By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
HAVERTOWN – Chris DiJulia was born with cerebral palsy. He relies on a wheelchair to get around. Eating food and drinking liquids can be an adventure, and his speech is significantly slurred.
Other than that, the 40-year-old parishioner of St. Denis in Havertown is just like anyone else. Well, when it comes to owning a dry and, no pun intended, cerebral sense of humor, maybe he’s a little better than most.
“It’s fun to laugh,” said DiJulia. “It’s even more fun to make someone else laugh.”
It took DiJulia approximately 10 seconds to communicate that thought. As he continued to speak about what it is like to have cerebral palsy, the effort to hear his words was made considerably easier because of the interesting things he had to say.
The second oldest of seven children born to Don and Pat DiJulia said he doesn’t criticize people who complain about trivial matters even though it would be easy to understand why he might be so inclined.
“Everybody is different,” he said. “Some people complain because it’s easier to do that rather than do something about it.
“That doesn’t bother me. Well, maybe a real little bit, depending on what it is. But I’m not going to compare my life to theirs. I just shrug it off as that they don’t really know me and my day-to-day life. But I don’t know their day-to-day life, either.”
Perhaps this attitude is what helped earn DiJulia the Tom Gola Award last month at the archdiocesan CYO Hall of Fame Dinner. The award is presented annually to someone who embodies faith and courage.
DiJulia relies on Para-Transit as he navigates to and from venues. His favorite place – outside of watching the Phillies play at Citizen’s Bank Park, from where he celebrated the hometown’s World Series Game Five clincher in 2008 – is St. Joseph’s University.
For the past 27 years, Don DiJulia, Chris’ father, has served as SJU’s athletic director. A 1960 graduate of since-closed St. James High School, he and his wife Pat have been married for 42 years.
Like any big family, the DiJulias have experienced their own emotional elevator rides. But just because Chris has cerebral palsy doesn’t necessarily mean that that they consider his challenges a downer.
“Has it been hard? Yes, at times it has been,” said Don DiJulia. “We have always looked at all of our children as blessings. As for Chris, we try to treat him like all of our other kids. We treat him with love, and we challenge him to get it right when it comes to his struggles.”
As much as he tries to treat his children equally, it is obvious that Chris occupies a special part of his heart.
“He has developed a lot of friendships, and he has done a lot and has been to many places,” Don DiJulia said. “He manages to get around pretty well. Fortunately, he is very personable.”
That quality was evident when Chris lauded his parents and siblings for their support.
“I was born with this,” Chris DiJulia said. “I could not ask for a better group of people to spend my life with.”
His family feels the same way.
“There’s no question that he is very special to them,” said his father, explaining Chris’ relationship with his six siblings. “They have taught him a great deal, and he has taught them a great deal as well.”
Speaking of teaching, if Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel is in need of another bench coach, the younger DiJulia is volunteering his services.
“Hey,” said his father, “Chris is Charlie’s best advisor.”
Yet another example of how Chris DiJulia is just like everybody else.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.