May 19, 2024
News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet West special needs athlete celebrates golden birthday with a parade

Lawson Sizemore said he knew his mother Marlene had planned something spectacular after she told him to go outside.

"She had the yard decorated really nice," Lawson Sizemore said. "She went all out on it. It was beautiful."

Then Lawson heard the cars honking. About 50 family, friends and Joliet west students and staff drove by his Shorewood house to wish him a happy 17th birthday.
"She had the yard decorated really nice," Lawson Sizemore said. "She went all out on it. It was beautiful."

Then Lawson heard the cars honking. About 50 family, friends and Joliet west students and staff drove by his Shorewood house to wish him a happy 17th birthday.
"I was surprised how big the turnout was, at how many people came out to help celebrate my birthday," Lawson Sizemore said. "It was great to see everyone and that made my day."

Like other teens, Lawson misses school, sports and his friends.

But unlike many other teens, Lawson's options for sheltering anywhere other than place are limited.
Lawson Sizemore has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type A, a disorder that affects the peripheral nerves.

That's why Marlene planned the parade for her son's golden birthday.

"He's a very social person," Marlene said. "I know he misses school tremendously."

However the disease, which confines Lawson to a wheelchair, has not limited his ability to play sports.
"If anything, it enhances it," Lawson Sizemore said. "I think my mental side of the game is stronger because of it. So, if anything, it helps me understand the game more - and get a better understanding of how to teach the game and play the game, if that makes sense."

Signs of the disease began early in life. When Lawson was learning to walk, he often fell. Marlene, who has three other sons, knew something was wrong.

But because Lawson has a subtype of the disorder, the family didn't receive a firm diagnosis until he was 3, she said.
The diagnosis "took our breath away," Marlene Sizemore said. But the family decided to remain positive and adopted the attitude, "We can get through this," she said.

"He doesn't let anything stop him," Marlene said. "If he wants to do something, he does it. He's a strong advocate for himself."

At first, Lawson walked with a walker. As the disease progressed, Lawson moved to a wheelchair.

But as a sports-loving kid, Lawson did not let the wheelchair confine him.
Each day when his father Alvin came home from work, Lawson Sizemore - and his bat - was outside waiting for him.

"He did not care how cold or how hot it was," Marlene said. "Every day, he was playing baseball."
Lawson Sizemore joined Miracle League of Joliet the year it began. Miracle of League of Joliet provides opportunities for children of all ages to play baseball, regardless of their disabilities, its website said.

He's played football, participated in Special Olympics and played wheelchair basketball, she said.

"When he went into Troy, he could drive and dribble at the same time," Marlene said.

Lawson is now a coach for the Special Olympics basketball team at Troy, he said. Basketball is his favorite sport.

"It's such a fast-paced and interesting game to watch," Lawson said. "But there's perks to every sport."

Lawson said he's also the assistant coach for varsity basketball, baseball and football at Joliet West.

"When I first got involved in sports, I went out to the coaches and told them I was interested in it and wanted to be a part of it," he said.
Lawson Sizemore also writes sports stories for Joliet West's school newspaper, Tiger Tales. His career choices, for now, include broadcast journalism and coaching.

In fact, Lawson said he never had any problem asking for adjustments in the classroom or figuring out a bus schedule.

Advocating for oneself is just a matter of speaking up, he said.

"I think if you have the information and if you give them an understanding of what you need to be successful , then of course they're willing to help you," Lawson said.

He views his disability as a blessing. It's didn't prevent him from playing sports. It just directed him into playing in a different way, he said.

"I can't do the things some kids do" Lawson said. "But I still get the job done in a different way...everything happens for a reason. I think I'm on a journey because of this disease and I think I'm going to be successful because of this disease.
Sheltering in place has isolated Lawson Sizemore a bit. On the rare day the weather's been mild, Lawson can go outside, but he still can't talk to anyone.

And when he must stay inside, Lawson has few outlets for stress.

"It not like he can just run up and down the stairs to get the energy out," Marlene said.
But Lawson said the current pandemic is just going to make everyone stronger when it's done.
"And we're going to have a greater sense of appreciation for everything," Lawson Sizemore added.
Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.