Most college students look forward to the day that they’ll cross the stage at graduation and proudly accept their diploma as family, friends, and classmates cheer them on. But, for Lauren Shipman, that walk was more than just a rite of passage—it was the culmination of 14 months of physical rehabilitation, perseverance, and optimism.
Born with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair since age three, Lauren had always assumed that she would use her wheelchair to cross the stage during her graduation from Neumann University in May 2015. She didn’t think twice about the decision until the spring of her junior year, when a staff member and friend in the school’s Academic Resource Center was interviewed for a student project about Lauren’s life with cerebral palsy.
“She had so many great things to say and her words were so touching, but one comment in particular stuck with me,” Shipman recalls. “She said, ‘My wish for Lauren is to have her walk across the stage to receive her diploma.’ It triggered something in me to want to tackle this huge challenge.”
So, in August 2014, Shipman enrolled in outpatient therapy at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital to accomplish her goal. Although it wasn’t the first time she had gone to therapy, it had been many years since her last visit.
Shipman started off slowly, spending several months at the beginning of her therapy doing manual stretching and using the hospital’s Easy Glider to increase her range of motion and the Eva Walker to help support her forearms as she walked. As her comfort level increased, Shipman’s physical therapists began including strengthening exercises in her routine, supervising her as she stood without assistance, shifted her weight between two parallel bars, and used the hospital’s Nimbo Walker to help improve her stability. Every session concluded with a walk around the hospital gym or down the hallway.
“It was very grueling to get my different muscle groups back to working again and, with my increased spasticity, it made it twice as challenging. As I progressed in therapy, it began to get a little easier, but was nonetheless very intense,” says Shipman. “But I have always been the type of person who has a strong drive to succeed.”
Shipman’s therapy team witnessed that drive firsthand.
“Over the last year, Lauren has surpassed every expectation I have had, and shattered any barriers I may have thought would limit her,” says Curry Durborow, physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab. “She is truly one of the most motivated patients I have ever worked with, and has been a pleasure to work with. She came to therapy with big dreams, and the drive and determination to make those dreams come true.”
So it surprised no one when, after nine months of physical therapy, Lauren proudly made her way to the stage on a Saturday in May. With the help of two physical therapy students, Lauren walked across the stage to accept her diploma. That feeling, she says, was incredible.
“May 16, 2015 was the best day of my life. Not only did I complete my degree, but I used a walker for the first time in my life with minimum assistance. To see and hear a crowd of 4,000 people roar in excitement and scream my name as I walked across the stage was an experience I will always treasure.”
Although Shipman has been able to cross one goal off her list, she isn’t stopping there. She continues to visit Bryn Mawr Rehab once a week for outpatient therapy in hopes of becoming more independent despite her cerebral palsy and increasing her muscle endurance. In the summer of 2015, she began working with the hospital’s occupational and speech therapy teams to supplement her physical therapy, as well.
And she has non-therapy goals, too. The college graduate hopes to pursue a Master’s degree in pastoral clinical mental health counseling, and dreams of a career as an academic advisor or life coach.
“There is just something about helping people that gives me a sense of great satisfaction. I would like people to understand that, whatever challenges they may face and whether or not they face a disability, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Shipman.
Looking back on the past year, Shipman credits her therapy team at Bryn Mawr Rehab for helping keep her focused on that light.
“I could not be more grateful for all of the amazing therapists who wanted this dream to come true just as much as I did,” she says. “My therapists gave me hope that I really can go above and beyond my physical limitations.”