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Eisenhower High School athlete with one arm inspires others

Eisenhower football player Kenny Baker born with one arm speaks students DeltLearning Center Robbins Illinois Wednesday November 21 2012. |

Eisenhower football player Kenny Baker, born with one arm, speaks to students at the Delta Learning Center in Robbins, Illinois, Wednesday, November 21, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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Updated: November 21, 2012 7:42PM



There were times in Kenny Baker’s past when it wasn’t always easy to look at the bright side of life.

These days, that’s not at all a problem for the Eisenhower High School football star who was born with one arm.

“I just don’t let anything get me down,” he said. “The main thing for me is confidence. I’ve got high confidence. If you’re confident in whatever you do, you’re going to do well.”

Speaking on the eve of Thanksgiving to students at Community High School District 218’s Delta Learning Center, an alternative high school in Robbins, Baker reflected not so much on his hardships, but rather on what he was thankful for.

“I’m most thankful for my family and friends,” he said. “Without them, life would be depressing. I’m thankful for school and for having God in my life. I’m thankful for football. I’m thankful for a lot of things.”

Baker said when he was younger he often used to ask “Why me?”

“That changed in fourth grade,” he said. “I started playing sports and started excelling in them. I started to know I could do anything.”

Baker hasn’t looked back since. In eighth grade, he ditched the prosthetic arm he wore most days, intent on proving he didn’t need it.

It’s a point he’s certainly proven on the football field, where he’s blossomed into a standout running back and safety for the Cardinals. This fall, he averaged around five yards a carry and earned All-South Suburban Red Conference honors.

Baker has set quite an example in overcoming adversity, and he hopes the students at Delta — students who are enrolled at the alternative school because of academic struggles or behavioral issues — can follow his lead.

“I think I’m a good role model,” Baker said. “I just want to do what I can to help keep kids on the right path. There are a lot of distractions out there. There are a lot of people that are going to try to bring you down or take you down the right path. You’ve got to stay in school to be successful, and that’s where all the money’s at, too.”

Baker’s visit to Delta, where he spoke to two classes of about 20 students each, was an idea conceived by English teacher Debbie Sernus after her students read the novel “Flowers for Algernon.”

“It’s about a person with a disability, and we talked about how you can either let a disability stop you or you can overcome it,” Sernus said. “I knew that Kenny was a great example of overcoming a disability.

“For a lot of our students, every day is filled with hardships and challenges. Hopefully listening to Kenny, they’ll see there’s always a choice to make to overcome those things instead of feeling sorry for yourself.”

It’s a message that seemed to catch on.

“I think hearing Kenny speak gives you motivation,” 18-year-old senior Franky Barcena said. “He’s a piece of inspiration I can use in my life. He teaches you to overcome a lot of obstacles. A guy like Kenny motivates you to keep moving forward.”

Angelica Reyes, a 17-year-old senior, planned to take Kenny’s message to her disabled brother.

“I’m going to tell him that if Kenny could overcome it, he can do it too,” she said. “My brother used to be bullied a lot because of his disability and I always tell him ‘Don’t let that bring you down.’”

Baker plans to attend Northern Illinois University next fall, where he’s been invited to walk on to the Huskies’ football team. He hopes that is the next stop on the way to his ultimate dream.

“My dream is to play in the NFL,” he said. “I think it should be any athlete’s dream to play in the NFL or NBA or professional baseball, whatever sport they play.

“I know I can do anything. I don’t feel like I have a disability, because I don’t even know what I can’t do.”

One of Baker’s main messages for the Delta students Wednesday was to chase their own dreams.

“Every student in this class should have a goal set,” he told them. “You set those goals, you work hard and you will achieve them.

“Once you achieve them, set new ones. Don’t ever stop setting goals for yourself.”



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