“Don’t fight the suffering.”

One might expect to hear a statement like this from a seasoned saint who endured hardship. But these words came from the mouth of a nineteen-year-old woman, Danielle McCloskey. Just a couple of years post-high school she has confidence and enthusiasm about her life and future that has been hard won. Disability does that for some.

Dani is one of five children. She and three of her siblings are quadruplets. She is the only one born with a disability, cerebral palsy. Occasionally she uses a manual wheelchair, but more often than not ambulates with Canadian crutches.

Two years ago Dani, her mom, and one sister visited with Jerry and me while they were in Florida. We met them many years ago (when the quads were in elementary school) in Pennsylvania. Now Dani was exploring college options and warmer, less snowy climates. She was also trying to discern her purpose. Besides recently graduating from high school, Dani was coming off a three-year battle with gastroparesis (paralysis of her GI tract). Over those years of frequent hospitalizations, she felt “lost in the journey with chronic illness.”

Knowing these pieces of Dani’s history piqued our interest when we saw a viral video of her taking steps without her crutches. What changed in such a short time in this young woman’s life? We set up a video call to find out.

When Danielle recovered from the gastroparesis, she felt like there was a missing link. “I had more potential, but how do I to access it? I always enjoyed an active lifestyle and was very mobile. I plateaued in physical therapy. One day I walked into a random Crossfit gym in Florida. I went up to a trainer and told her I needed help. She had never worked with someone with a disability. I had never worked with a trainer before. Together we figured it out.”

Dani worked out at the gym three days a week while wintering nearby. One day another client overheard her talking about returning to Pennsylvania soon. She came to Dani and said, “I couldn’t help but hear your conversation. I don’t know where you live in Pennsylvania, but I have family who operates a Crossfit Gym in Doylestown, PA and they specialize in adaptive fitness.”

The gym referenced in Pennsylvania was right down the street from Dani’s home. And they work with adaptive fitness—amazing! No one but God could have orchestrated each person to be in that gym at that specific time, within earshot of the conversation, and with a resource to share which turned out to be the perfect fit for Dani.

“When I first went to the gym, I felt a supernatural sense from God that this is my calling.”

After nearly two years of working out regularly, Dani identified the changes she is experiencing.

  • I am making progress again since leaving physical therapy.
  • My balance, coordination, functionality, core, and trunk support improved.
  • I can take a few steps completely unaided.
  • I can cover a greater distance using only one crutch.
  • I can carry more and pick up things I drop with greater ease.
  • I fall less.

For Dani, the calling she sensed her first day in the gym is more than just getting her body healthier, walking further, or increasing stamina. She wants to share her experience and knowledge with others. To do that most effectively, she has several short-term and long-range goals.

She’s hard at work knocking out each goal! Since we last talked, Dani mastered hand controls on a car and is now a licensed driver. And she achieved her certification as a personal trainer! This is foundational to her next step of certifying in the adaptive and inclusive training component.

If all goes well by mid-June, Dani and one of her siblings will settle into her new home in southern Florida.

While unsure of the specifics of how God will use this passion for fitness to help others, she will begin her sophomore year in college this fall, working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work. Looking ahead, she hopes to follow that up with a master’s degree in counseling. Together this will allow her a broad and holistic platform to address physical and mental health needs.

Dani sees her renewed enthusiasm as a response to God. He told her this is her time to step out, to leave a season of suffering and move into a season of prospering. Being a naturally anxious person, the peace she has seeing the details work out, assures her it is the voice of God.

This doesn’t mean Dani lives without anxiety or bad days. What it means is she has learned, even on a bad health day she needs to go to the gym and push her body.

“When you feel awful, you don’t want to push. But you have to keep in mind what the tradeoff is.”

When asked how she balances her spiritual life with her fitness goals, Dani says it is all about perspective. She does not work out to be buff, or to look a certain way. She believes God blessed her with the gift of functionality to help others. She asks herself how she can glorify Him through her passion for fitness.

For those of us who live with a disability, Dani offers this, “Don’t fight the suffering. As much as it sucks, as my gastroparesis did, we cannot change some things. Over the course of one weekend, my GI system was paralyzed, and my autoimmune system wreaked havoc in my body. When putting food and drink in your mouth gets taken away from you in the course of one weekend, I learned I was not in control. The challenge is there for us to learn from and grow. I will never again take eating or drinking for granted. Some situations we are in are difficult, but we can grow from them. Don’t fight the suffering.”

If you would like to encourage Dani on her journey, ask her a question, or consider inviting her to be a motivational speaker for your group you can reach her at danielle.j.mcc@gmail.com or on Instagram @Danielle.Joyy

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