Dear Hayden,

Part of me thinks I tell you this enough but the other half of me doesn’t feel like you realize the true magnitude of what you’ve done for me. Growing up, I was always different. First I was that kid in the lime green wheelchair. Then I was the kid in the lime green walker. Then, I became the kid with the little wooden cane. And finally, I’m the kid on crutches. Gator blue crutches, with gator duct tape on the sides, because of my undying love for my school. My dream school.

I don’t think you realize — I would not be where I am right now without you. That duct tape got on the sides of my crutches because of you.

The fact of my life is that I am, and always will be, someone who will deal with cerebral palsy my entire life. People see that outwardly. But I don’t think a lot of people see the magnitude of one major fact of my life: I have you. I’m in college, at my dream school. And it’s because you’ve stuck by my side. It’s because of all you have taught me through the years.

There’s been times I’ve had plenty of friends. But there’s also been a few times where I felt like no one was with me. I was wrong, because all I'd have to do is look to my side and I'd find you. You taught me about loyalty. And that having a few really close people in my life is way better than having tons of only slightly close people. There’s been times I've woken up in insane amounts of physical pain, and I was immediately consumed with stress and sadness that I had to deal with this. But then I’d remember the time I had just gotten a new walker and you decided we needed to break it in. So you slapped a bike helmet in my head, told me to sit in the seat and took off pushing my walker as fast as you could down the sidewalk. I was smiling so big my face hurt. You taught me life can still be incredibly fun despite pain and struggle that we may face.

I’ll never forget any of the times you stood up for me. I’ll never forget the times you protected me with everything you had. And I'm forever grateful for all the times you do all you can to make me smile.

When I was applying to colleges, a lot of people told me UF was a bad idea. Because I’m a kid on crutches. And that campus is way too big for a kid whose life is eternally stamped with a handicap sign. But you knew all along, even when I started to believe what people around me were saying. You knew that my heart would forever bleed orange and blue; you knew that being a gator was my dream. I’d come to you frustrated, expecting you to tell me to go to a small school because that’s what so many people were telling me. But you didn’t. You told me with more confidence than I had in myself: “UF is your dream. Go for it. You can do it.”

Looking back today, to put it simply, that gator duct tape on the sides my crutches is there because of you. If you hadn’t had my back, if you hadn’t believed in me more than I did in myself, I wouldn’t be sitting in Gainesville right now.

To put it simply, you are my best friend. You are my rock. I look up to you, and I so hope you can see how much you mean to me. How much you’ve helped me. To put it simply, if it weren’t for you, I might have said no to my dream school and I'd be sitting in somewhere else right now, wishing I was a gator.

So thank you. Thank you for being the best I could ever have. Thank you for getting me here. You’ve taught me so much without even knowing it.

I know what we have isn’t something every set of siblings gets to have. So as we sit in our different colleges, I hope you know I’ll always be here for you. Like you are for me.

You’re the reason I get to say, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator,” and I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m living my dream. And you deserve a lot of thanks for that.

I love you more than you know. You're the best big brother there is.



Lead Image Credit: Lisa Ellis