Teen Becomes An Inspiration To All

Gabrielle Daley, Feature Editor

Finding a place in the world, and finding oneself is an outgrowth everyone has to face at some point in their lives. Conor McCormick, however, is in the process of finding his new place and capabilities, while hanging on to his old ways. Recently, McCormick returned to the Ronald McDonald House Teen Board, a club he was an active member of his sophomore year. He immediately volunteered to lead the group’s discussion of fundraising, helping, and entertaining the unfortunate children staying at the house. Even though McCormick is still coping with his own trauma after his pool accident on July 17, 2016, he still finds a way to help and give back in anyway he can, just as he had before.

McCormick is now a full-time student this year, engaging in challenging courses such as Introduction to Calculus, AP Biology, AP Literature and a history independent study. He has three breaks throughout the day to work on assignments, and his Mondays and Fridays are dedicated to relaxation and homework. “I would say he’s more concerned about his grades, more hardworking, more willing to do everything. He is an asset to the classroom. Truly he behaves like the best student you can imagine. Although I think, ‘Yes, he’s in a wheelchair,’ it doesn’t make a difference for him, in terms of the work he’s turning in, the effort he puts in. I truly don’t know how he does it, I tell him all the time,” Mrs. Teodorescu, a WSHS math teacher said.

After gaining strength in rehab, Conor McCormick uses a manual wheelchair.

Instead of using a Chromebook with small keys, he completes tasks on a tablet with a stylist. In the classroom, he does what is expected of any student and works to the best of his ability to write, and his teachers are very supportive. Having accommodations, he rarely takes advantage of extra time. He also has a paraprofessional with him that is always willing to help, but he rarely asks for or wants any assistance.

Last year, McCormick struggled to stay focused on school after he returned from rehab in Georgia for the first time last October. He managed Spanish IV, AP Literature twice a week, and a history independent study during the half to quarter days he attended school. “I’d say that I’m a lot more motivated now. Before I was in a very bleak situation and didn’t really know what my future could hold,” explained McCormick. He was constantly sick, and the paranoia of becoming ill was always hovering over his shoulder. He was also incapable of talking and breathing easily for a good chunk of the 2016-2017 school year.

This all changed this year in June when McCormick returned to the spinal cord injury hospital, Shepherd’s Center in Georgia for the second time after he underwent multiple surgeries in the Boston Children’s Hospital. It was there that McCormick regained his strength after undergoing intense physical therapy from seven to five on weekdays. The WSHS senior recovered free movement in his arms, chest, neck and some of his back muscles. At the Shepherd’s Center, professionals taught McCormick how to operate and rely on a manual wheelchair instead of an electric one. In fact, his new wheelchair recently arrived and he’s physically pushing himself to all of his classes and down the halls. “When I went back down to Georgia for the second time, I really pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone. It’s when you’re out of your comfort zone that you excel and do things you never thought you could do. And that’s when I learned how much stronger I could actually get,” he said.

The first time McCormick was entered into the Shepherd’s Center Hospital in the summer of 2016 after his tragic accident, he stayed there for 15 weeks. He learned how to eat, move his wrists and biceps again, and use a power wheelchair. He was also taught how to breathe on his own since his throat was severely damaged from the tracheotomy that they first performed immediately after his accident. In time, he regained his lung capacity, voice and even sensation in most of his body. “They say time is the best healer and it really is. Day after day my lung capacity got bigger, and I was able to speak more clearly and louder. It took about a full year to be able to speak normally,” the senior explained.

Besides progressing physically, he has rebuilt a lot of his relationships with family and friends, after being down South for months in rehab. Last year, he stayed in his best friends’ and neighbors’ house since they had the accessibilities he needed that their grandmother had left. Renovations were being made on his own family’s house, so he couldn’t live with them at the time. It was difficult for him to always go back and forth between the houses and he was disappointed to not be with his family, but the weekends were like having a two-day sleepover with friends.

