South senior keeps rolling along

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Zachary Smith says he has faced the same difficulties as most high school kids.
He had to adjust to the transition from middle school to a bigger building with a larger group of people. Even though he is excited to graduate, he’s also nervous about what the future holds after high school.
But Smith, a South Rowan High School senior, won’t be walking across the stage to receive his diploma on Saturday. He will roll across it in a powered wheelchair, because muscular dystrophy keeps him from using his legs.
“I’m glad I’m graduating, but I just have many years ahead of me that I’m not sure about,” Smith said. “I’ve enjoyed it here.” Smith said he plans to attend Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for two years and then transfer to a four-year university. He isn’t sure where just yet. Rowan-Cabarrus “is closer to home, and I want to get comfortable with college before I go off anywhere,” he said.
Smith has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is inherited at birth and worsens more quickly than other variants of the disease. It weakens a person’s muscles, including the heart, and can also cause fatigue and breathing difficulties. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy typically lose the ability to walk between the ages of 7 and 13, and they can live into their 20s and 30s.
Smith said he’s not sure yet what career field he wants to pursue. Rather than seeing too few options, right now he sees too many. Muscular dystrophy just “narrows the field,” he said.
Smith said his least favorite subject is science — he’s just not interested in it — and his favorite classes are Bible history and drafting. “Most of it (drafting) is on the computer now,” he said. “That makes it a lot easier for me. It has helped a lot.”
Because the disease limits Smith’s ability to move his arms, it makes typing and writing harder for him. He uses a voice recognition program to dictate notes and assignments on the computer. He said the exceptional children’s department, Principal Dr. Donald Knox and Myron Porter, Smith’s one-on-one assistant, have helped make the school more accessible for him.
Smith said that for a while, he had trouble asking for help when he needed it. He didn’t want to be treated differently. But his parents encouraged him to speak up more, he said, and now he’d like to encourage others to do the same. “If you need help doing something, ask,” Smith said. “Don’t worry about asking.”
Smith is a National Honor Society member and active in his youth group at Concordia Lutheran Church in China Grove.
He recently spoke at a South Rowan Bible Teaching Association banquet about the effect his Bible classes have had on his life. Smith said his faith in God helps him keep a hopeful outlook on life, and it is a big part of what has kept him going. “That’s the main reason why I never give up on things is because I do it for the Lord,” he said. “To me, that’s my main motivation.”
Smith said his grades are “all right,” but according to Knox, he’s one of the top 25 students in the South Rowan class of 2013. “He gives his best effort 100 percent of the time,” Knox said. “It’s almost like he doesn’t even think he has a disability. He just wants to be a regular kid.”
Knox said Smith used to help manage the football team, and the other students loved to have him there. “He’s just a tremendous young man. I have the highest respect for him and what he’s gone through,” Knox said. “I’ve got so many kids that use every excuse in the world for why they didn’t get this or that. But not Zach.”
Smith just does what he needs to do with a smile, Knox said.
“I look forward to handing him his diploma, shaking his hand and just letting him know, ‘Man, you’re going to bring tears to a lot of people’s eyes because of what you have accomplished,’” he said. “And he has accomplished great things.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.