Runner Defies Odds, Brings Hope to Others

Nathan Baker

“I just like to run like the wind,” Nathan Baker, age 18, writes. “I run to get to where I need to be. God gave me some traits and I think that one of those was to run.”

Nathan is no ordinary cross country runner for Green Hope High School in Cary. He uses sign language and assistive technology to communicate, and he overcomes physical challenges related to his cerebral palsy on a daily basis. Nevertheless, his message of perseverance was even stronger when he ran on May 30th in the Run, Walk & Roll at Crowder Park in Apex.

The Run, Walk & Roll, which took place May 30, included hundreds of volunteers, participants and sponsors. The event benefited children with special needs served by the programs of Joshua Alexander, MD, a pediatric rehabilitation physician (physiatrist) in the UNC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The department’s mission is to optimize health and function of individuals with disabilities through a patient-centered continuum of care, with the goal of improving quality of life.

The idea for the Run, Walk & Roll came to Dr. Alexander after he had seen an article about Nathan and his teammates. “We posted the article on our clinic bulletin board because we were so proud of Nathan, and because we wanted to send a message to other children and families that they could be like Nathan.”


Dr. Alexander emailed the idea for the event to Nathan’s mother, Lil Baker, and soon other parents, patients, providers, sponsors and partners joined the cause, generously offering their time, expertise and financial support to raise money and awareness for UNC Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation’s pediatric programs.

One such program, TelAbility, enhances the lives of children across North Carolina by providing telemedicine consultations, educational programs and credible, reliable information to families of children with disabilities and their providers. Other pediatric rehabilitation programs include the cerebral palsy clinic, the spina bifida clinic, a general pediatric rehabilitation clinic, as well as a consultation service at the UNC Children’s Hospital.

“Having Dr. Alexander to coordinate our care means a lot to us,” says Mrs. Baker. “We are grateful to be involved, and hope the event will be able to help these programs.”

“People are joining the event to expand their horizons,” Mrs. Baker adds. “They are looking forward to becoming more comfortable with people who are physically challenged.”

Dr. Alexander agrees that the event has many benefits.

“In this challenging economic climate, it’s been especially difficult to maintain the high quality of care and coordination we strive to provide to children with special needs and their families,” Dr. Alexander notes. “Financial support we’ve previously received from charitable foundations to help us establish and grow our award-winning TelAbility program, for example, will likely not be available in the future. This event helps us continue to fund this innovative program while enabling the patients and families who participate to experience the joy of contributing to others, and celebrate their place in our community.”

Part of Nathan’s coordinated care at UNC includes physical therapy with Cathy Howes, PT. “Cathy played a big role in teaching Nathan the importance of stretching and keeping active,” Mrs. Baker notes. “When Nathan participated in a study at UNC, he ran in order to measure his heart rate and determine a reasonable training level. Cathy was amazed at his speed and how long he could run, so she encouraged running as a possible life-long activity.” Deborah E. Thorpe, PT, PhD, PCS, in the Division of Physical Therapy, conducted the study with funding from the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation, and also encouraged Nathan to run cross country.

Nathan’s sister Cassie, age 11, also motivates Nathan and helps with communication when needed. His father, Tracy Baker, admires “the perseverance side of Nathan and his great work ethic.”

“As a parent of a child with ‘special needs’ I've seen how much can be accomplished by just being focused on what can be done,” Mr. Baker says. “Nathan inspires me to just do the best I can, and not care about limitations.”

Mr. Baker remembers that during Nathan’s freshman year, one of his cross country team mates noted that if Nathan could do the “hot workouts,” he could do it too.

“We were all surprised at how much Nathan could do – all of us except for maybe Nathan,” Mr. Baker adds.

Currently a junior, Nathan plans to run one more year of cross country and spring track his senior year.

“After that it will probably be swimming, playing tennis etc. I'm a ‘sports nut,’” Nathan adds. “It will probably have to be occasional runs throughout college with friends and the like. I may get to play on the Paralympics in a few years.”

Media Contact: Jennifer Satinsky

Read another patient story! Check out this story about our patient, John Allen Atkins, by reporter/editor Wendy Lemus of the Cary News!