In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 30, 2016

Spina Bifida Doesn’t Keep Ty Wiberg From Competition

By In the Loop

Ty Wiberg, who was born with spina bifida, hopes to compete in the Paralympics someday.

Having Olympic withdrawal? Us, too. That's why we were excited to find out the competition in Rio isn't quite over yet. The 2016 Summer Paralympics will take place Sept. 7–18, and from the looks of this promotional (and toe-tapping) trailer, the games will feature athletes every bit as inspiring as their Olympic counterparts. (Trust us, you gotta watch that trailer.)

We're guessing 14-year-old Ty Wiberg of Wisconsin will be watching the competition more closely than most. That's because Ty, who was born with spina bifida, hopes to compete in the games himself someday. It's a goal he's well on his way to achieving, and one that he's working exceptionally hard to reach.

Ty was diagnosed with spina bifida before he was born. Doctors told his parents, Michele and Al, that their child might never walk. But they refused to accept that possibility. "That wasn't an okay answer," Michele says in this video about Ty. Instead, she and Al decided, "Our son will walk." And he did, first with a walker, and eventually unassisted.

And then, with the encouragement of his parents and the support of care teams at Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System in Chippewa Falls, Ty did much more than walk. He learned to mono-ski, swim, scuba dive, and play wheelchair basketball. And virtually anything else he set his mind to, including earning a black belt in karate — a sport he says has improved his balance. "Playing sports makes me feel like everybody else," Ty explained in a Facebook post for the Human Health Report. "It makes me feel like I'm just another kid."

Or at least just another kid competing at an elite level. In July, Ty and three other athletes from Mayo Clinic Children's Center's Spina Bifida Clinic — Wyatt Willand (12) and Peyton (13) and Tyler (9) Gunnarson —participated in the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals. To prepare, Ty told WEAU-TV that he practiced four to six hours a day. The hard work paid off, and he left the competition with five first place finishes, setting three new Junior National records along the way. "There's no limitations for him," Al Wiberg told the station about his son. "He just has to find different ways of doing things."

That's part of the message Ty shares when he talks about living with spina bifida. "Everybody has limitations," he says in a Mayo Clinic Health System video. "It's just that mine are more visible than everybody's. I'm really no different than anybody else. It's just when I have to do something I find different ways of doing it."

Which brings us back to mono-skiing. Competing at Junior Nationals was Ty's "first really big goal," he says. And reaching it has inspired him to keep pushing ahead to reach the winter Paralympics. Getting there "will take a lot of training, but I'm planning on putting in the effort to do that because that's my biggest goal," he says.

Or one of them. Ty also hopes to become a doctor someday. We have no doubt he'll climb that mountain, too.

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Tags: Community, Mayo Clinic Children's Center, Mayo Clinic Health System, Patient Stories, Spina Bifida, Ty Wiberg

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