When 13-year-old Dustin Strelsky sustained a spinal cord injury that left him wheelchair bound after a major car accident, friends and family were worried that the athletic junior high student would never again get to participate in the sports he loved.
But Dustin assured them that he would be back on the field and the court, even if he couldn’t play the way he used to.
“When school started this year, Dustin decided that he wanted to remain in athletics…and help out as much as possible,” said Rockdale Junior High football coach Michael Young. “No matter what we had the kids doing, Dustin made sure he was involved. If they were running sprints, jogging laps, lifting weights in the rain and cold, it didn’t matter. Dustin was right there with them.”
It would be an insult to him if you told him he should sit out, the coach said.
“Dustin wore his jersey and sat on the sidelines with his team throughout the season and served as team captain for our final home game,” Mr. Young said.
Because of Dustin’s inspiring story and perseverance, he was chosen to be a child ambassador, called a champion, to represent the state of Texas as part of the “Children’s Miracle Network Champions Program.” He is the first champion to be chosen from Scott & White in 25 years.
Dustin and the other champions will travel, as representatives of the 17 million children treated at Children’s Miracle Network hospitals each year throughout the U.S., first to the White House and Capitol Hill to share their courageous stories and then to Orlando, Fla., for the Children’s Miracle Network Celebration event at Walk Disney World Resort.
“I’m so blessed to have this opportunity to represent Texas,” Dustin said. “Telling different people your story can change so many lives. Sometimes just talking to somebody means a lot to them.”
Dustin’s mom, Jennifer Strelsky is also looking forward to her son being an ambassador.
“He’s a good inspiration to all of the kids because just because he can’t walk doesn’t mean he can’t live a normal life and do great things,” she said.
Mrs. Strelsky said that Dustin is not just inspiring because of what he’s been through, but because he always seems to know what to say to motivate and encourage others.
“A friend of ours is battling cancer. We went to see her in the hospital and he headed straight for her, wheeled right up to her and said, you know, Ms. Caldwell, if I can do it, you can do it,” she said.
And the junior high student also seems to know how to motivate himself as well.
“He’s playing tennis at school,” Mrs. Strelsky said. “He’s had five matches and he’s won four out of five matches. And that’s against able-bodied kids.”
He plans on participating in the Endeavor Games, a nationally recognized competition that allows athletes with physical disabilities to participate in a multi-sport event, sponsored by the University of Central Oklahoma.
And his dreams don’t end there.
“My goal is to go to the Para Olympics and be an athlete,” Dustin said. “I want to be on the USA team for [wheelchair] basketball.”
Mrs. Strelsky said that sometimes people wonder how she and her husband handle the every day of caring for a disabled child or they feel sorry for the Strelskys.
“But you know, I don’t [feel sorry for us],” she said. “We are so blessed to have Dustin with us. He’s a miracle.”