Fremont senior graduates despite challenges of accident
by Shannon Barry, Fremont Bulletin
“I always say, Focus on my ability, not my disability,'” Lewis said last week.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, the senior was making the most of his final days at Mission San Jose High School by participating in the traditional celebratory activities leading up to graduation. He “danced” the night away with sister Calyne during Senior Ball June 1, extended a hand outward and received congratulations and a high school diploma from school officials yesterday, and attended grad night that evening.
“It amazes me how strong he is,” mother Jolyne said before recalling the fateful night of the accident. Due to pending litigation, little could be shared other than Lewis’ best friend “lost control” of a vehicle with him, Calyne and other passengers inside. Lewis was the only one who sustained major impairment with a spinal cord injury.
“When I saw my son, when I got that phone call, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” Jolyne recalled. “ÉIt’s horrendous. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy because it’s not.”
During the interview, Jolyne played a nine-minute tribute she and her husband made about her son for a fundraising event this month. It started with pictures from Lewis’ childhood and moved forward through the years, many of which captured his longstanding athletic abilities with basketball, baseball and football group pictures and individual portraits.
Lewis participated in Mission San Jose Little League for years through the Senior Division, and was recognized as a 2011 all-star player. He advanced to Mission San Jose High School’s baseball team, on which he played until his accident.
“They still want him on the team,” Jolyne said, adding teammates tried to include him in the May 17 game against Logan High School as much as they could.
“We were heading into the stands and they said, ÔCole, where you are going? We want you in here with us,'” she said, adding Lewis stayed in the dugout area briefly because of their generosity. “ÉIt was wonderful.”
Lewis was also a Mission San Jose Warriors football player, competing on the varsity team his last two years.
“He was doing everything,” Jolyne said, explaining a normal summer schedule consisted of him waking up early and going to football practice until noon before heading to baseball for three hours and back to football for another session before coming home.
A new lifestyle
The slideshow then cuts to Lewis lying in bed beside sister Calyne before capturing some of the many exercises he has been doing through physical therapy.
“At first I was just moving my shoulders and then my left arm was the strongest arm and then I just started moving my right arm like a month and a half ago,” Lewis explained.
He first participated in physical therapy sessions, which included swimming exercises under supervision, while in the hospital before taking part in outpatient care beginning after his release Jan. 18.
All this while remaining persistent and doing whatever it took to graduate with the class of 2013.
During the two months Lewis was in the hospital, he worked out on site to gain the necessary credits for his weight training class. In addition, high school teacher Jamie Richards dropped off assignments for Lewis, mentioning extra credit opportunities along the way. A tutor was also working with Lewis twice a week through graduation to stay up to date on all his assignments.
He aspires to continue his studies at Ohlone College with a major in psychology, counseling or sports therapy.
Because of his drive to succeed, Lewis said the last eight months have been difficult. It has gone beyond just his inability to participate in sports.
“Dad, for the hundredth time,” Lewis said during the interview, asking to get his neck itched.
Family members said it has been a difficult process for everyone who has had to adapt to a new lifestyle.
“Everything is just different,” Calyne said. “Even 20 minutes ago he was like, Calyne, can you open the door?’ I’m like, You open it.’ I don’t remember.”
Knowing these difficulties, Ivy Wu, former Fremont trustee and founder of Fremont Unified Student Store, reached out to Jolyne about hosting a benefit concert in Lewis’ honor to raise money for his chance at full mobility, spinal cord injury functional integrated therapy at SCI-FIT in Pleasanton. This comes with a hefty price tag: $2,000 per month.
Her organization and the Virtuoso International Flute Ensemble collected $5,300 in pre-concert and event donations during the June 1 performance at Centerville Presbyterian Church.
Because of this support, Lewis was able to start SCI-FIT the week before the concert.
“We’re hoping people continue to support him,” Wu said, adding donations are still being collected online. “It is truly encouraging to see the warm support from our community.”
Jolyne said as she was looking out at the audience while saying a few words from the pulpit during the event, it was surprising to see how many of the approximately 100 attendees she didn’t know who wanted to help her family.
“I thought the reaching out from the community has been awesome,” Jolyne said.
Ensemble director Judy Lam said she was happy to be a part of the benefit concert.
“VIFE strives for artistic excellence and dedicates its performances to support and benefit non-profit organizations and community events,” Lam said. “ÉAs their teacher, I am constantly thinking of that one last lesson before their departure.”
She continued: “This time, it is Cole’s story that we are all learning from. When our plan takes a detour because of life altering calamity, it takes courage and spiritual strength to embrace a higher plan and purpose beyond our own. It is also a story of devotion and sacrificial support from a loving family, wiping away tears and making sure the long journey to recovery will not be a lonely one.”
To make a donation to the family, visit fuss4schools.org/cole-lewis-heart-of-gold.
Contact Shannon Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-262-2454. Visit us on our social media sites at facebook.com/FremontBulletin and twitter.com/FremontBulletin.