NORTH BRUNSWICK – Although Sean Moffitt was born a preemie, there is nothing premature about his life goals.
The 14-year-old freshman at North Brunswick Township High School recently returned from a trip to the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California, with his sights set on the U.S. Paralympic National Team.
“I was excited,” Sean said. “It felt like a great experience to start a new journey.”
Within the same week of being born in April 2003, Sean’s family was told that he had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain, according to his mother Beth Moffitt. With an original due date in May, he was born at 4 pounds, 8 ounces with a hole in his heart and collapsed lung. He was on a ventilator, being fed through his nose to help him gain weight. He had to wear a monitor due to sleep apnea.
Since doctors could not determine if the stroke occurred before or after he was born, he had to remain hospitalized at Saint Peter’s in New Brunswick for three weeks. Medical professionals did not know if he would ever walk or talk, Moffitt recalled.
“He’s been a fighter since he was born,” Moffitt said.
Fortunately, after months of therapy, Sean began to walk around age 2.
He is considered to have cerebral palsy though he is ambulatory. He has hemiparesis (weakness) on his right side. Since he bears weight on his left side, he developed scoliosis. He needed tendon lengthening and tendon transfer surgeries on his right arm and leg. He has trouble with any activity that requires using two hands, such as tying his shoes, or using a fork and knife simultaneously. He also has some learning disabilities.
“He works hard at everything he does and therapy has helped him,” Moffitt said.
Using sports as a form of therapy, Sean began playing baseball in North Brunswick around age five. Since he would have to take his mitt off and switch hands the game was a bit tough, so he instead switched to swimming and soccer, Moffitt said.
“I was having fun, running around, inspiring people,” Sean said.
Currently a forward for the North Brunswick Township High School freshman boys’ soccer team, Sean said he wants to be like his peers, doing what everybody else does.
“I’m just a normal kid who enjoys playing sports, especially soccer,” he said.
He still continues therapy three times a week at Raritan Physical Therapy in Edison. He also attends Sports Domain Academy (SDA) in Clifton to practice with the CP Soccer Team, which was founded by Ashley Hammond. CP Soccer is for children who suffer from cerebral palsy, stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Sean traveled with Hammond’s son, who is currently on the U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team, to San Diego from Dec. 6-12, 2017, staying on the U.S. Olympic training site.
Paralympic soccer is slightly different than regular soccer. “It is seven-a-side soccer and has been a part of the Paralympic Games since 1984. It has seven players on the field at a time rather than 11, the measurements of the playing field are smaller, and there is no offside rule and throw-ins may be made with just one hand,” Moffitt said.
Sean had to try out for the training camp by creating a video, and did so with the help of the Hammonds. Stuart Sharp, coach of the U.S. Paralympic National Team, chose 20 players from around the country to join the first-ever Identification and Development Camp training program out West, Moffitt said.
Moffitt said this was to establish potential participation in future camps, courtesy of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The group took part in practices, training, a few scrimmages and a championship tournament – which Sean’s 3 vs. 3 team won. The athletes also watched the national Paralympics team play, and spent some one-on-one time with the pro players.
“I learned a lot from the players, what they went through,” Sean said.
Sean mentioned that after training, the athletes took ice baths. It was his first experience with that and even though it was cold, it made the soreness disappear, he said.
Looking past athletics, the Honor Roll student would like to focus on studying military history. He said he is also looking forward to college, and hopes to play soccer at Clemson in their new program that is geared toward student athletes with disabilities including cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and stroke.
In his spare time, Sean enjoys playing video games, drawing, volunteering for the North Brunswick Buddy Ball basketball and soccer programs and being a part of the Rutgers men’s basketball team through Team IMPACT.
“Work hard. Do the best you can,” Sean advised other youth who may be in a similar position. “It makes me feel good about myself … to be inspirational to other kids.”
He credits his father Mitch, mother Beth and sister Emily for their support; as well as his teachers at the high school; his fellow freshman team players who help him get ready for games; and his former soccer coach, Jason Hatez, who pushed him to score goals during his years with the recreational soccer season.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.