Derek Caster was just six years old when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a group of diseases that causes weakness and progressive muscle loss. During a time when he should have been learning to ride a bike and read books, Derek was facing much bigger challenges. As he continued to grow up in Papillion, Nebraska, and bravely endured the symptoms of MD, Derek learned much about people and the world.
As he moved from walking to using a mobility scooter and eventually to relying on a wheelchair, Derek says his experience was both physically and mentally draining as he gradually lost the ability to do things that others take for granted like lifting his phone to his ear to make a call, drinking without a straw, giving high-fives, hugging people, and even properly shaking hands. Throughout all his challenges, Derek was nurtured and supported by his parents, Tammy and Darin, and older sister, Courtney. Derek adds, “Although my family has gone through struggles not familiar to many, we are also stronger because of it.”
In 2004 and 2005, a then nine-year-old Derek founds one of his passions after he was selected to be the Nebraska state ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Derek was selected again for the important position in 2016 and 2017. His role was to attend events and visit businesses to share his story and advocate for MDA to promote fundraising. He adds, “Speaking in front of crowds and watching the impact of my words on the audiences was therapeutic. I really enjoyed being a positive light in a world filled with so much darkness.” Because MDA does not receive government funding, all their research and other work must be funded through events. Today, Derek serves as a local ambassador who continues to advocate for MDA and all they do. In all his roles for MDA, he has most enjoyed watching complete strangers compassionately help someone in need.
At age twenty-three, Derek has built an impressive list of accomplishments. After picking up graphic design as a hobby, Derek eventually realized it was something he wanted to do for a career when he was a junior in high school. “I love seeing something transform from a simple idea to a completed design,” Derek states. He recently graduated from Bellevue University’s online program with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, and plans to continue his work as a solo graphic designer at his business, D Rollin Designs, providing high-quality work to a variety of clients.
There is no question that we can all learn from Derek’s perspective on the world. Now twenty-three, Derek is able to look back on what he has learned since he has been wheelchair-bound. “I’ve noticed the way strangers treat me. Often they talk slower to me or ask questions to the people I am with instead of myself. It’s like people see a wheelchair and immediately think I am not mentally there. They don’t see a person with hopes and dreams like themselves.” Additionally, Derek sometimes becomes frustrated when events or buildings are not wheelchair-friendly or accessible as it limits fun activities with his friends and family.
Derek advises anyone who is facing their own challenges to rely on family and friends to help navigate the hard times, gift themselves with moments of peace and mental clarity, and focus on the good things in life. He credits his own support group of family and friends with helping him by encouraging him to chase his dreams, treating him like a regular person, and helping him understand that sometimes everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Rikki Rogers once said, “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t.” In looking at Derek Caster’s accomplishments to date, it is evident that he focuses on his strengths not his obstacles, and lives boldly with great hope for his future.
By living his truth, Derek serves as inspiration that we too can choose to live the same way.
For more about muscular dystrophy or to learn how you can help / donate, visit https://www.mda.org/.
Vicky DeCoster is a Certified Life Coach who specializes in helping her clients move past obstacles, create a plan for happiness, and cross the bridge of transition to find a new and fulfilling direction in life. To read more about her and her practice, visit her at crossthebridgecoaching.com.