By the time Justin and Cody Cwiklinski were a year old, their parents realized something was amiss. Neither boy was sitting up, rolling over or crawling when other babies were.
MRIs and CAT scans revealed that the twins both had cerebral palsy. Justin had a stroke in utero. And Cody, their parents would learn, is legally blind and has epilepsy.
Doctors told Lisa and Chuck Cwiklinski, of Cheektowaga, more than a decade ago that their twin boys would never be able to talk or walk.
So when the 12-year-old twins on Saturday morning crossed the finish line of the Heritage Centers Foundation 5K run in downtown Buffalo, the moment seemed like something approaching a miracle.
For more than three miles on the streets, Justin ran alongside family friend Jennifer Kellerman, pushing his brother in a big, blue running wheelchair. A block before the finish line at Clinton and Oak streets, the boys stopped so that their dad could lift Cody out of the wheelchair and set him up with his walker.
Cody finished the race on his own two feet.
“I spent years trying to accept the fact that it wasn’t going to happen,” said Lisa, a claims examiner at the Veterans Administration. “So now, when it does, there are so many happy tears.”
Soon after they learned of the boys’ medical challenges, in the midst of their devastation, Lisa and Chuck decided to make the best of the situation. They stocked up on educational toys. They focused on the countless small victories, like watching the boys learn how to open a door, even when those victories came years after they did for other children.
“I just think it opens your eyes more to the little things,” said Chuck, a scientist at TestAmerica.
The boys both have an appetite for challenges, regularly outperforming expectations.
Justin, a black belt in tae kwon do, had the highest reading grade in his second-grade class. In fourth grade, he won his school’s spelling bee. The next year, he won the geography bee. Last week, he was inducted into the Honor Society at Depew Middle School, where he has a 99.3 average in seventh grade.
Cody ice skates with SABAH and plays baseball with a local team for kids with special needs. He sang the national anthem on Saturday before the race started, standing on stage with a microphone in front of hundreds of people.
The boys’ road to their joint 5K began when Cody became fast friends with Kellerman. Her son and his brother took tae kwon do lessons together. Cody and Kellerman completed a 5K race last year, with Kellerman pushing him in a wheelchair. This year, Justin decided he wanted to run with them. They were surrounded by support. A team from the Cantalician Center, where Cody goes to school, ran the race, sporting fluorescent “Disable the Label” T-shirts. Half a dozen teachers and administrators from the Depew schools ran in support of the boys, with the runners including Superintendent Jeff Rabey and special education director Janet Gajewski.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” Lisa said. “The boys both have the best attitude. They both got as far as they have because people believed in them.”