The game looked so much different when viewed through the facemask of a football helmet.
For the first time in his high school career, DJ Glander watched his Roncalli Rebels football team with full pads on. He had been the team’s manager since the moment he stepped on campus and worked with them for four years.
As a show of respect on Senior Night, his coaches and teammates invited him to don a uniform and be honored at halftime on the field with his parents.
Glander, 18, suffered a stroke as a newborn that left him with moderate disabilities. He suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The right side of his body is weaker than his left and has required six surgeries to reconfigure bones and make movement easier.
Despite his challenges, Glander has excelled as a student at Roncalli High School. The southside resident adopted an attitude to never stop working toward his goals, and it has paid off as he nears graduation.
“Whatever life throws at you, whether it’s good or bad, don’t wither away and cry about it. Take action and take life by storm. Succeed,” he said.
Throughout high school, Glander has tried to be as diverse and active as possible. In addition to being manager for the football team, he worked his senior year as a basketball manager.
He took part in a summer field studies program in Colorado last summer, hiking the Rocky Mountains while learning about geology, biology and leadership. He plans on going to the Grand Canyon this year.
Glander joined the drama club, performed in two different plays and maintained his grades at the same time.
“He works very hard. He does not let his disabilities impede him,” said Pat Musgrave, Glander’s teacher in the Students That Are Ready for Success program for those with learning challenges. “He’s become a very motivated self-starter. We’ve seen a lot of growth over the past four years.”
Doctors are unsure if Glander suffered his stroke while he was still in the womb or shortly after he was born. The condition didn’t come to anyone’s attention until he was about 3 months old.
“He was having infantile spasms, which is how we found out about the stroke,” said Karen Glander, DJ’s mother.
She is a pediatric dietician, while Dr. David Glander, DJ’s father, is a neurologist. Their specialties meant they quickly saw the signs that something was not right with their son.
DJ Glander started receiving treatments as a baby, and at each developmental stage, he was about a year behind other babies. He needed a feeding tube, was still scooting when he should have been walking, and didn’t talk.
That just meant he had to work harder than other students.
“He just moves on. He doesn’t hold on to all that has happened to him; he looks to the future,” Karen Glander said.
Throughout his life, he’s had six orthopedic surgeries on his right arm, hand and leg to help improve function. His knee and heel had to be reconstructed over the course of four years.
Physical and occupational therapies, as well as special programs meant to reprogram his mind to use his weaker arm, helped DJ Glander adapt.
His condition presented a significant challenge when he entered Roncalli.
Before high school, he had attended a special institute called Hudson School specializing in children with dyslexia and learning challenges.
The school was very small, with only eight other students in his final class. Suddenly going to a large high school where everyone else seemed to know each other was trying.
At first, he focused too much energy on making friends. But he learned to let go of that and be himself, he said. Soon after, he started enjoying school more.
“It’s impacted friendships and relationships. It was hard to make friends. Everyone came in cliques and things like that, so I had to work my way up,” he said. “If I could show everyone the true me, my personality, that made me more friends than trying to act cool.”
Academically, Glander faced rigorous courses that required more self-motivation than he had ever experienced. At Hudson, teachers were able to provide more one-on-one attention. He learned quickly that in order to succeed, he needed to motivate himself.
“When he came in freshman year, he really struggled to be independent and to understand the whole learning process, because he had been in a school that was very one-on-one,” Musgave said.
But despite the frustrations, DJ Glander became more determined to do the work. His goal, even when he was a young boy, had been to go to Roncalli, Karen Glander said. He wanted to succeed.
Slowly, he adjusted to the pace of school. He developed a love for social studies, particularly history and government.
He also used his struggle as inspiration for others.
DJ Glander has spoken throughout central Indiana about his life and his struggle to overcome his disabilities. Standing in front of high school students at the South Deanery Dance Marathon, he described how Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health has helped him for 18 years.
“Riley has made me who I am,” he said.
As he has approached the end of his high school classwork, his hard work has been recognized by those throughout the community. DJ Glander was awarded the Circle of Valor by the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis in February.
The award recognized 25 students throughout central Indiana who have overcome significant obstacles in their lives.
Musgrave led a group of teachers to nominate DJ Glander. She felt that he embodied what the recognition was all about.
“DJ is a very independent student and a very motivated student. As a senior, he’s a great motivator and a very hard worker,” she said.
After graduation in May, DJ Glander has plans to attend Ball State University in the fall, with a drive to study communications.
To get ready, his parents are making him learn skills such as doing laundry so that he’s ready for life in the dorm. He’s excited to become even more independent, living by the credo of self-motivation that has served him well throughout his life.
“I went from thinking, ‘Woe is me, I’ve had a stroke, I’ll never do anything in life,’ to finding a way to succeed, even though I’ve had adversity,” he said.