Marching band member uses passion to overcome disability

Robby Powers marches during practice for the Marching Chippewas at the Jack Saunders Marching Field in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Oct. 2, 2017. Powers credits marching band as the thing that keeps him active- which is important because if he gains too much weight, his prosthetic leg will not be able to support him.

On the day Robby Powers was born, his doctors faced a terrible realization: to save this baby's life they would have to amputate his left leg.  

Amputate or die. 

"My leg was a lump of dead tissue, so the doctors had to cut mom open," Powers said.

The reason for Powers' amputation was a blood clot, which formed in his left leg in utero. He spent the first two months of his life in the hospital. At the time, he wasn't breathing or urinating properly, he said — a rough start for a baby.

In fact, he still deals with complications from his early childhood. 

“My right kidney is basically failing,” Powers said. “It’s working at about 10 percent, maybe less right now. I don’t need it. It just makes things a little more difficult.” 

Though the Brighton freshman began life with only his right leg, that didn't stop him from joining marching band – a requirement for any student pursuing a music degree. Now he plays in Central Michigan University's marching band trumpet section. 

“I’d be doing it anyway even if it wasn’t required, but I enjoy the program so much," Powers said. "I’ve always enjoyed the vibe (and) the connections you make with people.”

Family, friends and music

Powers has been pursuing music since he was a little kid. He recalls singing selections from his favorite musicals such as “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang,” “The Music Man” and “Mary Poppins” while walking to his bus stop.

“Ever since I was three, I’ve been obsessed with watching musicals,” Powers said. “I was a total music geek.”

Powers has been surrounded by music his entire life. His dad, who plays guitar and sings, has eight brothers and sisters — all of whom are musically inclined. That includes an uncle who plays bass, another uncle who plays saxophone, an aunt who plays flute and another uncle who "plays harmonica like a beast," Powers said.

On his mom’s side of the family, influences are just as prevalent. His cousins play french horn, snare drum, oboe, trombone and one was a high school drum major. Everyone on her side of the family, Powers said, sings "pretty dang good." 

Powers also mentioned his aunt who "is a music teacher; she plays piano and accompanies a choir in Southfield. We’re very musically-oriented," he said.

The students who make up the trumpet section of CMU’s marching band are a big reason why Powers is loving his time on the field. 

“If you met this trumpet section, you’d laugh your butt off. These guys are so funny, they’re great people,” Powers said. “The section leader is fantastic. I thought Brighton was good and then I came here and was like ‘these guys are great.' Being a part of something that’s a little bit bigger than me is big reason why I stay motivated. These guys are great and I aspire to be as good as they are.”

Trumpet section leader Andrew Jensen said Powers motivates them just as much as they motive him. He can crack a joke every once in awhile, too.

“The energy he brings, the amount of work he does on a daily basis ... you just want to do better when he’s around,” Jensen said. “His attitude is so great on the field, and it’s great to be around.”

Jensen said Powers' personality and character are what stand out the most about him.

“Just having him around is always a good experience,” Jensen said. “He’s hilarious on the field.  When we have long days, whether that’s 12 hours of band on Saturday, or every day of practice, he’s always working hard. (Powers) does everything he can to not let his leg affect his marching.”

As far as being the trumpet section leader some day, Jensen said it’s almost guaranteed.

“He could totally do it,” He said. “He has the musical ability to lead the rehearsals and he has the experience of being a drum major in high school. He has all the qualities that would make him a good choice for it.”

If it weren’t for music, Powers doesn’t know what else he would be doing.

“When I was little, I wanted to be a professional baseball player," he said. "(But) I was like ‘there’s no way that would ever happen’.”

Following graduation, Powers wants to be involved in music somehow. He's unsure about exactly what direction that will lead him in. 

“I know for a fact I want to be involved with music," Powers said. "I’ve always had a dream of being a band director at a high school or a college. I’m only a freshman so I’m just going to take my time and see where it takes me.”

Powers' love for music

Family friend Deb Kuptz gave trumpet lessons to Powers from seventh grade through high school. She said Powers was easy to teach because of his enthusiasm.

“It was pretty obvious he had passion and drive to get better,” Kuptz said. “He can look at a piece of music and memorize it so quickly, and have a good understanding of how it goes so fast. It’s incredible.”

Powers was able to give Kuptz a “fresh set of eyes” for music and inspire her with his story.

“I learned from him to always be open to new music and new things,” Kuptz said. “He tries to learn and grow as a musician and always get better.”

Powers knows he impacts people with his life story, but at the end of the day, he says he's just a music geek from Brighton.

“I’m happy to be an inspiration to people," Powers said. "But I’m just me.”

Contributions to this story were made by staff photographer Josie Norris.


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