I recently had the opportunity to go on a hike with Sam Durst and Ryan Grassley. The pair have been friends since high school.
Durst, like me, was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP for short). CP is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture, and it has a wide spectrum—some folks, such as myself, can walk independently. Others, like Durst, need assistance to get around.
Blazing a Trail
We met up at the Memory Grove trail in Salt Lake City, and I have to admit that I was nervous. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet very many people with CP. I also love to hike, but I’m often not the best hiker and have to take multiple breaks. After spending only a few minutes with Durst and Grassley, my worries were immediately put at ease. I could instantly see why their TikToks are getting millions of views. They’re big goofballs and don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re big on making other people laugh and spreading positivity at the same time.
“I often say that Sam has a superpower to laugh at all my dumb jokes,” Grassley says. “I stopped saying that he has Cerebral Palsy right off the bat when we do certain interviews or podcasts because there’s so much more to him than that.”
In 2019, Grassley started working for Extreme Motus, which creates an all-terrain wheelchair called the Emma X3. The chair can navigate over all sorts of terrain and even has the ability to float, all while the individual in the chair can remain seated comfortably. Before having the Emma X3, Durst used to have to sit in the parking lot with his mom while the rest of his family went on hikes. But since joining the Extreme Motus team, he has become their official male model, and Durst and Grassley have been going on adventures ever since. Occasionally, Durst’s family will tag along on an adventure or two. They’ve been to Bryce Canyon, skate parks, a 5k Dirty Dash, and a handful of other places.
One of the Guys
As we walked around Memory Grove, we came across a small river, to which Grassley stopped and said, “Sam, how awesome would it be to just hang out in the river?” Durst instantly responded with, “Yes! Let’s go across the river.” Grassley took Durst down the river and let him hang out before jokingly telling him, “All right, buddy, see you in a little bit,” before rejoining me on the trail.
“A lot of people on our TikTok will comment and say that I’m bullying Sam or being mean to him. Our videos have actually been flagged for bullying and harassment before,” Grassley shares. “I’m not doing that in any way—I’m treating him like one of the guys because he is one. I’d be bullying him if I were treating him like a baby. I have this way of responding to the TikTok comments by killing them with kindness while hopefully educating them on CP at the same time.”
Grassley and Durst are big on showing people that you can be friends with different abilities and still have the best time. “I think that the word ‘inclusion’ is just a fancy word for treating people normally. That’s the message that we are really trying to send through in our TikToks,” says Grassley.
“Treat Us as Normally as Possible”
After joining us back on the trail, Durst and I had a heart-to-heart about CP and the struggles we’ve both gone through. We talked about things that other folks do that can get under our skin, and what we wished they would do instead. One pet peeve is when people treat us like we’re mentally slow. “We’ll be a restaurant and the waiter or waitress will turn to me and say, ‘What does he (Sam) want?’ I’m always like, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?’ Grassley shares.
I was once at a disability center, and the individual I was speaking to was telling me all about CP like they were the one with CP instead of me. To top it off, they were speaking to me slowly, like they were worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand them if they spoke to me in a normal tone. It was so frustrating that it was almost laughable. My point is that Durst and I can understand what people are saying perfectly. We are both intelligent adults.
Another thing that Durst and I talked about is the copious amounts of questions and stares we get from people. “I get constant staring from little kids,” Durst shares. “They’ll say, ‘Mom, why doesn’t he walk?’ Or ‘Why doesn’t he talk normally?’ And their parents will just stare. . . . I don’t know how to handle the staring.”
We both agreed that the staring and questions are hard and that there isn’t a right way to handle it. The best advice that I could possibly give is that if you see Durst, myself, or others with disabilities, then treat us as normally as possible. We don’t want is to be pitied.
A Beautiful Example
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you’re so nice to Sam, and you’re doing all these nice things with him,” Grassley says. “They don’t seem to notice that I’m laughing just as hard as Sam while I’m doing these things. I’m doing it because it’s fun and we have a great time.” Durst even jokes that without him, Grassley would just be “sitting on his butt doing nothing.”
When people with disabilities are given the right opportunities and assistance, they have the ability to do what able-bodied people can do, and everyone’s lives are much richer for it—Durst and Grassley’s friendship is a beautiful example of that. So, don’t be fooled by appearances. People with disabilities have a lot to offer if given the chance.