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Prep Talk: Fighting spirit, not cerebral palsy, defines Akron's Forrestel

Nathan "Nate" Forrestel doesn't box. In fact, the only glove the 17-year-old Akron senior carries, he wears occasionally on his left hand.

But make no mistake about it. The sixth-year Tigers' golfer with cerebral palsy is a fighter.

He always has been, from the moment he came into the world, from the nearly 20 minutes prior to his birth when oxygen deprivation threatened to prematurely end his life, to overcoming future grim prognoses.

That fighting spirit is the reason Forrestel, CP and all, was standing tall in the No. 1 tee box Wednesday afternoon at Dande Farms doing something extraordinary – playing a competitive round for his high school for the first time.

Forrestel went through his pre-shot routine, then let it rip. The drive didn't break any distance records, but it was – in his own words – "a good ball."

He said that often as he also complimented other players in his group for well-struck shots.

Forrestel also hit more than his share of strokes that left him frustrated.

But that's golf, and the fact that the upbeat, good-natured lad attempted to hit it straight and true in the heat of competition in his first career start is all that matters.

"I liked it … it was fun," said Forrestel, who was understandably fatigued after helping the Tigers win their match against Barker, 249-284, on a hot, sunny day. "I'm just happy to be in a match.

"It's not about winning. It's how you respond to bad shots. Today I didn't fall apart."

On the contrary, he inspired, like he has been doing ever since his first practice as a seventh-grader with the Tigers.

When Forrestel first learned Monday he would be starting Wednesday, he panicked. He felt there were better, more worthy players on the 22-player team who could more easily help the Tigers experience victory. Simply put, he didn’t want to be the reason they lost.

Nathan Forrestel gives a high-five to Akron teammate and longtime friend Brennan Murty before the start of the Tigers' match against Barker. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Coach Bryan Bellis and the team captains helped him relax and convinced him that doing this was a good thing.

"Then he realized it was important for them to give him this opportunity,"said Nathan's father, Tom Forrestel, who coaches boys basketball at Medina High School. "Once they put it in that perspective, he felt really better about it."

"If anyone's earned it, it’s Nate," Bellis said. "For starters he's been with the program for six years. He's one of the hardest workers in the program. He's the first one on the putting green and last one off. He loves the game of golf."

He always has. So much so that when he was a toddler, his father set up a course for him around the house. Nathan was a big Tiger Woods fan. (That explains the fist pump when he makes putts.)

"He's always loved it," said Tom Forrestel, who teaches in Medina but is from Akron. "He loves sports. It's been his passion since he's 1. To be able to compete at any level is special for any kid. For someone who's had the adversity that Nate has, it's a huge accomplishment. It's a big deal. It's something he should be super proud of."

Nathan is one of the lucky ones when it comes to the unpredictable neurological disorder that is cerebral palsy, which affects among other things body movement, muscle control and coordination, posture, balance and also can impact fine motor skills and speech.

Nathan walks with a noticeable gait and can lose his balance if he's not careful. For that reason he needs to ride in a cart during his round (he has an aide who drives the cart). When he makes solid contact, the ball travels around 150 yards.

While some who have CP need to attend special education classes, Nathan is not one of them. He's on schedule to receive his Regents diploma with the rest of his peers next spring and plans to go to college.

"He's always defied the odds," Tom Forrestel said. "He wasn't expected to make it. He wasn't expected to walk. CP is a tricky thing to predict the result, but he's been beating it for 17 years."

A pinched umbilical cord, a brain deprived of oxygen

It started the day of his birth. While mother Debbie was in labor, it's believed the umbilical cord got pinched just before birth. As a result, Nathan went a significant amount of time without oxygen – 18 minutes.

Physicians couldn't find a heartbeat during the predelivery routine, resulting in them performing an emergency C-section. The Forrestels got lucky in that delivery happened during shift change which meant there were two of everyone there, double the normal staff to work on Nathan. They got his heart going but then transferred him to the neonatal unit at Women and Children's Hospital.

The theory was that his brain would swell from injury from the lack of oxygen and eventually shut down breathing, and that he'd pass away after 48 hours.

"Somehow, he decided that wasn't the plan for him," Tom said. "Someone in my family or his mom's family, he was in one of our arms for 48 straight hours. He never got put down except to change his diaper. Round the clock support, and he just fought through it, and he's been fighting ever since."

Day three, the nurses told the Forrestels to prepare to bring him home but that they still weren't out of the woods – medical personnel figured he'd develop pneumonia and wouldn't be able to fight it off.

Wrong again.


"All of our prayers were answered," Tom said. "It was euphoria. He got past those hurdles. The damage was done, that happened on day one and two, so we're just watching him and supporting him and helping him develop the best he can."

Wednesday was another step in the process for Nathan.

Sure, he shot a 71 for nine holes, roughly five to six strokes higher than he normally shoots in practice, and he was frustrated. That was quickly forgotten when he learned his score was one of the five that counted toward his team's final tally in the victory.

"When your child loves sports the way Nathan does … I can't even put this into words," said Debbie Forrestel. "His determination has been there since he was born. It shows in everything this boy does. I am so glad with the child God gave me."

"I've taught him a lot about sports," Tom said, "and here he is teaching me about persistence, dedication and the important things in life. He's an inspiration."

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