MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Thornapple Kellogg’s Clair Jansma isn’t your typical teenager.
“It started right after I was born. I was two months premature, so as a baby I was already seeing doctors more than a lot of other kids were at that age. It wasn’t until I was older that I found out I was different, that there was something wrong with me,” she wrote in an essay her junior year.
Clair is a senior now. She’s also a marching band drum major who is getting ready to golf in a state tournament — all accomplishments that may seem surprising for someone who has cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is damage to the brain that happens at or around the time of birth and causes physical and/or mental disabilities. Clair’s condition is hemiplegia, which is paralysis or weakness on one side of the body — her left side.
Clair and her twin brother Nathan were born prematurely at 32 weeks. She weighed 3 pounds, 13 ounces and was only 16.5 inches long.
Clair also had an intraventricular hemorrhage, which caused bleeding into the normal fluid spaces of her brain. That’s what doctors believe caused her condition and problems early on in her development.
“She wasn’t rolling over, she wasn’t standing up, she wasn’t walking while her brother was,” explained Sharon Jansma, Clair’s mom.
She didn’t want her daughter to feel like she couldn’t do what other kids could.
Clair had surgery on her left foot when she was 7 years old and has worn a brace ever since —either during the day, at night, or both.
Clair spent many Halloweens in a wheelchair, waiting while her brother asked for candy for his sister. But she also heeded her parents’ advice:
“We taught her you don’t give (up), you try your best, you don’t make excuses, you do what you can to the best to your ability,” said Sharon Jansma.
Clair tried different sports and activities, eventually settling into golf. But adopting the sport has come with challenges.
“I would get in the middle of a (golf) round and I would realize that the pain would be a big deal for me and I didn’t know how to deal with it and also focus on playing golf at the same time, so I ended up getting a pass to get a cart,” she recounted.
It also wasn’t easy for Clair to admit that she needed help.
“I’m a person who wants to be strong and power through,” she said.
Her situation hasn’t always seemed fair, but that hasn’t stopped her.
“I sometimes wish that I could play basketball or other sports or do other activities, but in the end, I’m glad that I can be drum major. I’m glad that I can go to state for golf,” said Clair. “Sometimes you just have to embrace the limitations you have in order to enjoy what you can do.”
Clair plans to study music in college to become a music teacher. She started playing piano as a form of physical therapy for her left hand, so in a way, her condition led her to her passion.
“I can’t imagine not doing (music) after high school and I want to make it my career,” she said.
A lot of people are proud of what Clair has accomplished — perhaps no one more than her mom.
“(Clair) has just, has soared, more than I thought she ever could. She has done amazing things,” Sharon Jansma said with tears welling up in her eyes.