When Shawn Nolan was 5 months old, doctors said he would never talk and would be a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for life.
Not only has the Stow-Munroe Falls senior never needed a wheelchair, he has excelled at many sports – most recently bowling. He also speaks quite well.
Nolan, 18, was born with cerebral palsy, which is due to abnormal brain development, but wasn’t officially diagnosed with it until he was 6 years old. He has had two brain surgeries and much physical therapy.
The results? Besides bowling, Nolan has participated in such athletic endeavors as weightlifting, swimming, horseback therapy, karate, bike riding and basketball.
“Shawn started weightlifting at Stow-Munroe Falls when he was a freshman,” said his mother Dana Nolan. “They modified things for him to do it. Now, because of Shawn, there are other kids with disabilities who have signed up.
“Because physical therapy is a big part of cerebral palsy, you have to keep those muscles active, or he could have setbacks.
“Our motto has always been ‘Don’t use the word ‘can’t.’ ‘Can’t is not in our vocabulary.”
When asked what his favorite sport is, without hesitation Shawn replied, “Bowling.”
Shawn has been bowling since he was in kindergarten. He joined the Bulldogs’ junior varsity bowling team this winter. His best score was 85, which he turned in on Senior Night Feb. 5 against Suburban League National Conference rival Hudson at Sto-Kent Family Entertainment.
“Shawn came into practice and worked. He just tried to get better every day,” Stow-Munroe Falls head boys coach Kevin Gates said. “We kept the instructions for him simple because I thought that was best for him.
“He did his best with it. It took a little time for him to get used to trying different things, but I think as the season went on, he took better to instruction, and the adjustments that we were making with him took form. And, by the numbers, he did have a little bit better second half of the season than he did first half.”
Shawn also hones his skills by bowling with United Disability Services.
According to Gates, Shawn has a competitive streak in him.
“I think when he gets frustrated, it’s more just from himself than necessarily winning or losing,” he said. “If he didn’t have a good feel for the bowling ball and his timing was a little off and he rushed it, he started throwing some gutter balls, and that got him a little frustrated.
“But I’ll give him credit that even when he was frustrated, he always seemed to come back, pull it together and save his game. Even though his average was a 55, when you go through the numbers and go through his scores, he didn’t really have a lot of real low scores and he didn’t really have a lot of high scores. He was always pretty consistent.”
Shawn was very coachable.
“He listened and tried,” said Gates. “He was a good bowler and a good teammate. He’d root for his teammates and give them high-fives if they did well.
“Shawn practiced a lot even before he was on the team. The owner of Sto-Kent Family Entertainment told me how he’d come in with his family on the weekends semi-regularly. Even when he got on the team, he’d still come in every now and then but not quite as often because we were practicing a lot during the week and had matches.”
Shawn will eventually attend Kent State University and plans to, through the Six District Educational Compact, study automotive, a field he has had an interest in since he was 3 years old. The Six District Educational Compact offers career-tech education to students in the Stow-Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent, Tallmadge and Woodridge school districts.
Another interest of Shawn’s is lawn mowing. He also is known throughout his neighborhood in Stow as the “Mayor of Williamsburg Circle” and “Officer Shawn” due to his patrolling the neighborhood on his bike to make sure everyone is safe.
Shawn will never forget his experience on the Stow-Munroe Falls bowling team.
“It was fun being with my teammates,” he said.
“I’m glad Shawn had a good time,” said Gates. “The goal is to have fun, and I’m glad that he had a good experience.”