Story by Jennifer O’Connor
Village of Warwick resident Linda Strong Denerley has defied the odds of what doctors thought life would be like for her when she had a stroke while in the womb, during her birth, and after she was born. She was diagnosed with hemiplegia, a type of Cerebral Palsy that results from damage to the hemisphere part of the brain which controls muscle movements.
Having Cerebral Palsy has been emotionally and physically challenging for her. She has a speech impediment, walks with a limp, and is unable to straighten her left arm, which remains at approximately a 45-degree angle because it is fused at her elbow. She has about 50 percent functional ability with her left hand on which her fingers are crooked.
Although doctors didn’t give her much hope, and after a long journey filled with trials and tribulations, today, at the age of 46, she feels fulfilled as a wife, mother and competitive powerlifter. She credits her happiness and success due to her love for God, her family and for powerlifting.
Spirited, giving, kind, and strong like her maiden name, Linda feels that sharing her story and life experiences will help others who are going through difficult times. She gives an honest and insightful account of the struggles she endured and how she triumphed over them in her blog – https://strongfindspower.wordpress.com.
On Linda’s blog post she shares, “Ignorance is an incredible disease. I’ve endured a lot of assumptions and dealt far too often with people talking down to me merely because they see and hear a neurological disorder and not a person. Simply because someone sounds or looks different doesn’t make them stupid, it only means they probably have one hell of a story to tell.”
And for Linda her story begins as the youngest child to Edwin “Ned” M. Strong, Jr. and his wife, Helen “Honey.” Her father owned the Strong Funeral Home in Greenwood Lake and the Village of Warwick until he sold it in 1989 and moved with Helen to Naples, FL. Linda’s father who was a compassionate and well-loved funeral director passed away in 2006.
Her sister, Sandy, also passed away. She was four years old when she died of leukemia. Linda was born six years after Sandy and, even though she never met her older sister, she always felt her loss. Linda’s brother, Gordon, lives in Ohio with his wife and their daughter.
Throughout her childhood, adolescence and as an adult, she struggled with low self-esteem due to her disability. It was her love for horses that she found to be therapeutic and led her to earn a degree in Equine Science from Centenary College (now a University) in Hackettstown, NJ. After college she married a man that she met in college.
Linda shares in her blog, “Like a lot of young ladies just out of college I married a man I met while in school and began my new adult life, fresh and eager to take on the world. My plans didn’t include uncovering the monster inside the man I had married. The monster that took his aggression out on me with his fists. Never, in all I’ve had to overcome, did I ever think spousal abuse was going to be one of them.”
Once again, Linda did overcome this difficult time in her life through her faith in God by leaving the abusive relationship and getting a divorce. Years later she discovered the love of her life when she met Ryan Denerley online in a Christian chat room. They married in 2007 where they live in Linda’s childhood home with their daughter, Anaia Grace.
When Linda was pregnant in her late 30s with Anaia she was overjoyed but also scared like any new mom. She had a lot of questions and concerns, but having epilepsy and Cerebral Palsy made her a high-risk pregnancy. Although the pregnancy wasn’t easy, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Shortly after Anaia was born the joy turned to heartache when Anaia stopped breathing. This was unexpected and doctors said was most likely due to the baby having withdrawal symptoms from coming off of the epilepsy medication that Linda needed to take.
Today Anaia is a healthy and fun-loving eight-year-old with lots of energy. Linda writes about motherhood and what it was like caring for a baby while having a disability and other issues that all moms can relate to. With one hand, Linda learned to feed, dress and diaper her daughter. She viewed this time in her life as an adventure. Her house is not handicapped accessible and managing steep stairs while carrying a baby was “a nightmare in the making,” but she figured out a way to overcome every obstacle by having faith.
And like her faith and love for Jesus, powerlifting raises her up. When she first started powerlifting it was extremely challenging. The 45 pound bar was too heavy for her and she was unable to squat the bar without falling backward. Linda, who is petite at a height of 5’1, was determined and never gave up. It took her eight months to squat the bar with a few pounds on it while maintaining her balance.
Her strongest lift is the deadlift, although the strict curl is hard for her because her left arm is much weaker than her right one. Another difficulty for her was getting in the “hole,” a term known in powerlifting as the lowest part of a squat. This was mentally challenging for her as she had to overcome the fear that the weights could fall on top her. Within three to four months of practice, Linda was able to handle the lowest part of the squat and curl the bar.
In June 2016, she lifted 143.2 pounds and came in first place in the deadlift in a National championship in her weight class. At the 100% RAW Powerlifting Competition in Virginia this past January, she again won first place in the deadlift. This time she lifted 181.7 pounds. She also took first place in her weight class for lifting 70 pounds in the bench press.
“Powerlifting shows me I have a power within me, power that some people are afraid to tap into. Power that shows the world I’m not to be pitted. It gives me a confidence I thrive off of, a body in the best shape it’s been in, a mind that’s seizure free and a relationship with God that’s unrivaled in my life,” Linda wrote in her blog.
Linda gives credit to her coaches, Frank Caramico and Michael and Jill Neziri, and her team members called the, “Wrecking Crew,” who all push her and believe in her. She also is thankful to Ryan, her loving and supportive husband, and to her best friend, Jennifer Deschanel, who encouraged her to write the blog and edits and posts the blogs online for her.
“For a long point in time I did not want to draw attention to myself or group myself with having a handicap or Cerebral Palsy because I felt embarrassed about myself. But now, I don’t anyone to feel like I did,” said Linda.
Her posts are filled with powerful messages of love and strength and humor. She adds new stories each week. To read her heartfelt story visit https://strongfindspower.wordpress.com.