People around us

For Hooper, life's about giving all, and giving back

By Tanya Mitchell | Jul 25, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Alex Hooper, 17, of Searsport hangs out with his cat, Dewey, Thursday, July 19.

Searsport — For Alex Hooper, living with spina bifida is not as easy as he sometimes makes it look, but that doesn't stop him from living life to the fullest, as often as he can.

And recently, all the enthusiasm and drive with which Hooper approaches his daily life caught the attention of the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New England. Hooper learned SBAGNE had named him the 2012 winner of the Jean Driscoll Award, an honor with a namesake who continues to blaze trails for those with spina bifida.

Hooper's mother, Jessica Hall, explained that her son, like Driscoll, was born with spina bifida, or an open spine. All Hooper's life he's used a wheelchair to get around, and despite a variety of health challenges that he has faced over the years, he, like Driscoll, has not let adversity get in the way of anything he wanted to do.

"They base the award on people who are born with spina bifida, but still live life, despite all of their medical setbacks," said Hall.

Driscoll, Hall said in an email to the Republican Journal, was the first eight-time winner of the Boston Marathon, and while there, she set five new course records, five world best times and has held Boston’s fastest time in the women’s wheelchair division since 1990. Driscoll has also won two Olympic medals, 12 Paralympic medals, and holds the world record in the 10,000-meter track event.

Hooper, a 17-year-old who will be a junior at Searsport High School this fall, said winning the award served as a reminder of all that he has accomplished so far, as well as all that he plans to do in the future — and that's quite a lot, considering what he's been up to in recent years.

This is the eighth summer Hooper has spent on the water with his uncle, Wayne Hamilton, as the two go lobster fishing together regularly. Hall said Hamilton acquired a lobster boat that is slightly larger than usual, "so Alex's chair can fit on board." Hamilton also outfitted the boat with a system that automatically hauls in the traps, but Hooper said he prefers doing it the old-fashioned way.

"It's good for building strength," Hooper said.

Hooper credits a lot of people in the community, like Hamilton, for his own success. Along with showing his nephew his way around a lobster boat, Hamilton has also been teaching Hooper about photography. Hooper's former scoutmaster, Town Manager James Gillway, helped Hooper earn his Eagle Scout status.

Hooper is an avid downhill skier, using an adaptive sit-down skiing device, and he enjoys cross-country skiing as well. Hooper also loves wheelchair basketball and baseball, sled hockey, and golf, for which he uses an adaptive cart with a seat that rises, swivels and allows him to line up his shots without leaving the cart.

Hooper has also been involved with his school's theater program and has played the trumpet for the last several years.

"Without the support of the community, family and friends, a lot of this stuff wouldn't happen," said Hall.

Playing sports and taking part in performing arts aren't the only things that occupy Hooper's time when he's feeling at his best, as he volunteers his time regularly. Hooper is a Sunday School teacher at Searsport Congregational Church, helps out at the local food cupboard, and each year he assists with filling food baskets for needy Waldo County families around the holidays. Hooper has also worked to raise funds to benefit SBAGNE, and by extension, families like his own who receive support from the organization.

Hall said SBAGNE has been a great resource for her family, and others who live with spina bifida in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. SBAGNE, Hall said, provides educational and social events for parents of young children, teens and adults, and assists families with some medical costs that are not covered through health insurance.

For Hall and Hooper, giving back to SBAGNE and to the local community is a nice way to offer their thanks.

"No matter what someone's going through, there's still a little something we can do to make the community a better place," said Hall.

"I think this is a great, great town to live in," said Hooper of Searsport.

Since Hooper is interested in hunting, fishing and kayaking, he'd like to make those activities more accessible to people who use wheelchairs. A sleeve to hold his hunting rifle might come in handy, he said, as would more appropriate tires for trekking around in the wilderness.

"I'd like to design a chair for the woods," he said, comparing the wheels he envisions to all-terrain vehicle tires.

That said, Hooper's medical condition doesn't always allow him to move on his dreams as fast as he'd like. There are days when he's not well enough to participate in his activities, but Hooper said he tries his best to work around his health issues and encourages others to face challenges in the same way.

"It can be very hard sometimes, especially with the stuff you go through at my age," said Hooper. "I tell people, 'Try your hardest to do anything you want to do.'"

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