Oakley Sponsors Unique Charity Climb
Story and photos courtesy OC Register.
Bonner Paddock wants to climb the 19,341-foot tall Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Just to show that I can,” he says.
But his desire to get to the top is rooted in all times he fell. If Paddock had believed what doctors told him, he should have been in a wheelchair at age 15, dead at 20. He wouldn’t be near the bend of a Crystal Cove trail, panting, sweating, digging his hiking boots into the dusty earth and climbing.
On May 22, 1975, at 4:13 a.m., Paddock was born with his umbilical cord coiled twice around his neck. Nobody realized then that the 8-pound, 2-ounce baby was harmfully deprived of oxygen, that part of his brain died and that his life, specifically his steps and his motions, were forever changed.
He toddled until he was 2, his left leg dragging behind his stronger right. He often tripped over his own feet. But with tears dripping and knees and elbows the color of crushed raspberries, he kept trying. He was happiest in motion, making friends and telling jokes, even ones about his crooked gait. But his first grade teachers told his mother about the tantrums he threw when his repeated tumbles left him frustrated and embarrassed.
Doctors – seven pediatricians with seven diagnoses – fitted him with heavy saddle shoes that made him feel awkward. Physical therapists tried so often to teach Bonner how to walk properly that the words “heel-toe, heel-toe” became a mental soundtrack with each step.
He learned to switch hit in baseball, drain three pointers in basketball and became a goalie – the position no kid wanted – in soccer. All the years of catching himself before falling had quickened his reactions.
On his 11th birthday, Bonner and his mother listened to one more diagnosis: syringomyelia, a disorder in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. The cyst typically expands, causes paralysis and, ultimately, death.
“The doctor told me I’d be in a wheelchair by 15; dead by 20. We left shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I hoped he was wrong.”
UC Irvine neurologist Arnold Starr took an interest in Bonner’s condition and had Bonner undergo an MRI and a CT scan. Bonner walked a hallway a hundred times, forward and backward, eyes open and closed. Starr concluded that Bonner degenerative syringomyelia but, instead, a mild form of cerebral palsy, a disability in which the oxygen-deprived part of Bonner’s brain fails to control movement on the left side of his body.
“I got my life back,” Bonner remembers. “Dr. Starr told me that my condition wouldn’t get worse.”
Bonner threw himself into soccer and learned goalkeeping techniques by watching videos. He dribbled the ball around backyard; defended a net against his brothers’ shots. He made the Rancho Santa Margarita High soccer team as a freshman.
Three years ago, he went to work for Henry and Susan Samueli, the new owners of the hockey’s Anaheim Ducks and the Honda Center.
“I liked Bonner’s energy, his personality and the way he talks to people,” says Bob Wagner, the Ducks senior vice president and chief marketing officer, who hired Paddock. “I had no idea what he had been through.”
When the Samuelis urged staffers to take up philanthropy during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Paddock contacted the Orange County chapter of United Cerebral Palsy. His condition became his cause.
Then Paddock decided to do something more, something that no person with CP probably has ever done. Last winter, he began training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. His goal is to raise $250,000 to help launch the United Cerebral Palsy OC’s Early Childhood Learning Center.
Five mornings a week, he puts himself through two-hour gym workouts. Two days a week, he hikes 10 miles through Crystal Cove. He’s worried about the final leg of the climb, the trek to the summit. It will come at night, in the darkness that steals his ability to find his balance.
“Maybe I’ll rope myself to one of the guides,” he says. “I’ll find my way up there somehow. I’ve come this far.”