“I'm never wearing blue again!” 7-year-old Jonah Bradshaw exclaimed.
Jonah was sold. Decked out in his newly acquired red-and-white duds, and smiling under a black, autographed Utah Utes cap just a couple sizes too big, although he insisted it fit him perfectly, Jonah just might be a Utes fan for life now.
Jonah was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, which consists of multiple joint contractures and prevents some muscle groups from fully developing. The young boy has grown up in a wheelchair with limited movement of his arms and legs. Despite having different abilities from his peers, Jonah has the will to find a way to succeed in every aspect of his life.
“He's a perfect child,” Jonah's father, Tom Bradshaw, said. “He really lets us know that we all can do better in our lives because obviously what he has, he can overcome that. Whatever comes to him, he turns around and makes it positive.”
The Bradshaws knew having Jonah would not be easy. Nearly every doctor and counselor advised the couple to not go through with the birth, seeing it would be hard for the baby to ever have a “normal” life. But like many families who embrace the difficult challenges that come with raising a child with a congenital condition, the Bradshaws made their own normal.
“We took the opportunity to have him come into our lives and we were nervous at first,” Tom Bradshaw said. “You wonder as time goes, what will happen. He's 7 years old, and he's amazed us.”
Two weeks ago, Jonah endured a painful surgery to extend his leg, which offers the hope of being able to stand, or even walk, someday. Since the surgery, he has been dealing with an unbearable amount of pain and has not been himself. Friday evening, young Jonah was recognized for his strength in adversities and given a VIP Utah baseball experience provided by the Sons of Baseball Foundation. Throughout the night, Jonah never complained once, and the bright smile on his face masked any amount of hurt he felt for the past two weeks.
“This is phenomenal, today has been really a good day for Jonah,” Tom Bradshaw said while looking over at his jubilant 7-year-old enjoying the baseball game. “Just dealing with pain meds and finding comfort for him from the surgery, this has been the best medicine whatsoever. He hasn't felt any pain, he's very happy; it's like our old Jo-Jo is back.”
Prior to the start of the game, Jonah rolled up to Spring Mobile Park expecting to throw the first pitch for the Utes. However, he was not expecting to be fully embraced by the entire team who offered up a VIP tour of the ballpark and autographed goods for the whole family.
Utah baseball student assistant coach Derek Amicone led the tour from the press box all the way down to the batting cages. Then as Jonah's father wheeled him into the Utes' locker room, the boy met several players and exchanged his Minnesota Twins cap for one equipped with a Utes symbol and an autograph from every member of the team. This was only the first of many surprises to come Jonah's way.
“The catcher that gave him his batting gloves, they all took the time to sign the hat for him, and not only that, but then to talk to him just to make him feel like he's a part of the game,” Sons of Baseball co-founder Jon Ahlquist said of the kind men from the Utes baseball team.
Following the locker room, the Bradshaws headed for the dugout to meet the rest of Utah's players. A problem presented itself with stairs separating Jonah and the field. Jonah, however, was brave and said, “It's a Harry Potter chair!” as his father and several other helpers lifted the chair over the stairs.
“Nothing is going to stop Jonah,” Eric Wallace, another co-founder of Sons of Baseball, said. “He is going to accomplish anything that he wants to accomplish in life."
In the dugout, Jonah happily chatted away with the Utes. He openly talked of his recent surgery and the hardships he's dealt with over the past two weeks. The players and coaches sympathized with Jonah and an awe-inspired look creeped into each of their eyes.
“I think it's pretty awesome to see a kid with that many challenges is still able to do the things that he loves,” Amicone said. “It's pretty special, there's a lot of people out there that would probably just give up and not want to do those things because of their physical limitations.”
As it came time for Jonah to throw the first pitch, coach Amicone asked, “Are you ready? The crowd's going to be clapping, there's going to be a lot of people cheering for you. Don't be nervous.” Jonah just giggled as if it were a ridiculous question and proudly replied, “I'm not nervous, I'm not scared.”
Jonah took the field and after a warm introduction, his father wheeled him up to the plate. He does not have the ability to throw the ball with his arms, so Jonah used a tactic he mastered while playing in the Miracle Baseball League. With his braced leg, he hit the ball off the side of his wheelchair. The ball rolled across home plate, and loud cheers erupted from the stands. Jonah was glowing.
“I made the first pitch, and it was cool,” Jonah said, grinning from ear to ear.
The Sons of Baseball Foundation is a charity that strives to help families with different challenges experience baseball, and that was the opportunity it provided for the Bradshaws this weekend at the Utah baseball game. Like many of the other kids Wallace and Ahlquist work with, Jonah's abilities may be different, but the strength to find a way to overcome the challenges is inspiring.
“I think that strength comes from all of the adversity that he has faced in life,” Wallace said. “He's not scared. He's used to surgeries, he's used to the unknown and everything else. I think we can all learn something from that.”
Whether Jonah can walk someday or not, his courage to face life with a smile served as an inspiration for all Friday night.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company