Know When to Hold'Em

By William Chiu


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Disability advocate Peter Brown and his daughter take a selfie at a BC Lions game.

If you ever get the chance to chat with Peter Brown, you’ll quickly be taken by his vitality. With a wry smile, he’s quick with a joke and an incredibly focused attitude.

Over his lifetime he’s learned a lot. He’s learned to adapt to a new, unique “normal.” As a child, he never thought he was different from anyone else but, as he progressed through public school, he realized things weren’t entirely on point. Peter was born with cerebral palsy.

When he was five years old, he was taken daily by the Easter Seals bus to GF Strong Rehabilitation Center in Vancouver for treatment, and to attend kindergarten and, ultimately, Grade 1. At the time, Peter thought all five-year-old kids held the same routine. When he went through a phase of self-discovery as the only disabled child at his public school, his perception of normal changed.

This became his first experience with adaptation and acceptance. He fortunately learned that most children and teens would show him respect – as long as he returned the favour. A couple of stares and odd comments were par for the course, but he learned to accept this as his reality — one that he believes holds power as a learning opportunity for all, despite what others might initially think of him.

Peter often draws on an analogy about his life, comparing it to poker.

“I grew up with the view that I could either ‘fold’ or I could discover the value of the cards I held and adapt to my reality, regardless of what I may not be able to do.”

The very idea of folding was something he refused to accept. To this day, he recognizes the value in his cards and always tries to play the hand he’s dealt.

It’s a mindset he held very closely, especially when he continued onto post-secondary school in pursuit of a law degree. Even when he was a young adult succeeding in his exams, passing the bar, and becoming a lawyer, he surprised himself at every turn. He would say the only thing more surprising is that his daughter is pursuing law as well!

At times, he couldn’t believe his success, but he knew it was fostered by the confidence he gave himself to pursue it and see how things unfold. He never sold himself short and his family was always there to support him.

To him, his honesty and confidence earned respect from his peers. He felt obligated to break through his challenges, but also show how comfortable he is with his disability, in part, in hope of dispelling the fears, myths and curiosity of those around him. It’s hard to deny someone who feels good in their own skin.

“I identify the fear involved in pursuing the challenges and eradicate such fear to the best of my ability,” says Peter.

After a lengthy career in law, what’s next up for Peter? Retirement.
Work has been a huge part of his life. Law is where he learned to identify, interpret and explain human nuances, achieve mental balance and develop a sense of wellbeing by contributing to society. But to him, phasing out his work life doesn’t mean those skills should bite the dust.
 
Being a lawyer has taught him how to analyze far beyond the obvious and he intends to use those skills to respond to retirement — to fill the void that work once occupied. He simply wants three things: to stay sharp, to be healthy and to leave an impression.

Despite years of education under his belt, Peter wants to continue his learning, possibly to the extend of pursuing further post-secondary studies. For him, education is invaluable and the concept of studying never ends; continually growing and gaining new perspectives is a necessity for him. He believes others should be diligent in doing the same and truly lives and breathes it — like a mantra. His glow of enthusiasm for education when he’s speaking publicly is evident.

“There is a simultaneous obligation on those living with any disability, as ‘experts within our field,’ to assist in educating and raising awareness within the able-bodied population of our challenges, successes and our journey,” he says.

Giving back to his community as an educator and advocate for people with cerebral palsy is important to him. Peter’s been a lead speaker for the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia (CPABC)’s Youth Support Group and panel on physical, mental and emotional impacts of aging with a disability. CPABC has become an outlet for the local disability community to connect and, within it, Peter has found a place to offer his experience. He is intent on empowering individuals who may be facing the same adversity he once felt and continues to face.

Cerebral palsy has made Peter extremely resolute. Growing up with his disability meant he’s had to take extra steps in being the best version of himself. In recent years, maintaining his health has become one of his most important goals. An avid gym-goer, he tries to follow four different fitness routines weekly to maintain and build his strength and coordination, including working with a personal trainer, water aerobics, pool running and extended cycling sessions at his gym. He admits that staying in tune with his motor skills has really made a huge difference and, as he has gotten older, his efforts have been paying immense dividends.

Peter Brown: respected lawyer, family man, mental health educator, disability advocator and gym-rat. Quite a legacy, but Peter wants to make a lasting impression before the party is over. For him, writing has always been in the cards and he wants to create a memoir about his family history and background.

And what does he most look forward to in retirement?

“Not having to get up at 5:20 a.m.”

The Cerebral Palsy Association of BC is a charity organization that supports people with disabilities across British Columbia. For more information, e-mail info@bccerebralpalsy.com

november 2017 INSPIRED senior living

 

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