MIDWEST CITY — D.J. Dunn gave a sideways hug to Hannah Reynolds as they sat in the library of Monroney Junior High School for an interview. The two seventh-graders formed a bond last year, but with new schedules, they don't see each other as often.
They caught up on the usual middle school affairs — teachers, classes, sports. But D.J. was anxious. It was lunch hour and he was hungry. When the interview was over he quickly spun around and raced down the hall in his green wheelchair.
There's a lot to keep track of in the sixth grade, but the friendship between D.J. and Hannah stood out to one teacher. Hannah helped D.J. when he needed it, and with a summer between then and now, their friendship is receiving special recognition.
“I've given her a hug I don't know how many times,” D.J. said.
“I think it was every day,” Hannah responded.
D.J. has arthrogryposis, a disorder that results from a lack of muscle tissue around multiple joints. It can limit a person's strength, requiring a wheelchair or braces to move around.
He said he can walk with assistance, but spends most of his time in a chair. That's been his experience as far back as he can remember.
“I wasn't in a wheelchair until I was about 11 months old,” he said.
D.J. and Hannah met in Cindy Mikeman's geography class early in their sixth-grade school year. They developed a daily routine that started when he wanted to sit at a desk.
“D.J. would roll into the classroom, and he would transfer into a desk,” Mikeman said. “She would move his wheelchair to the other side of his desk.”
If he needed a book from his backpack, she would get it for him. They did classroom activities together, and if he got stuck on a problem, she would talk him through it, asking him questions to guide him to an answer.
“D.J. normally does his own work, but if he gets confused and doesn't get it, I can help him out,” Hannah said.
Their friendship grew outside Mikeman's classroom, too. At lunch, Hannah invited D.J. to eat with her and her friends. He made them laugh during every meal.
“He pretty much has been adopted into my friends group,” she said. “He has a bunch of best friends now.”
Making people laugh might be D.J.'s favorite hobby, he said. During the interview, while Hannah was talking about the new people she's meeting in middle school, he called her attention to a corner behind her and swung his elbows in circles when she wasn't looking.
“Are you dancing?” Hannah said, turning around. “You're dancing behind my back. That's what you're doing.”
He denied the allegation.
A few years ago, D.J. said, he was walking with braces, trying to build up his strength when he fell and broke a bone.
“My leg just snapped,” he said. “It just snapped right open.”
While that might make some people overly cautious of injuries, he's stays pretty active. He wins games of air hockey, and he loves playing basketball. When his team was down a few points at a recent game, he made a shot that ultimately helped them win.
“I said, ‘I'm not giving up,'” he said. “I put my shoulder out and threw the ball and swish.”
Last year he competed in a wheelchair race at Special Olympics Oklahoma. He practiced at school every morning when he was getting ready to compete.
“We would all go out to the hallway, and the kids would get so excited and they would cheer him on,” Mikeman said.
The friendship between D.J. and Hannah had a positive effect on everyone. Mikeman said the kindness between them spread through the classroom, encouraging others to be more positive.
In part, that's why she nominated Hannah for a $1,000 college scholarship from Kohl's Department Stores. Hannah said it came as a surprise when a package showed up at her house announcing she had won the award. Mikeman said she deserved it for her willingness to help anyone, but especially for her kindness toward D.J.
“She was just a helpful friend who wanted to do the right thing,” she said.
Mikeman has retired from teaching. D.J. and Hannah now have different lunch hours and classes on different floors, but they're still friends.
Toward the end of the interview D.J. leaned back in his wheelchair, effortlessly popping a wheelie.
“What are you doing?” Hannah said. “I wish I had my own wheelchair.”