Zachary Fenell tells how he overcame no expectations to fulfill his potential as a marathoner.

Overcoming No Expectations

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Cerebral palsy (CP) too often gets associated with bleak or no expectations. Succeeding the diagnosis, the dreary outlook begins. Doctors warn new moms and dads, “Your son may never talk.” Your daughter could never walk.” The no expectations precedent starts. Said pattern consequently causes a harmful impact.

Yes, admittedly receiving no expectations offers a few positives. You appreciate milestones better. I cannot fathom the joy parents experience hearing their child’s first words after told initially she might never talk. Yet accompanying greater appreciation a danger emerges. You become increasingly likely to settle.

Just reaching the milestone becomes the victory. Expressing further aspirations seems unneeded. You already beat the odds! However, such an attitude limits. You fail to fulfill your full potential because you lack the vision to visualize the possible.

Gee! I am sounding like an echo to all those motivational Youtube videos I watch. Nevertheless I am not regurgitating wisdoms I heard. Rather I am speaking based off personal experiences overcoming no expectations.

Setting the Foundation

Curiously enough I received my cerebral palsy diagnosis later than usual, around five years old. Therefore my introduction to no expectations differed from the previously mentioned scenarios. No doctor cautioned my parents “Your son might not walk” since at the time I had been walking two years! Instead no expectations found me disguised as safety concerns.

Nobody expected me to keep up alongside my competitive and physically stronger classmates. Ergo once I entered seventh grade, I stopped actively participating in gym class. Similarly, no one expected me to maintain pace walking beside my peers. Accordingly, I missed the eighth grade Washington DC class trip.

Both abovementioned examples and others I detail inside my cerebral palsy memoir Off Balanced. Oppose to reciting these additional instances, I will make my point. Perchance you wish to read about the other occurrences, checkout Off Balanced (available on the Kindle* and Nook).

Persistently encountering no expectations takes a toll. Your thought process adopts a negative path. Concentration targets what you deem unable to do. Changing focus requires an intermediate.


This intermediary can vary. Perhaps you see someone similar to your situation obtaining success doing an activity you prior believed impossible for you. Maybe watching a documentary sets your ambition ablaze. Alternatively, reading a book could trigger the same effect. The latter began my own fight against no expectations.

Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy by John W. Quinn altered my life. John’s achievements throughout his two-decade naval career left me wowed. Furthermore John’s story inspired me to find something which would challenge my physical capabilities. The exact undertaking originally stood unknown.

Then I happened to spend an evening among two friends training to complete a triathlon. Due to poor balance, I failed to ever master a bicycle. “But maybe I could do a marathon” I mused. So I asked. “How long is a marathon?”

“26.2 miles” my friend answered. Immediately the negativity cultivated through a lifetime facing no expectations flared. I dismissed the notion. “I cannot do a marathon. After all, I have cerebral palsy.” Still motivated though, I internally compromised. “I will do a HALF marathon!”

Half Mistaken!

Before James Schleicher introduced me to a realm beyond no expectations I thought my physical peak would be finishing a half marathon.

Victorious after completing 13.1 miles

Gradually I increased my endurance, until eventually achieving the lesser but more sensible 13.1-mile goal. Within the moment I felt I hit my muscular peak. Considering the difficulty I endured each step the last mile, my body appeared to validate my notion. I cannot do a full marathon.

A “certainty” my good buddy James Schleicher persisted I defy. Providing a second intermediary, James introduced me to a realm beyond no expectations. Following along my half marathon preparation caused James to believe I possessed the strength to double the deed and conquer the entire 26.2 miles.

Nervously I caved to James’ persistence and committed to give the 2017 Towpath Marathon an honest attempt. Most people seemingly held little to no expectations I might triumph. Heck, I experienced doubts. “Am I really ready?” A definite answer only surfaced 11 hours, 40 minutes, and 31 seconds into race day. Yes!

Nearing the end James suggested returning to the Towpath Marathon. I eagerly devoted myself to repeat the feat. Arguably a bit overly ambitious, I alone raised expectations and vowed to finish the 2018 Towpath Marathon underneath 10 hours. While I trained the months beforehand, I noticed a peculiar feeling. Pressure formerly unfamiliar to me, expectation!

Overcoming No Expectations

Ultimately I failed to finish underneath 10 hours, missing the mark by a mere eight minutes! Nonetheless I avoided feeling like a failure. I successfully overcame a debilitating presence, low to no expectations.

Through sharing I aim to empower you. Enable you to also overcome low to no expectations in effort to realize your fullest potential. Maybe this blog post can act as the intermediary that will challenge you. What do you say? Comment below, naming the achievement you desire to pursue. I am here to support you and offer advice.

Until our next communication, remember. Don’t blend in. Blend out!


*Disclaimer: Links to Off Balanced’s Amazon sales page are a part of the Amazon LLC Associate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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3 responses on “Overcoming No Expectations

  1. Gene Morell

    Nice job Zachary on the 2nd Marathon! Incredible accomplishment and I know that it took a lot of long slow distance hours to train your heart /motor so that it could handle the task. In my view growing up with and going through life with CP is like the life of an elite athlete. But with CP this approach is part of every hour of every day and not just the 20-25 hours per week that the elite athlete must commit. As a pediatric orthotist for 40 plus years working with thousands of incredible people with CP, I see that the kids and adults that plug into physical activity over and above the institutions physical therapies are those that produce bodies that attain personal goals which humble the majority of the “able bodied population”, as you have!! Whatever able bodied might mean. Super well done, I am very glad for you and I hope your message as intended inspires many more to push their bodies.

    1. Zachary Fenell Post author

      Thank you for your kind words Gene. I like your perspective, seeing life with CP similar to life of an elite athlete, just with more commitment.

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