Cameron Dunlap has spent enough time working with airplane simulators that he bets he could land a plane himself. He jokes about it to his dad, who had a pilot’s license, and to his grandfather, who worked on an aircraft.
While Dunlap has a relatively easy time coming to terms with the fact that he won’t be a pilot one day, he doesn’t dwell on the things he can’t do.
Dunlap was diagnosed with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy at the age of 5, and by 7, he couldn’t walk. As he gets older, he adapts to muscle atrophy, and the list of activities he can participate in steadily dwindles.
That did not stop him from winning a congressional art award from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for a drawing of a radio-control plane that once hung in her office. Or from snapping a photo with his remote camera of an old, abandoned car that his photography teacher cherishes and now hangs in his room.
This graduation season, Dunlap will receive his diploma from East Valley High School – an accomplishment the Dunlap family did not always envision with certainty.
“I never thought I would get this far, I never thought I would be graduating,” Dunlap said. “I’m at that point where it’s like ‘Look, I’m going to graduate.’ I’ve made it, it’s been tough but I’ve done it.”
“That’s why I put so much energy and time into what I can do,” he said. “I don’t really think about the things that I can’t do.”
When Tammie Dunlap thinks about her son graduating from high school, she feels a mix of emotions.
“Happy because we weren’t sure if he would even make it to this point, because not every (patient) makes it to graduation,” she said. “Then sad because it means he’s all grown up and he’s not my little boy anymore.”
Dunlap maneuvers his physical life with a joystick placed in his right hand, controlling a powerful motorized wheelchair.
With the autonomy to zip around at the flick of a wrist, and even run over feet, he wields the potential to make someone pay for busting his chops.
His mom offers that he’s never purposely targeted feet with his chair.
“That you know of,” he retorted, smirking slyly. “You’re not around me all day.”
Dunlap’s confident yet gentle presence can warm a room.
“He adapts to change really easily, so no matter what’s come his way he’s been able to adapt and make any of that work if he really wanted to do it,” Tammie Dunlap said. “If he wants to accomplish something he does it, nothing stops him. He’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”
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