September 24, 2017

Student with cerebral palsy overcomes the odds

Danielle Minor, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, has spent her life defying expectations. At 49, she’s pursuing two degrees at Webster University with ambitions of becoming a lawyer.

Minor is enrolled in Webster’s dual-degree program full time and is on track to graduate in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in media communications and a master’s degree in public relations. She also has a 3.75 GPA and is as dedicated to physical activity as to her education, making time to go to the gym six days a week.

“Oh, there’s nothing that gets in my way,” Minor said. “Yes, I was born with cerebral palsy, but it just doesn’t hinder me. And why should I let it?”

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects body movement, muscle coordination and balance. It is the most common motor disability in children, affecting about one in 323 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disorder has a number of causes, one of which is a severe lack of oxygen to the brain. This was the case with Minor, who was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

Early life

Minor was born in St. Louis and grew up in a University City home with her parents, four siblings and grandparents. She currently lives with her younger sister Colleen Jackson and her niece and nephew.

“There is no way to describe Danielle other than inspiring,” Jackson said. “She never sees any obstacle as too high to climb, and when she sets her mind to accomplish something, she does just that. Also, she never uses her physical condition as an excuse.”

As a child, Minor attended Litzsinger School, which is part of Missouri’s Special School District. The school educates students from ages five to 14 with a range of disabilities. Once her parents chose to move her to Ladue Horton Watkins High School, where she was no longer part of special education classes, she realized her own potential.

“I was doing much more than [instructors at Litzsinger] thought I could do, and more than I thought I could do,” Minor said. “The curriculum was rigorous. But I was succeeding.”

Returning to school 

After high school, she stepped away from school to work full time. Once the retailer she worked for closed a number of its locations, she started to consider returning to school.

“When I officially got laid off, I said ‘no, I want to do something different,’” Minor said. “I have all these communications skills, maybe I should go to school and see what I can do with it.”

Her friend and mentor, former KMOV anchor Robin Smith, encouraged her to go back to school full time, and she did just that. Minor earned her associates degree in communications from St. Louis Community College – Meramec, and she was admitted to Webster University the following fall.

In addition to being a full-time student, Minor stays active. She visits her gym at 5:30 a.m. on most days, and her personal trainer has become a good friend.

“We’re very close,” Minor said. “He was my trainer at 24 Hour Fitness for a number of years, and when he left there and moved to Core Fitness, I moved there as well. He’s now been my trainer for more than six years. We also talk outside of training and even occasionally go to dinner.”

Facing challenges

While Minor triumphs in so many areas and needs little assistance in her day-to-day life, she admits to a number of challenges, specifically on campus.

Minor travels from home to Webster via Call-A-Ride, which is not always easy, and in most cases, she spends her full day at Webster to avoid the inconveniences of travel. Additionally, she has difficulty accessing some areas on campus, and she also faces the occasional doubter when it comes to what she can and can not do.

“You will always have people who want to hold you back because they think you can’t do things, but that’s irrelevant to me,” Minor said. “I can’t change the fact that I was born with a disability. I just know what I need to do and get it done. I mean, I live my life to the fullest. Aren’t I entitled to that?”

After graduation, Minor plans to pursue a law degree from Washington University and aims to become a communications attorney. She encourages Webster students to continue to press toward their dreams, no matter what challenges they face.

“Sometimes unexpected things happen, but we can’t spend our lives wondering how and why,” Minor said. “Hold your head up high, and don’t let anything stop you. Just keep living.”

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