part of it, at least – will come true Thursday night. As a part of a fundraiser for the school’s athletic department back in December 2013, the Nathan Hale High School Booster Club presented me with the Champion Award and the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Seattle Mariners game May 8 at Safeco Field. I am beyond excited to throw out the first pitch in front of my friends and family and to represent Nathan Hale High School.
Even though my body doesn’t work the way I want it to, my smile still works, my laugh still works, the way I think still works, and most important, the things I feel in my heart still work. Every day of mine will be filled with love, as long as I live!
Sam Bridgman, 22, was born and raised in Seattle, where he went to Nathan Hale High School. His dream of becoming a professional baseball player ended at 15, when he was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia. He later graduated from the University of Portland, where he was the baseball team’s manager. Bridgman works at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
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