Spina Bifida Hasn’t Stopped “Chuy” from Keeping Healthy & Fit

Chuy sitting in his wheelchair on a basketball court holding a basketball

Meet Manuel Mota-Carrillo, known to his family and friends as “Chuy”, a bilingual 7th grader at Stewarts Creek Middle School of Rutherford County. Chuy has hydrocephalus and spina bifida and received his first wheelchair when he was almost 2 years old. He has big plans of becoming a dentist and sports coach in the future, but for now, he enjoys staying active in sports like a typical kid his age.


When Chuy turned five Ashley, one of his therapists from Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, encouraged his family to reach out to ABLE Youth, Yesenia, Chuy’s mom, however, described several factors, such as language barriers, Chuy’s diagnosis, the stigma of a disability, and fears of him getting hurt, that made them hesitant to pursue. But there was always something that kept pushing them to go back.  Sarah, another one of Chuy’s therapists, didn’t give up in insisting that they try it, so they finally did. It turns out that ABLE Youth has created several opportunities for Chuy and his family, especially by being a welcoming community for them.


Chuy enjoys participating in ABLE Youth to stay healthy and fit by being in motion as well as traveling to other states and meeting people with the same interests. Since he started, he has participated in basketball, cycling, marathon, volleyball, archery, and swimming. He enjoys basketball because he can be fast and swimming because it helps calm him down and control his ADHD. For the last 5 years, he has been an official member of the Music City Thunder Wheelchair Basketball Team.


Chuy wants to be an inspiration for other kids that look up to him and likes the support he receives from people at his school. He is proud that his teacher was able to go see him play. His school principal also thinks that it is cool and can’t wait to be able to go to one of his games.


His coach at ABLE Youth, Emily Hoskins, refers to Chuy as a very free and coachable boy. She has seen Chuy embrace the program, take the challenges head-on, and enjoy the activities. In addition to the sports activities, the program teaches the participants a wide set of skills to guide them in their independence, including a yearly camp where they can practice those skills with minimal guidance. The family is included in the programs, which allows them to support and reinforce these skills, and be able to make them a part of their daily routine.


As important as the learned skills and physical development are, the program instills in them a sense of confidence and a realization that despite the limitations they are faced with, they can still live productive and fulfilling lives. Chuy not only embodies the ideals of the program, as he is always eager to participate in all the activities, but it has given him the desire to share his experiences with other children, and show them, by example, that most limitations and barriers can be overcome with a positive attitude and determination.


When speaking with Chuy, one sees the world as he does, not that of limitations, but of possibilities. He is aware that there are challenges that need to be overcome, but the perspective that has been nurtured in him by his coach, family, and friends, allows him to approach them in a positive and constructive way. He realizes that his aspirations of becoming a dentist and a coach are lofty goals, but he knows that they are for anyone, and sees them as achievable with the required effort and preparation.


Mr. Murray, his school principal, speaks of him with a smile. “Manuel is a self-confident, fun-loving student, who does not take himself too seriously, which his peers and the SCMS staff love about him!   He is a master of speeding through the halls and stopping and turning on a dime.  In fact, he is told often to slow down in the hallways to which he always responds with a playful grin and obedience. Most of the time, the interactions we have turn into a conversation. When he is asked how things are going, Manuel doesn’t just give the usual reply of “good” or “okay.” Instead, he responds with detailed information. On one occasion he let me know he went to Ohio for a basketball tournament and was excited about his performance. It is evident that Manuel is also passionate about participating in the basketball league and looks forward to competing. He has been dealing with some health issues this year, but nothing seems to get him down. Manuel keeps a positive attitude and outlook on life and his spirit is contagious. He is loved by our students, teachers, and staff, and he loves being a Falcon at SCMS where he is continuing to flourish and grow and make his mark on the world!”


Chuy is a shining example to our disability and Hispanic communities in Middle Tennessee. He shows everyone he interacts with that hardships can be overcome with a positive attitude and hard work. He not only continues to overcome the difficulties that life has brought him but continues to be a beacon for his family and friends and an example for us all.