Chaz Gregory was born with mild paralysis of his right side, but his parents never allowed him to say he couldn't do something because of his disability.

Chaz Gregory was born with mild paralysis of his right side, but his parents never allowed him to say he couldn't do something because of his disability.

And now the 17-year-old Tremont High School senior is doing things no one ever thought he could.

"He was never allowed to say the words, 'I can't,'" said his mother, Teri Gregory, who has watched her son go from struggling with simple tasks like buttoning a shirt to thriving as a race car driver, football player and youth counselor.

"He's just very determined," she said. "He puts 110 percent into everything he does."

And the list of things he does seems to keep growing, amazing those who didn't think he'd be doing them after a grim diagnosis when Chaz was just a few months old.

"At six months, we could tell he wasn't using his right hand," Teri Gregory said.

Doctors discovered he suffered a stroke at birth, which caused neurological damage.

His early years were filled with obstacles because of the paralysis, including tripping when he walked, trouble with fine motor skills and range of motion.

But his parents decided those challenges would not determine the kind of life their son would lead.

"We chose not to accept the bad," she said.

That can-do attitude has pushed the Pekin resident to compete as a linebacker on his high school football team and as an open-wheel race car driver who cruises around the track in a 1,200 cc outlaw sprint car in the Mid-American Outlaw Sprint Series.

Chaz recently was chosen to be a spokesman for the series and will soon give speeches at area schools on the importance of setting goals and achieving them, no matter what the obstacles.

"I want to be a role model to others," Chaz said. "I think God has shown me that he wants me to use this. I think it's my purpose for my life."

Through the racing program, Chaz plans to bring his car and positive message to school children next month.

When he was younger, his parents would make him use his right side and continued his physical therapy.

"They would push me," he said. "My dad pushed me a lot when I was little. It came to be a habit."

Now in his third year of football, he continues to lift weights and does strength training.

"It's been hard," Chaz said. "I get tired more than others do. It's a little bit harder to tackle someone."

But he says the support from his family and his faith have kept him motivated.

"With my faith, I can do anything I put my mind to," Chaz said.

His father, Kevin Gregory, said when he was told about his son's disability, he thought any chance Chaz had for participating in sports was gone.

"We initially thought a lot of his sports or physical ability would be cut very short," he said. "He's almost like an odds-breaker to me. He's always proven me wrong. He's always been determined to prove everybody wrong."

Chaz began racing go-karts when he was 13. He has won dozens of races and travels to different states to compete, finishing second in points in 2005 and 2006 at the Spoon River Speedway.

Recently, Chaz was named rookie of the year through the sprint series, and he received an award during a banquet Oct. 18.

The high-speed hobby has made both his parents proud and his mother a little more than nervous.

"You're always nervous," she said. "You get the butterflies until they're off that track."

And through it all, Chaz and his parents keep moving forward and refuse to use the word "can't."

Chaz said his experiences have given him a perspective different from most people and some advice to give to those who may be in a similar situation.

"Always seek God," he said. "You've got to have that faith. Never give up. If you accept the good and not the bad, you'll move right along and you'll be just fine."

Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or