Marcie Johnson

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 for greatness.

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 ( -- from 'Heartwarmers' ]


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