I stood in a cool room in Sacramento, California -- the air
conditioning providing much needed relief from the 95 degree July sun.
However, that relief did little to stop the qualms in my heart.
As a student with a disability (cerebral palsy) I have always been a
fierce advocate for myself -- fighting for special accommodations when
necessary. But in terms of disabled peers, I was often alone in my quest
Until last year, there were no other students in my high school or
grade school who had any sort of a physical disability. This was sort of
an odd feeling. I had to accept an "able-bodied" lifestyle, which in
reality didn't exist.
Don't get me wrong. I have plenty of friends, but really ran into
problems with the girls. Try as I might, I could never shake the stigma of
"there goes the guy on crutches with the really bad gait." But being your
average high hormone teenager, I didn't stop trying.
Needless to say, life was pretty good. In fact, with all the things I
could do on my own, I often forgot I even had a disability. That is, until
one week last summer when my life changed forever.
I found myself alone at the 12th annual California Youth Forum for
people with Disabilities. Waiting for the other delegates to arrive from
all over California, the thought came to me that I've never seen this many
disabled people before. I didn't know it then, but it dawned on me later
that what I really needed was a bridge. I needed something to help connect
my able-bodied past, with my more realistic disabled future.
In looking for a structure to this bridge, I let my eyes pan around
the room, anxious for someone to interact with.
That's when I saw her.
Maybe she appealed to me through her vivid smile, or perhaps because
she was the most beautiful girl in the room. More likely though, I was
attracted to her because she didn't seem to have a physical disability.
This was not surprising, as it seemed to fit my able-bodied lifestyle.
Whatever the reason, I walked towards her completely unaware that my new
"bridge" had just gained a foundation.
Her name was Marcie Johnson. She flashed me a smile as we started
talking, and soon the conversation turned to our disabilities. I was right
-- Marcie's disability was not readily apparent to the casual observer.
She was hard of hearing due to a genetic disorder. It didn't take long
though to completely forget that fact. Marcie is in the top five of her
senior class in high school, one of the many facts that surprised me. As
the week wore on I learned more about Marcie, both academically and
athletically. She was an established cross-country runner.
At the halfway point of the conference, I was able to sit down and
reflect. I realized that Marcie was the first person in a long time that
could really relate to me. I'm deeply involved in writing on high school
sports for my school, so I know many different athletes. But there are
very few athletes that can relate to me. After all, how can somebody who
can dunk a basketball, relate to me on crutches? It was different with
Marcie though. As an athlete with a disability, Marcie could understand
where I was coming from, and where I was trying to go.
Then it dawned on me. I wasn't trying to go anywhere -- in fact I was
only succeeding in going backwards. I finally realized that I could be
successful without trying to adapt to be part of an able-bodied culture. I
had been around able-bodied people for so long, I forgot what it was like
to just be me.
Watching Marcie and the other delegates at this conference, I wondered
if I had let down the disabled community. And for what? So girls could
dump me, so people could abandon me? No. I had had enough of that.
I looked up, and as I watched Marcie dance to a song she probably
couldn't hear, a single solitary tear rolled down my cheek. For I realized
then that being disabled is not something to deny, its something to ACCEPT,
as best as one can.
Reading this, Marcie may be surprised that I attribute this success to
her. However, by being a dynamic scholar and athlete Marcie has taught me
one thing -- the ability to believe.
On the flagstone of that bridge I built lies Marcie's motto, "I will win."
I will win, and that is why my friendship with Marcie is one bridge
that I'll never be able to burn.
[ by David Wolfe (email@example.com) -- from 'Heartwarmers' ]
All Rights Reserved.