By Kelly Fenton
Let there be no misunderstanding. Aidan Cairns is thrilled to have qualified for the shot put and the javelin in the upcoming National Junior Disability Championships later this month.
After all, those games are going to be held in Union County, New Jersey, just down the road from the Basking Ridge youngster’s home.
But, boy, did he really want to make it into the wheelchair races, too. Aidan had spent a lot of time leading up to the regional competitions in May and June working on whittling seconds off his mark from the previous year’s regional. He would race around the track at Bernards High School while mom Stephanie engaged the stop watch on her cell phone.
“I didn’t qualify for it last year and I knew I had to do under 59 seconds,” says Aidan, an 8-year old Mount Prospect third-grader with cerebral palsy. “I knew I had to do a little better. I was disappointed I didn’t qualify for the wheelchair but then I remembered I qualified for two things so then I was happy.
“I was kind of frustrated but I was happy of one thing because the first chair at the beginning of the year wasn’t really good. It was, like, broken. They even said so. So they gave me another chair before the meet started and I was happy about that. And I was doing much better with that one.”
And that appears to be Aidan Cairns in a nutshell: Happy and gracious, yet fiercely determined. Characteristics that would seem to be in conflict yet appear to reside in balance within young Aidan’s heart.
“He does seem to have it all together,” says Trisha Yurochko, head coach of Aidan’s Lightning Wheels team. “Thursday night he went around the track with a huge smile on his face, which was great to see. I just love his smile. He comes in with a smile but with a determination to succeed. The first weeks were tough and he was frustrated. He is competitive.”
Aidan Cairns has light brown hair and a smile with melting potential. He’s smart and funny and laughs easily. He is a good athlete and a good student and is clearly proud of what he has accomplished at his young age. He kind of wants to know when this story will be in the newspaper but seems a little embarrassed to ask. His ego seems solid and healthy.
It might be easy, because of that smile and sweet nature, to forget the difficulties Aidan faces in day-to-day living. It might be easy to believe that a kid who is born with cerebral palsy, who has not lost something he once had, might adapt easier to his situation.
“Sometimes I do that,” Aidan admits when asked if he ever gets down about his circumstances. “But not much anymore. I do pretty good now.”
Lightning Wheels, the sports organization for New Jersey athletes with disabilities, has played a big part in developing that attitude. It has allowed him to feel like he’s part of a larger community, Stephanie says. She points out that as great as the Mount Prospect school has been in embracing Aidan, he was still the only kid in school using a walker or using crutches to get around. With Lightning Wheels he is around other kids with similar disabilities.
“It’s just amazing to realize that there is this whole other community out there that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of attention,” Stephanie says. “Especially the coaches and volunteers who give up a lot of their time so these kids can participate as athletes and learn what it’s like to be an athlete. It makes you very grateful that it gives these kids a chance to experience everyday life.”