By Brook Stallings
Steve Ferreira says lots of people know him at BCC. He is a 20 year old man with cerebral palsy who gets to class in an electric wheelchair.
He is also a international champion athlete. In July, he won a bronze medal in the shot put at the Junior World Championships for International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports. 19 nations competed at the championship, which took place at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Ferreira has also won 6 gold medals in national competitions in field events over the last two years. “When I compete, I block everything out, focus, try my hardest. No matter how I do, I always keep my head up,” he said.
Ferreira is training hard and eating well for his next competitive challenge. “My goal is to be in the 2012 Paralympics, which are in London,” he said.
Ferreira attended Liberty High School in Renton. He is well known at the BCC weight room where he works out most mornings. He can bench press 335 pounds. Kelly Elsenbaumer, a health and physical education instructor, has taught Ferreira in her sports conditioning class. She said that Ferreira is dynamic, competitive, and inspiring.
Ferreira’s other active sport is wheelchair rugby, which used to be called murderball. Ferreira is a defensive player, and his job in the game is to run into people with his manual wheelchair and knock the ball out of their hands, said Brian Gannon, a longtime friend.
Wheelchair rugby is played on a basketball court. There are 2 fast guys, one picker, and one chaser on each side, Ferreira said. All players use manual wheelchairs. Players must have impaired movement in both upper and lower limbs.
“Wheelchair Rugby is a really brutal sport,” he said. “We just basically ram into each other, trying to score a goal.”
Before coming to college, Ferreira played Little League baseball, swam, and played wheelchair basketball. “He’s really active – he’s one of the strongest people I know, especially for his size,” Gannon said.
Ferreira’s disability is cerebral palsy. No-one is sure what causes cerebral palsy, but it is found in about 1 in 500 babies and preschoolers. Ferreira said the condition is “basically muscle tightness and spasms, but also, it has something to do with my speech, so I talk slower than normal.”
He is studying to be a personal trainer, and wants to major in communications. His goal is to complete his two year degree and transfer to the University of Washington. He wants to work as a fitness trainer after college.
He is a public speaker as well, and eventually wants to travel the United States as a motivational speaker. “I speak on how it feels to live with a disability. It helps disabled people get notice in the community,” he said. Ferreira has spoken at about 15 local high schools, and was guest speaker at Maywood Middle school’s moving up ceremony last year.
Offers to help don’t bother Ferreira, but don’t assume he needs it. “I’m like any other person, but the stuff I do takes me a little bit longer,” he said. He has no trouble getting anywhere on campus he needs to go, and he couldn’t think of anywhere on campus that he couldn’t go in his wheelchair.
“He’s really a gas… everybody knows who Steven is,” said Susan Djolmesli of Ferreira. She is the Director of the Disability Resource Center, which provides support to students with disabilities at BCC.
The stigma of disability is a problem for Ferreira at times. He said that sometimes when people “find out you’re disabled, they don’t want to be your friend.”
He said it helps to have friends who know him well. “Most of my friends see me as a regular person. They forget I’m in a wheelchair. Thats a great feeling.”
By Brook Stallings