Using only his arms and upper body, 9-year-old Bruce Mansy climbs a rock wall one January day as his parents stand back, cheering him on.
“Keep going, Bruce,” his father roots, while his mother snaps photos.
Looking up, as the 9-year-old Fresno boy carefully scales the wall, it takes a minute to notice Bruce isn’t using his legs at all.
Samuel Mansy and Lyhoy Tang look relaxed as they watch their son, the 2019 Kids Day Ambassador, slowly scale the colored rocks inside MetalMark in Fresno.
But it has taken time and it has been difficult seeing him struggle to get used to moving around in a wheelchair.
When Bruce was 7, a car accident just outside of Fresno left him without the use of his legs. Now Bruce is a regular in the Valley Children’s Hospital Adaptive Sports Program, which provides opportunities for children with disabilities to play sports.
Mansy and Tang describe their son as energetic, thoughtful and never without a sense of humor.
A fourth-grader at Lone Star Elementary School, Bruce is a student counselor. Like many kids his age, he likes playing Fortnite and he recently won a dance contest at his school doing the Whip/Nae Nae.
“I’m really good at math and I’m in the math club,” Bruce said. “I have a lot of good friends.”
‘There’s no limit to anything’
It has been well-documented that kids who are able to participate in programs like adaptive sports benefit socially, psychologically and physically, according to program director Dr. Jennifer Crocker, who is also the medical director of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department at Valley Children’s.
Bruce’s parents agree that they’ve seen an improvement in their son.
“When we have activities like these,” Mansy said, “it makes us realize, hey, there’s no limit to anything, man. We just gotta keep going.”
From putting on his shoes to brushing his teeth and playing basketball, Bruce’s parents credit Valley Children’s with helping their son adapt to his new normal.
“Before, we didn’t really know where to start,” Mansy acknowledged. “We’d give him a toothbrush and then he’ll brush his teeth. But I used to help him up and lean him towards the sink and have him spit it out. But now, I saw Valley staff members using cups. That’s the difference.”
Watching how staff treat the children has encouraged Mansy with his son. “(They’ve) really given him a spirit to keep going, to keep fighting. Keep him alive, and keep him away from the dark, keep him in society instead of trying to hide.”
Mansy said he and Tang have made a point to stop telling Bruce “no.” They want Bruce to be independent and experience the world.
“He’s more positive, confident, he’s more outgoing,” Mansy said. “He’s not afraid to go on slides or swings.”
Bruce said his parents are his biggest supporters.
“My mom and dad, they really just tell me to keep on going and not to give up so quickly, keep on going and not to get sad or give up.”
‘This might sound dangerous ...’
Crocker says she wants more children to be involved in the program, which is the only one of its kind in the Valley. “It is a completely free program for families involved, even snacks,” she said. “They just need to show up.”
Donations earmarked for the program are used to purchase special equipment that may not be easily accessible to the public. “You can’t just go into Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy an adaptive water ski,” Crocker said.
The program also relies on volunteers.
“We have people donate their time, their boats, and their fields and their courts for them to play,” she said. Program coordinators also train coaches and employees, like those at MetalMark, to work with the children.
Crocker has seen Bruce improve tremendously since the first time he showed up at Valley Children’s in 2016.
“Getting Bruce back into his school, back into his home was our first priority,” she said. “Getting him to play on the court with his friends the way he did before he was injured is really important to him and his family.”
Since then, Bruce has played basketball, rock climbed, and water skied with the program.
Next on his list?
“This might sound dangerous,” Bruce said excitedly after his rock climbing harness comes off, “but rugby.”