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Brockton sisters pledge to rise from wheelchairs to walk for diplomas

The Pires twins of Brockton, born with cerebral palsy, are determined to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Longtime physical therapist Joanne Hahn (left) helped Tamara Pires rise from her wheelchair to strengthen her legs. Twin sister Samara is on the right.

B ROCKTON - The Pires sisters are clear about what they like, and what they want out of life, and for the past four years the twins have called the huge Brockton High School community their extended family.

The 17-year-old honor students adore math classes, attending sporting events such as football and soccer, and - like teenagers everywhere - they do plenty of hanging out with their multitudes of friends. Born with cerebral palsy and now using wheelchairs, the sisters have not let their disability deter them from living their lives to the fullest.

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Tamara and Samara are eagerly anticipating the prom, gushing about their dresses, and looking with excitement as the weeks rush by to the events of senior week, where every day is something special on the countdown to the end of school.

And then, of course, there is graduation, that vaunted moment when the struggle of the past four years moves into memory. So, on June 1, instead of rolling across the stage to collect hard-earned diplomas in their wheelchairs, the twins say they plan to walk.

The goal has required months of taxing physical therapy to strengthen their legs. Samara, who is recovering from her sixth surgery, said nothing will stop her from achieving that goal.

“Most people at Brockton High see us in wheelchairs, but some people know we can walk,’’ she said. “We want to show them that we can walk.’’

The siblings are much alike, but it’s easy to tell them apart. Younger Tamara, who has glasses, is more talkative. She said wants to attend Bridgewater State University for either forensic science or robotics.

Samara, who wears braces and is slightly more reserved, hopes to major in either accounting or fashion merchandising and has already been accepted to Fisher College. She said she’s keeping her options open.

“I’m the sweetheart,’’ announces Tamara, as she kids her sister, who is 5 minutes older. “I’m really focused, and I don’t like sharing.’’

Samara shrugs and smiles, rolling her eyes, taking the ribbing in stride: “I love to shop, and I just want to feel like any other teenager and not be different just because I’m in a wheelchair.’’

Tamara, who has had four surgeries, allowed visitors to watch a recent practice session where she slowly, and very deliberately, made her way down a suddenly silent high-school hallway just after the lunchtime crush of students disappeared.

“Can I get your hand for a minute?’’ she asked longtime physical therapist Joanne Hahn, loosening her grip on a pair of turquoise crutches.

Then she slipped and almost toppled over.

“Try to hug the wall,’’ Hahn advised, as Tamara righted herself, and then laboriously put one foot in front of the other.

Samara, who could not yet put weight on her legs, followed alongside her sister in her chair.

Hahn has been working with the girls since they were in second grade. She shares a close connection with them and said it was her goal for them to walk with crutches for graduation. She is so pleased they decided to meet it.

Saying goodbye in June will be bittersweet, said Hahn, who works for the school district. When you spend so much time together, you feel like family, she acknowledged.

“I can’t believe where the time went,’’ she said. “I will miss their beautiful, smiling faces.’’

Luisa Pires gave birth to her twins while on a trip to Brockton from Cape Verde to visit family. Luisa said she eventually made the decision to stay in the United States once it was clear how profound the girls’ physical challenges were, and the kind of medical attention they would need.

But now, all these years later, Tamara and Samara want to be independent and their mother said it’s almost impossible for her to let them go, even though she knows she must.

The thought brings tears as she tries to describe her concern about the help they will need. Still, she says, the girls are insistent. And she is proud of all they have achieved.

“I said, why can’t you go to college around here?’’ Luisa said. “And they told me, ‘Mommy, don’t cry. We can’t stay here forever.’ ’’

Money is tight, and Luisa said she is praying for scholarships. She is worried she can’t afford college for both girls, and is having trouble sleeping because of it. One day recently, that stress resulted in a trip to the emergency room.

“My dream for them was to have their education so they could be independent and responsible,’’ she says. “I wanted them to be married. I wanted grandkids.’’

The girls also wanted to visit Cape Verde for a graduation trip, but Luisa says she can no longer afford that, either. That brings more tears.

Dianne Tarmey, department head for Brockton High School’s special education department, has a soft spot for the Pires girls.

“I can’t say enough about them,’’ Tarmey said. “They are just typical teenage girls, the kind of kids you just love to have around.’’

“They are everywhere and involved in everything,’’ said principal Susan Szachowicz, who jokes with them, and gives them a hard time as she would any other students.

“They are at the prom and out on the dance floor,’’ Szachowicz said. “You never hear them complain. You never see them without a smile.’’

Tamara and Samara say they have that special twin synergy where they can finish each other’s sentences and almost hear each other’s thoughts.

Sometimes they fight, Tamara said. “Then we make right up.’’

Both agree their time at Brockton High was the best experience ever and it will be very difficult to say goodbye and move on to life’s next phase. It will also be unusual to be going their separate ways after spending all their time together.

Life will change, yes, they say, but adventure beckons, and both say they are ready.

“Four years went by fast, though,’’ Samara said softly, as students bustled by.

Tamara was quiet, too: “It was like a party, wasn’t it?’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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