Doug Forbis planned to coach children’s wheelchair sports until an injury sidetracked him. Now Forbis, 24, is pursuing a new path. He wants to be an educator. It’s a task he does not consider so very different from coaching. He will still advise, guide and teach skills. He will undoubtedly inspire students.
Forbis is completing his first year of graduate studies at Converse College, where he’s pursuing a master’s in teaching with a focus on intellectual disabilities. He also will be certified to teach students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. He ultimately aspires to teach physical education to children with special needs.
He does not consider himself an inspiration. He sees himself as a typical, 24-year-old guy who wants to be a teacher. In that regard, though, he’s just as inspirational as his fellow graduate students. Yet children he works with in the future might consider him a role model. Forbis has a condition known as sacral agenesis. The lower portion of his spinal column did not form. He was 2 years old when his legs were amputated because they were of no use.
Forbis has not let the condition he was born with hold him back or keep him from pursuing goals with single-minded determination. He has been an athlete since he was a youngster. He began competing in wheelchair basketball at age 12. He also began to compete in wheelchair track with a team based in Charlotte, N.C., as well as the Dorman High School Cavaliers. He was a high school junior when Wheelchair Sports USA selected him to go to an international meet in Australia. Forbis found a “safe zone” in sports, he said. He could be himself. People, he said, did not tell him he was different or could not do that.
He was a sophomore at the University of Illinois when he developed tendinitis in his shoulders and upper back muscles. Despite the injury, he continued to compete injured for three years and trained for the Beijing 2008 Paralympics Games. There were days when the pain was so intense, it was a struggle to get out of bed. Forbis reevaluated his plans for the future. Eventually he decided to pursue a career in education.
In a 2003 interview with the Herald-Journal, Forbis said he would like to work with kids. “I love how real they are and the sense of discovery they have,” he said recently. Children, he said, love the world and take it all in. “Every kid has something they can do … our job as teachers is to help them develop their strengths,” he said.
Since college, Forbis has worked with children at camps. He also has done teaching clinicals at McCarthy Teszler School, Anderson Mill Road Elementary School and Dawkins Middle School. He has a course scheduled for this summer and will return to the classroom.
“Teachers have to think on their feet, and I’m used to that,” he said. He has worked with students from ages 3 to 21 with autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida and various disabilities, as well as those with no disabilities. He said he can reach disabled kids in a way others cannot. Even if his and their disabilities are very different, he can still provide a “positive life example.” They can look at Forbis and see someone who, despite physical limitations, does not limit himself — he drives, works and is in a relationship.Forbis said his parents always held him to the same standard as his “able-bodied” older sister.
Someone else who encouraged him was a special-education teacher named Ms. Lowry who taught Forbis in elementary school while his family lived in Denton, Texas. She taught him that people are more similar than different and we all have limitations of some kind. Like his parents, she let him know he could be whoever he wanted to be. People might tell a disabled child they “can’t” do something, Forbis said. Yet with support and encouragement to be everything they’re capable of, they can “blow you away.”
This article contributed by Kim Kimzey of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Photo by Mike Bonner.