Raymond Okuda is a second-year member in Phoenix. The resident of Elizabeth, New Jersey is marching despite a disability that would put many others out of commission. Not only does he march, he marches in the guard, an unusual position for someone with two foot-long steel rods in their back.
As Raymond tells it, "I have two foot-long steel poles attached to my spine with hooks and wires. Most of my vertebrae are fused together in one solid bone. I've had scoliosis for most my entire life and it's been tracked by doctors since I was in elementary school." Scoliosis is curvature of the spine. His back is shaped like an 'S.' "I had a scoliosis spinal fusion was I was 16. The doctors straightened out my spine and fused the vertebrae together and attached the two steel poles to keep everything in place." "Most people who have the disease have a deformation. People who have the surgery lose a lot of their flexibility and range of motion. I was lucky with mine, because I can still bend a lot. I still have most of the flexibility I had before the surgery." "After surgery, I was given a list of things I'm not allowed to do, such as bungee jumping and skydiving. If something breaks, there's an additional two-year recovery process and I would have to start over." Raymond spins both flag and rifle for the Phoenix guard. "The instructors try to write the work so it doesn't put too much strain on my back. Sometimes, there are things I can't do, so the work either gets rewritten or I sit out. They'll work out a transition so I exit gracefully. I'm okay with that and I do what I can." "I've yet to meet anyone else in drum corps who has scoliosis. I try to compensate for my disability and make it as little a problem as possible," he said. "You can't help the cards you're dealt and you've just got to work with them. "To others having physical difficulties, I would encourage them to just push through it. It might seem hard and frustrating at first, but if you push through it, it won't be so hard and difficult. Don't be afraid to go for it. If you want to do it bad enough, there's a way to do it."