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Robin Plowman: An independent spirit

Floyd Press - 6/7/2018

It was the surprise of a lifetime for Robin Plowman.

She had been out to the doctor's office and arrived home to find an "awesome" present ? a "new" SUV with a bow on it, a gift from her father Tom Plowman.

Robin, who is 57 and has cerebral palsy, has never owned a vehicle. When she saw the car, she wrote on Facebook that she felt more like a 16-year-old. "I was totally shocked."

As Robin was growing up, her parents raised her to be as independent as possible. She has carried that same spirit into adulthood.

"I did the normal stuff that any other child would do," she commented. "They didn't let my disability stop us from doing stuff." The family ? also including Robin's sister Tere Aldinger, who is a year older - enjoyed camping together, and Robin liked going to summer camp. At home, there were also chores to do, and she did her part there, too.

Robin has participated in Special Olympics her entire life. In her younger years, she raced backwards in her wheelchair using one foot. In 1991, she competed in the International Olympics in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "It was wonderful," she recalled. "There were 6,000 athletes from 100 countries." Robin, at 31, won the gold medal in the 25-meter wheelchair race.

Her Honda Element isn't exactly new, her father explained to her, but it has been modified (for instance with lower floor) to accommodate her power wheelchair. Robin said, "For a year now, my dad said he was going to get me a van of my own so I would have more opportunities."

Previously she had to set up public transportation for doctor's visits out of Floyd, and when she traveled with others, she would have to substitute a manual wheelchair for her power ride, and she would get on the passenger seat. Now, with her new vehicle, Robin said she just "rolls right in". She drives the power wheelchair on the ramp and goes in backwards since that makes it easier to turn and get set. The wheelchair can then be secured into place.

Tom Plowman had traveled from Florida to give her the Honda. Robin's mother Pat passed away 3 years ago, and Robin said "even though my mom is no longer here, I think she'd be so happy for me with getting the car." Robin's aunt, Gayle McTighe of Dugspur, also came with Robin's dad when he gave her the vehicle. Her aunt actually prompted her move to Floyd in 2007, Robin said. "I wanted to be near her."

Robin had lived in Pennsylvania all of her life. At age 21, she had moved out of her parents' home to live independently at the Margaret E. Moul Home, a nursing rehab founded for adults with cerebral palsy and now also including adults with spina bifida, multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular impairments. "It was started by a preschool teacher of mine," said Robin, who lived there for 27 years and loved it, but wanted to live totally on her own. She added that the Home gave her the confidence to live independently. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here today ? meaning they helped me be as independent as possible."

Robin speaks out for people with disabilities and asks others to "treat them like they would anybody else. If they seem like they are not aware, just talk and treat them like anybody else?and ask before you assume anybody needs help. Sometimes people want to help (me), and I don't need help. I want to be as independent as possible. But I appreciate help when I need it."

As Robin has gotten older, she said that doing certain household tasks, for instance cooking and cleaning, have been more challenging. She now has 12 hours a day of aides helping her. Angie Huff, one of the aides, has been with Robin almost from the beginning of her arrival in Floyd. They have taken some long trips together, including visits up to see Robin's friends at the rehab in Pennsylvania.

Cerebral palsy, a disorder affecting movement, muscle tone and motor skills, is caused by damage to the brain, usually before or during a baby's birth. The signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy vary. Robin has been a wheelchair all of her life. Also, she noted, the part of her brain that controls the startle reflex was damaged. "Loud noises startle me." That's why she asks visitors to knock on her door and not ring the doorbell. She also never goes near where fireworks are being set off.

She has ongoing physical therapy to strengthen her legs. "That's vital for me to live independently," she commented.

Staying in touch with friends is important to Robin. Before Facebook, she participated in an online forum for people with brain injuries. "The internet is my outlet to the world," she said. "I've met many people on there."

The license plate for her vehicle has been ordered, and it will be the online nickname she used in that forum ? Birdie. She had to add the number "1", since the name alone was already taken.

Robin enjoys the independence she has with her power wheelchair, which can go up to 6 miles per hour. "I go slower so the charge stays up longer." Every five years, her insurance allows her to get a new wheelchair.

She is frequently seen on the streets of Floyd and puts a number of miles on her wheelchair. There is one section of street, at the corner of Penn Avenue and Locust Street (below Schoolhouse Fabrics), that does not have a ramp and therefore will not accommodate wheelchair accessibility. It is Robin's hope that attention will be given to it. For now she takes a detour on Penn to Fox Street, across Oxford to Harris and then to Main Street.

Robin, known for her outgoing personality, feels welcomed here, and she likes the friendliness of the people here. "Now people will say 'hi, Robin'," and I think how do people know me?."


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