Renovations on the McCormick’s house have been completed, and now the house is fully accessible for their eldest son to live in again. His three younger sisters and brother treat him no differently than they always had; the little girls still think they run the household and he still has a tight bond with his brother Taggart. Old boundaries have been broken and new boundaries have been made with his mother and father who manage to balance being his parents and caretakers now. As he grows stronger, he needs less and less assistance from his parents as time passes. Mr. and Mrs. McCormick also drive his accessible car, since he has yet to learn how to drive. “I wouldn’t say that the accident made us grow closer because we already were a really tight family,” McCormick stated.

Conor enjoys spending time with his friends like he always had

However, at school relationships with his classmates aren’t exactly like they were beforehand. “If someone else was in my situation I wouldn’t be the same around them socially but I wouldn’t look at them any differently,” McCormick said. His situation has some limitations on his social life, seeing that he isn’t fully immersed in the student body anymore, and doesn’t go through seven periods every day. It’s also difficult to socialize because of the disconnection created between everyone since he wasn’t at school much during his junior year. Students also find him harder to approach because there’s an adult paraprofessional accompanying him everywhere. Despite these difficulties in class and in the halls, the 17-year-old can be found laughing with his classmates at lunch. Furthermore, on Friday and Saturday nights, McCormick hangs out with his friends like any other teenager. They either stay at his house, sometimes have barrel fires in his yard, go to the movies or out to eat.

Many places aren’t accessible for McCormick and because of his wheelchair, it’s difficult to move on the uneven and grassy ground. Hence, when he goes out, it must be to an indoor facility. He makes the most of the activities he’s always done and enjoyed, like watching a Netflix series, and is always open to trying something new. “Mentally, I feel like he has also gotten stronger because of the challenges he faces when it comes to everyday activities. He has to figure out new ways to complete school work and many different things that people do without even thinking about what they are doing,” Jack Merck said, Conor’s close friend and neighbor of eleven years.

Being a disciple, McCormick attends his church, Pioneer Valley Church of Christ, three times a week and is an active member of the teen ministry there. The teen ministry is a place where young adults at the church can study the bible while spending time with each other at teen events on Friday nights. He is able to relate on a new level with people at the church because of his situation. “I think that Conor has grown over the past year in ways that many people can’t because he now has an appreciation for others with similar struggles and difficulties. Also, he can help others overcome great loss because he has already done so,” Merck added. He’s performed communions and has preached two sermons, which he dedicated a lot of his time to create. Before he left to Georgia for the second time, he preached about suffering. In his most recent sermon, he explained loneliness, how it affects people mentally and physically. The disciple explained, “Even though I wasn’t alone the whole time, I felt lonely in my situation and not many people could relate.”

Other than engaging in religion, McCormick is back to supporting the community and participating in multiple leadership roles. “It amazes me how hardworking he is and how kind he is. I always tell him he’s one of the most inclusive students I’ve ever met – he tries to bring everybody in and makes sure everybody is working together and understanding. He’s incredibly patient and ethical and has really high standards for how he treats people,” Mrs. Pelletier, a WSHS biology teacher explained. With so much support from the surrounding communities and town, whether it was fundraising or acknowledging his troubles, he now believes it’s his turn to help West Springfield out. He’s a member of the High School Council, Hampden Youth Advisory Board, and Superintendent Council, and acts as an advocate for students all around the county, and in town. He’s also a part of the West Side Bible Club. The Lacrosse team spearheaded most of the fundraising last year, and he is now the manager of it, having played on the team for three years prior to his accident.

“I would say now that I’ve seen how much I’ve progressed and I can see how much I can progress, I really want to go to college and pursue a career,” the West Side senior explained. McCormick plans on graduating on time with the Class of 2018 this year. He’s always wanted to pursue the path to become a doctor ever since he had heart surgery in middle school. Boston College is his number one college right now, and UMASS Amherst is also one he has his eyes set upon. There, he would like to major in biology and take science courses before attending med school.

Conor McCormick is now a public figure and an inspiration to ours and surrounding communities. Having progressed so much physically and mentally since his accident, his story is one of perseverance. McCormick teaches us that even if your life is completely altered and nothing is as it was before, you have to push yourself to stay strong and stay true to yourself to make the most of what you do have. Most importantly, you must build yourself back up to find who you really are after everything you’ve been through.