Jimmy Valdes had a lot of things going for him: a good job, family and friends who loved and cared for him, and an optimistic outlook on life.
But he had his challenges, too. Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when he was 4 years old, Jimmy says he thought that one milestone in many people’s lives – falling in love and getting married – might be out of reach for him.
But Jimmy has always defied expectations. And in the end, he even defied his own.
A solid start in life
Jimmy credits his parents for getting him out and about as a kid with how well he was able to transition through his school years, first at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, N.Y., where all students were disabled, and then at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., where Jimmy was one of just a few disabled students on campus.
At first, he says, he felt uncomfortable in college. He took his first English exam and didn’t do well—but then he found out some of his classmates did a lot worse.
“I realized if those guys did worse than I did, then absolutely I belong here,” he laughs.
He went on to graduate magna cum laude.
For care receiver to care giver
Soon after college, Jimmy landed a job with CBS Sports, and since1995, he’s managed the entire sports logging team.
But Jimmy’s parents, who had continued to care for him into adulthood, began to decline. Jimmy’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His father, who drove him most places and frequently waited all day at CBS until the end of Jimmy’s shifts, slowed down.
“One morning in 2001, he came into my room and he says, ‘Jimmy, I can’t do it anymore. That’s it. I can’t do it anymore,’” Jimmy says. “About a year and change later he passed away. I truly think it’s because he gave everything he could.”
Looking for love
After his parents’ deaths, Jimmy’s life went on, but it was a little lonely.
“I dated over the years,” Jimmy says. “There wasn’t anything long-lasting.”
And then there was Julie.
“It really is the truth that when you least expect it, that’s when it happens, absolutely,” Jimmy says.
Julie Stewart lived in New Hampshire. She’d taken notice of funny comments Jimmy left on a mutual friend’s blog; that mutual friend connected Julie and Jimmy on Facebook. The two started chatting and met, eventually, in person when Julie had to travel to New York for a funeral. Jimmy offered her a place to stay.
“We had a nice dinner,” Jimmy says. “We went upstairs and started watching TV, and we didn’t get to sleep until, like, 4 in the morning. We just stayed up the whole night talking to each other about so many different things.
“It just clicked,” Jimmy says. “To me, it clicked immediately.”
After Julie returned to New Hampshire, the two kept talking and emailing. Julie visited Jimmy again. And when Jimmy’s roommate made plans to move out, Julie offered to move in.
“I moved into New York originally to be a roommate, to do cooking and cleaning, basically,” Julie says. “We just clicked so well at some point that just morphed into dating. I actually cannot tell you when we started dating. It just happened.”
Jimmy’s enthusiasm for life—and everything in it—drew Julie in. For Jimmy, Julie’s kind, genuine spirit inspired love.
Three years later, Jimmy asked Julie’s father for permission to marry her. In December 2014, Jimmy took Julie to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center—an annual tradition of theirs—and asked her to marry him.
The two were married in June this year.
“Everyone in our life, friends that are still here, friends that are gone, family that are still with us, family that are gone, they all played a part of this, making this possible for me,” Jimmy says. “It didn’t happen by chance, you know. Everyone had a role in this.”
Be a good person, Jimmy says. Work hard. Do the best you can. Be grateful.
Life will be good.
“I’m not smarter than anyone. I’m not better than anyone,” Jimmy says. “I just kind of try to treat people the way that you’d like them to treat you. If you’re lucky, and if the stars line up the right way, you’ll meet a Julie Stewart. I truly believe that you’ll find your soul mate. I’m so glad that I found my soul mate when I did. I’m so grateful to her. It’s the biggest blessing in my life, bar none.”
How do you love—and live—without limits? Share your story—and get inspired by others—at mda.org/liveunlimited.
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