Thomas J Broadhurst PsyD: “

I wish that people recognized every person is worthwhile and brings something to the table, whether they have a disability or not. Our society can oftentimes be judgmental and comparison-based, which can lead to a myriad of negative mind-sets which can lead to a “ripple effect” in all areas of life. As a part of our […]

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I wish that people recognized every person is worthwhile and brings something to the table, whether they have a disability or not. Our society can oftentimes be judgmental and comparison-based, which can lead to a myriad of negative mind-sets which can lead to a “ripple effect” in all areas of life.

As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas J. Broadhurst PsyD.

Thomas J. Broadhurst, PsyD. is a performance and health psychologist based in Centennial, Colorado, where he focuses on helping his clients overcome and manage obstacles. He was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) at the age of 16 but has not let this get in the way of achieving his personal and professional goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I am 46 years old and was born in Centennial, Colorado, where I currently reside. I pursued a career in performance and health psychology and hold a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. This, along with my diagnosis and life in general, has taken me down various paths and I am currently focusing primarily on geriatric psychology.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

I was always involved in elite-level athletics growing up, specifically basketball and soccer. When I was 14 years old I started falling when I was running on the soccer field. I went to a clinic and was told that I was going through a growth spurt and my muscles hadn’t caught up. I started doing strength training, but things weren’t getting any better; my falls were increasing and my speed was decreasing.

I went to various doctors and was eventually diagnosed with SMA, a genetic disorder that starts in the central nervous system and affects all the muscles in the body when I was around 16 years old. There was no treatment for SMA at the time, and I was told that in order to avoid being in a wheelchair by age 20, I would have to give up a lot of what I was doing physically and to rest my muscles as much as possible. This “advice” went against everything I was, how I was brought up, and my competitive nature. I resolved in my teenage mind, that I would always fight this disorder and never let it get the best of me.

Receiving this diagnosis was devastating, especially for people like me with later-onset SMA. The diagnosis was like starting a new life against your will and having to change and/or give up so many of the hopes and dreams you’ve been fostering for so long. However, I was determined to not let it stop me. I follow the mantra that if I fall down, I will get back up and figure out a different way to do it. That’s not to say that there haven’t been low points, where I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety due to my diagnosis, but I do everything I can to not let this disease dictate my life.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness ?

I went 30 years without any form of treatment and despite being told that I would be in a wheelchair by the age of 20, I’ve continued going to the gym, earned a third-degree black belt in martial arts and started fencing, in addition to earning two Master’s Degrees and a Doctorate. Most importantly, I’ve kept walking and staying active. Thankfully SMA treatment is available now — I am currently on a treatment called SPINRAZA® (nusinersen) — and this has given me another avenue and renewed hope to continue living my life the way I want.

I’ve also been able to pursue a career and form great relationships with my clients; I challenge them in the same way I challenge myself and believe my experiences have allowed me to achieve greater levels of empathy and genuineness. I have used this opportunity to share my story with the SMA community, with the hope that it can help them in their own personal journeys.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

I would boil it down to one simple concept: don’t stop living because you have a limitation. In most instances, you can achieve what you want to do and can make it work. While I recognize there are some things that I won’t be able to do again, like run a marathon or climb the tallest mountains in Colorado, I have learned through trial and error that you have to approach them from a different angle and think outside the box, and most importantly, never give up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I have so many amazing people in my life! My family has been incredibly supportive — they have given me the “tough love” I needed to keep going. While they give me the room to fail and wallow sometimes, they also make sure I don’t stay trapped in that headspace. They have also supported me to cry, to rage, and everything in between, even though they could never truly understand what I was going through. They never coddled or overprotected me; they let me try the things that I wanted to do. Even to this day. I can’t even express how much I’ve learned from them and how much they’ve impacted me on this journey, good and bad.

Additionally, I had a psychologist in college who supported me when I was having anxiety and panic attacks due to my SMA diagnosis and got me through the denial of having this disease. They helped me realize and work towards accepting that this “new” me was so much more than just my diagnosis.

I’m also grateful for my friends, who have seen me for who I am, encouraged me and never judged me, which is so important. And finally, the staff from Biogen has been an amazing resource for this stage of my journey, and genuinely seem to care about me as a person, in addition to how I respond to the medication.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to be the best possible version of myself, which includes being honest and genuine, and not being ashamed of that. I do what I can to pass this on to the people I come across in the world, whether it’s my clients, people I meet at conferences or anyone reading this article. I also try to promote the importance of learning from each other; if I can help reframe someone’s perspective, that is a great feeling for me.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

I wish that people recognized every person is worthwhile and brings something to the table, whether they have a disability or not. Our society can oftentimes be judgmental and comparison-based, which can lead to a myriad of negative mind-sets which can lead to a “ripple effect” in all areas of life.

I would also add that while I can empathize with another person and they can do the same for me, it’s impossible to fully understand what someone else is going through unless you are in their shoes. Taking that extra step to consider what I may be experiencing as someone living with SMA can go a long way. We need to take the time to learn how to communicate with one another again. To be able to ask questions and listen to one another.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Ships are built for the sea, not for the harbor.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Elon Musk. I tend to gravitate toward and really admire people who don’t take no for an answer, who think outside the box and are not afraid to take risks or put themselves on the line for something they believe in, whether I agree with them completely or not. I think Elon Musk does that well, and I think that we could have an entertaining breakfast.


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