By Keely Flanagan
Ben Jackson is a college student majoring in communications. He is training to compete as a power-lifter. He was a wrestler at Pocono Mountain High School in Pennsylvania.
Oh, and he has cerebral palsy. But don’t let that stop him.
“We were like partners in crime,” said Jackson’s older sister, Alise. “He’s always been such a great person, from the time he was small to who he is now. He’s so determined. Anything he set his mind to do, he figured out a way to do it.”
Jackson started wrestling in middle school. He said his parents were concerned for his safety, but ultimately supportive of his decision. Wrestling helped him come out of his shell, especially in middle school, when fitting in can feel impossible.
His sister, Alise, shared their parent’s concerns.
“I’m still kind of overprotective,” said Alise. “My biggest thing is I don’t want anyone to ever mistreat him. And we live in a world that isn’t always nice. When he told me he wanted to start wrestling, I was really scared. I just thought ‘What if he gets hurt? What if people are cruel to him?’ But, as I saw how happy it makes him, the fear subsided because all I ever want is for him to be happy.”
Jackson first discovered wrestling because he was a huge WWE fan. But he soon realized wrestling was much different from what he had watched on television.
In his first season, Jackson didn’t win a single match. But he spent more time in the gym than anyone, which for him was a relief. Working out as a member of the wrestling team meant he didn’t have to go to his regular physical therapy sessions, just another thing that came with his cerebral palsy.
At the end of his senior year, Jackson fulfilled his dream of leaving a lasting legacy at his high school. His coaches created the “Ben Jackson Courage Award,” which is now given to a new wrestler at the end of every season.
Since his college in Bethlehem, Penn., doesn’t have a wrestling team, Jackson has shifted his athletic focus. He’s training to compete in the 2016 Paralympics as a power-lifter. He also hopes to become a motivational speaker — his Instagram is full of words of wisdom.
Jackson was also part of the Gatorade “Win From Within” campaign:
“Wrestling just gave him this confidence,” said Alise. “It did so much more than just make him an athlete. It helped him to be able to go out into the world and realize what a great person he is.”
Highlights From ‘A Conversation With Ben Jackson’
KF: What was it like growing up with cerebral palsy?
BJ: Growing up with cerebral palsy definitely has had its challenges. Cerebral palsy — my cerebral palsy — is called “spastic cerebral palsy.” And basically what that means is that it causes me to have spasms, more specifically muscle spasms. That affects everything — from the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I take notes in my notebook for school, the way I brush my teeth when I wake up in the morning, the way I make breakfast. So it really affects me from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I go to sleep at night.
KF: So, even with any injuries that you’ve had wrestling, you don’t regret it, and it was completely worth it for the great experiences?
BJ: Yeah, it was. Definitely the group bonding with the teammates, building friendships, and working hard every single day to get better and achieve one common goal — so I’ll take all the injuries because they were worth it. Because just like in day-to-day life, you won’t build a strong sense of self through the easy times. Sometimes you need adversity to teach yourself how to be a stronger person. And at that age of being 14, 15, 16, that’s the most crucual time, you know, that one individual can pick up that lesson of work ethic.
KF: Tell me about your first win. What was that like?
BJ: My first win was phenomenal because my first season of wrestling, I didn’t win a single match. I lost 25 matches in a row. And from the first one to the last one, I began to learn more and more about myself through each loss. So what I would do is, I would lose the first match in a certain amount of time, and then the second match I would make sure that, even if I lost, I wasn’t going to lose as fast as I lost my first match.
It was actually the first or the second match of the season, and I went out there, and I beat the kid by “pin.” And the whole gym erupted, and people were cheering and crying and clapping — it was just a phenomenal feeling.
KF: What is your favorite memory wrestling?
BJ: My favorite memory wrestling has to be the time I went to Jim Thorpe, Penn. I went into their junior high school, and I saw a picture of this Olympian, Jim Thorpe. And I saw all of his awards, and how he had this big Hall of Fame at the school, and when I saw that, I basically said to myself (quietly, in the corner), I said “I know this is my first year wrestling, but by the time I’m finished, at my own school, I want there to be something that says ‘Ben Jackson.'” But I knew that would only come with a tremendous amount of hard work, because at my school there isn’t like a huge Hall of Fame. So I had to do something special.
So, when I finished my senior season of wrestling at Pocono West, they awarded me my own personal award called the “Ben Jackson Courage Award.” And this award, every single year, is handed down to a new wrestler. So when I got that in my hands, I immediately broke down in tears because I saw that in my head for so many years, and now it was in my hands. That memory just stuck with me. Ever since I got that award, that really solidified my belief that anything, any goal, any standard I hold for myself can be achieved.