DANVILLE – Christopher Adkins' walker may hold him up, but he doesn't let it hold him back.
That's never more obvious than when the 11-year-old practices his moves, or techniques, at the Danville ATA Tae Kwon Do Academy.
Christopher strikes boards with his hands and throws front and side kicks with his feet right along with all the other kids in his class.
Some of his classmates even look for guidance from Christopher, who's almost always on cue with the next technique or shout.
Christopher suffers from mitochondria myopathy, which causes him developmental delays and affects his motor skills. But it has had no effect on his willingness to be challenged.
Christopher was the only one who had no reservations about him learning tae kwon do after he broke a board last year during a demonstration at his school, Southwest Elementary School in Tilton.
His mom, Leigh Anne Adkins, had reservations, along with his dad, Kevin Adkins, who had "serious" reservations.
The Adkinses thought his interest would fade, but a few months later, he was just as adamant.
"It's fun," Christopher kept telling them.
When the Adkinses learned that a month of tae kwon do classes cost less than a week of physical therapy sessions, which their insurance wasn't completely covering, they signed him up.
John and Jen Kruger, who own and operate the academy, have had students with autism and hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders in their classes.
They, too, had reservations, Jen Kruger said, mostly that Christopher would need a lot of one-on-one instruction.
"But finally we decided to treat him like all the other kids," she said. "And beyond a few things, he does what everyone else does. It may have to be modified a bit, but he can do anything."
Some of his moves take a bit longer or require a wider berth on the mat, and rather than jumping while kicking, Christopher kicks and raises his walker and bangs it down on the mat.
"But we teach him like everyone else and let him make the adjustments, and it's fun for us, because it's actually seeing someone that doesn't have all the abilities that everyone else does that they can do it, too," said Kruger, who knows how and when to tease and how and when to push or ease up on Christopher, who can tire easily. "Christopher is a joy."
In less than a year, Christopher has gone from a white belt, to orange to yellow, and next comes the camouflage belt and sparring with other students. In February, he competed at his first tournament in a gymnasium full of people in Bloomington, Ind., and won two trophies. His mom said he cannot wait for the next tournament next month in Terre Haute, Ind.
"He's a different kid with this organization," she said. "It's creating independence and confidence for him."
It's also been a challenge for his parents to let their son embrace his new independence that's been evident outside competitions and practices.
When everyone went out to eat after the tournament in February, Christopher wanted to sit at the kids' table, not with his parents.
"I was surprised," said Leigh Anne Adkins. "I had to stand back for a minute and say 'OK,' because Grandma was with us, and he doesn't leave Grandma's side when she's with us. He forgot all about Grandma."
Kevin Adkins was just as surprised, especially when Christopher didn't need any help from them throughout the meal.
"He took care of himself, too, which when he's around us it's, 'Can you help me do this, can you help me do that?'" Kevin Adkins said.
Amber Lannert, executive director of the Central Illinois Muscular Dystrophy Association, has known Christopher for about four years, and she's not surprised by his drive to be in tae kwon do, describing him as adventurous.
"He's willing to try anything, and he doesn't seem to have a fear of trying new things," she said. "He has an incredible positive spirit, and nothing Chris does surprises."
Lannert said it's important to focus on a person's abilities. Her association has a weeklong camp that does just that, allowing campers to try all types of activities.
"People have different ability levels, and if they want to try something new, I think it's always positive," she said. "We encourage people to do everything they are able to do."
The Adkinses and Krugers say Christopher is also getting stronger physically, which is good news to his parents and his physical therapists, who still routinely assess him.
Kruger believes Christopher has the drive to go all the way to a black belt and pursue tae kwon do his whole life. But, she said, ultimately Christopher just wants to be there with the other kids practicing.
"I think Christopher is set apart from my other students because he's happy no matter what," she said. "He doesn't care what belt I give him. I could give him a high five and he would be just as happy as giving him a prize, and that's just the kind of personality he has. He's just very grateful for whatever you do for him, and it's really infectious."