Interviewing fellow Friends in the Fight is a great reminder of how much we can learn from one another! Jake Pacheco is an inspiring adaptive athlete who brings passion, perseverance, and a love of life to everything he does. The founder of Enable Athletics and ProneToRide has so much to give! Read a few highlights from our interview with Jake below!
How has Cerebral Palsy affected your passion for athletics?
I was diagnosed with Spastic Cerebral Palsy at 6 months. I have experienced chronic muscle tightness and rigid mobility — my muscles constantly feel like they are lifting the heaviest weight possible everyday and rarely ever “relax”. I pursued sports at a young age because my parents believed that it was a great way to harness my energy for life (which was HUGE, think a bull in a china shop) as well as keep me mobile and healthy later in life.
How did you overcome any challenges it presented?
The reality of my life and disability is a grey area, too mobile to be considered for a wheelchair, but too limited to be considered capable for “normal” sport. The grey area created a duality in my life; if I am not good enough for either/or then who I am and where do I belong? The answer was simple: I belonged to no one but myself; if neither would accept me, I’ll do it my own way and screw the rest! The challenges that came with being an adaptive athlete were incredible, and sometimes heart-breaking. Even in my lowest moments from childhood to now, I never allowed obstacles — whether internal or external — to deter me from my goals or vision. The proverbial “buck” stops with me and I refuse to let excuses of my disability or people “holding” me back be reasons I did not make the world a better place after I leave it.
How did you decide to turn this passion into a career, and what was that process like?
In high school. I was not allowed to physically participate in football (it didn’t stop me from running routes on concrete with coaches; I refused to take no for an answer) but I was able to contribute as a manager and I began to develop my coaching skills. I found a way to be involved — if I could not play then I will coach! I was able to work my way through the ranks through college, working with at-risk youth in low-income areas to working for Division 1 programs and the MLS with the LA Galaxy. But I also experienced the ugly side of sports with a disability: discrimination, and excessive derogatory commentary based on my disability defining my skill as a coach. In 2016, working 3 sports jobs while full-time in graduate school for Masters in COACHING degree, working somewhere 60-80 hours per week burning my candle at both ends, I had to change something. I took a chance on myself and my message: keep charging for your dreams and goals, starting my brand ProneToRide in December that year. I made my own dream happen; I became a professional athlete with a disability and I’ve given back more in 3 years than I had in 20. I work and earn for myself and no one else now.
What tips do you have for people who feel constrained by disability/illness?
Your mentality defines your physicality, if you approach your life and lifestyle as YOU see fit regardless of what others tell you or impress upon you, that will be a life of fulfillment for you. That life will be lived on your terms not someone else’s view of what your life is. Approach your day with happiness, gratitude to be alive (should never be taken for granted) and what you GIVE rather than what you can TAKE.
How has intersectionality played a role in your life?
Intersectionality is a main theme in my life story! So many different factors at play created this. Half of my family are immigrants from South America; I grew up in low-income with a disability and with little resources on how to live or cope with disability. Socioeconomically we came from nothing to become something. I have navigated multitude of factors, obstacles, and challenges to find my purpose in life, and I still learn everyday. Nothing is impossible, all you need is a belief in yourself, a passion for what you do and plan to get it done and non-stop willpower to finish!