She is only 11 years old, but Joey Drake is wise beyond her years.
“A lot of my friends and my family say ‘How are you so mature?’” Joey said. “They think I’m older than I am. But I say because of what I’ve had to go through, I know things that not all 11-year-olds know because not all 11-year-olds have to go through things like this.”
Born with cerebral palsy, Joey faced her fair share of challenges growing up. But she refused to let her condition dictate her daily life.
“Since she was first diagnosed, I knew she was just going to be a fighter,” Joey’s mom Lottie Drake said. “She never slowed down. Everything was a little bit delayed as far as the developmental milestones go. But she met each one with a smile and hard work.”
With intense physical therapy, Joey quickly surpassed expectations. Initially, she struggled to use her right hand and needed leg braces for walking. She still needs her braces for playing sports. But outside of that, you would never know of her struggle.
“I didn’t realize that she had cerebral palsy until her mom mentioned it at conferences,” Sakamoto Elementary teacher Bevlee Doran said. “I knew she had a brace sometimes. But it just never slows her down.”
Joey admits her battle with cerebral palsy has made her more empathetic to students who may be perceived differently than the rest of the class.
“When I see people who are making fun of other kids, I get sad because that would sometimes be me,” Joey said. “Sometimes they would look at me. ‘What are you wearing? Why do you have those on your feet?’ And I would just explain to them why. When I see other people like that who are different, I just make sure I’m nice to them and make them feel that they aren’t different in a bad way. They’re different in a good way.”
When Joey entered Sakamoto Elementary in the fall of 2016, she had no clue what was next in store for her and her family. Joey’s mom, Lottie, had been diagnosed with stage 3C breast cancer.
“She’s always been the light of the family,” Joey said. “And just to watch that light slowly fade away, it was really hard to just watch your mom just go through that.”
Lottie went through a year of chemotherapy along with a double mastectomy. Through it all, Joey was by her mom’s side.
“She was amazing,” Lottie said. “She was always kind of an old soul. But this stepped it up a notch. Lots of notches actually. She had to deal with something pretty serious.”
The Drake family credits the staff at Sakamoto Elementary for helping them through such a difficult time. Joey’s fourth grade teacher, Madeline Marshall, says the family-like atmosphere allowed Joey to cope with her mother’s battle with cancer.
“There was definitely a really strong sense of community,” Marshall said. “And Joey was at the heart of it. I hoped that helped her get through a really hard year. And I kind of think it did.”
Lottie Drake is now in remission and the Drake family has a sense of normalcy. The uber-talented Joey is back to her busy schedule, participating in athletics, music and theater. She says the adversity she and her family faced forced her to look at life in a new way.
“It’s made me and I think my whole family more grateful for what we have,” Joey said. “What (my mother) has is survival. We have more hope for things that will come. And we will be able to live life to the fullest.”