August 26, 2013

What is Bravery?

Bravery is a daunting term, what exactly characterizes bravery? I have been thinking a lot about this idea as I have been preparing for my speech at the United Nations in September, and it is a term that is difficult to define.  I think so often we believe that to be brave we must perform an extraordinary act of courage, but have we ever stopped to think it is the little things we do on a daily basis that make us brave? The daily obstacles that we overcome, the adversity that we face and the people we choose to be.

I think so often in life people feel that in order to have an act of bravery you must fight in our military, stand up and be an advocate for a national or international campaign, have an extraordinary act, but what about the simple acts?  I have come to realize over the past five years that bravery has many faces, our armed service men and women portray acts of bravery as they fight for our country and our freedom, our children portray acts of bravery as they stand up for their peers, every single one of us portray acts of bravery in our daily lives and each one carries it’s own face.

For nearly six years I have been classified as an individual with a physical disability however, I believe that everyone has a “disability” of some sort.  Mine is evident, you really can’t miss the four wheels that get me about on a daily basis, however, in life I have learned that some of the most disabling disabilities are the one’s that you can’t see.  We all live with some form of “disability,” whether it be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, familial, and the list goes on and where I believe bravery steps in is when we decide that regardless of what our “disability” is we aren’t going to let it stop us from living, from aspiring to achieve our goals, and from continuing to push ourselves one step further.  In fact, sometimes that is the most courageous act of bravery there is, not allowing circumstance to define us and not allowing fear to hold us back.

There is this mindset that I had as a child.  I believed in order to make a difference and change the world you had to have a grand gesture; you had to be a politician, a CEO of a company, or someone famous.  I grew up with a father that told my sister’s and I as he tucked us into bed at night, and said our bedtime prayers, “You are the best, you can make a difference, and you can change the world.”

For years I had a hard time understanding how it is that I could change the world, I wasn’t a politician, I wasn’t the CEO of a company and I certainly wasn’t famous.  Then, I realized that although those individuals may have the most immediate ability to change the world and make a difference, we all have that ability.  We all have the ability to be brave and fight for what we believe in, the ability to live our daily lives with passion and heart, the ability to rise above fear and push forward.  We have the ability to smile at a by passer, free of judgment, just a simple smile to a fellow human being, as you never know what that one smile might do for their day.  We have the ability to hold the door for someone, help someone in need across the street and most of all let go of judgment and hate for people just because they don’t believe the same things you do.  Those simple acts our courageous, they make a difference, they change the world and they are acts of bravery.  They are things that each one of us is capable of doing on a daily basis, walking in someone else’s shoes for a moment, simply letting go of judgment and hate, we as fellow human beings can be brave every day, for ourselves and others around us.

So what is the definition of bravery? I don’t think there is one.  Bravery carries many faces and we all have the ability to portray acts of bravery, for some that might be simply getting out of bed one morning because in that moment life just might feel too difficult, for others it might be acting as an advocate for a family member who is ill, or simply being there for them.  Bravery simply cannot be defined, but it can be challenged.  This is my challenge for myself and for everyone else; live your life with passion, with heart, free of fear, hate and judgment, be courageous, and know that in any given moment you can make a difference and you can change the world by your simple actions.

August 20, 2013

Nothing Is Impossible

Today I got one step closer to a dream of mine, that quite honestly, I never knew if I would be able to achieve.  Today I went and met with an orthotist and started the process of getting fitted for my customized leg braces.  This dream is slowly becoming a reality and there are so many emotions wrapped up with that.

On January 21, 2008 I walked into a clinic and I never walked out.  Since that day I have dreamed of what it would be like to walk again, I even had a period in my life that I battled on a daily basis of the “what if.”  What if I canceled that doctor appointment that day?  What if I rolled back over that morning and never went in, what would my life be like?

However, it was in those moments that I realized my life would never be the same, and not in a good way.  That day brought me to rock bottom in many ways, but that day also lifted me up in many more.  Ways that I don’t think anything else in life could, and because of that day my strength, my determination and most of all my faith were tested.  That day changed me and no matter how hard the days, months, and years to follow have been my life wouldn’t be the same and that day truly became my blessing in disguise.  You see, sometimes in order to appreciate the beauty of life we have to hit our rock bottom.

That day also lead me to today.  A day that allowed me to truly believe anything is possible.  It has been nearly six years and I have continuously been told I will never walk again, I will never regain function again and although one of those may be true, I know that today brought me closer to “walking” again.  I understand that I am paralyzed, I have accepted that I am stable in my condition and that I can’t regain function however, I have not accepted that I won’t ever “walk” again.

Five years ago I was opened up to a new world after my paralysis, a world that is all about individuals showcasing amazing ability, a world that I hold much pride and honor to be a part of, that world is the Paralympic world.  I remember the day that I was exposed to it just as much as I remember the day that I was paralyzed, because just like that day in January changed me April 8, 2008, my first swim practice back changed me as well, in fact it didn’t just change me, it saved me.  Since April 8, 2008 I have been opened up to a world that is limitless, a world that is all about pushing your body to new limits, a world that’s heart and soul is to inspire a generation.

What my swimming has given me is the ability to see past barriers, the ability to push forward and understand that though I may never be able to regain function, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do everything I did before and that includes “walking.” It may not be the same, and that is fine, but today I got to look at the materials, envision what my braces will look like, and for the first time in nearly six years, think of the simplest of thing as to what I want to wear the first time I take a “step” again.

I will admit, I am a bit of a girly girl and adjusting to fashion in a wheelchair isn’t the easiest thing.  I am 5 feet 9 inches tall and I would be lying if I didn’t say I miss being able to wear clothes that are designed with walking in mind, I would also be lying if I said that today I didn’t keep rattling through my mind thinking of the key things that I have missed being able to wear for years.  It may seem simple, it may even seem silly but to be able to have that ever so simple piece back and to be able to envision it for the first time in almost six years it something that is nearly impossible to put into words.

Today, was one step closer to my ever so simple dream of “walking” again and that is something that was made possible because of all of the overwhelming love and support I have received from individuals far and wide, because I can’t do this alone.  I still have a hard time imagining what it will be like to take my first steps again, but today I got to experience something that brought me that much closer to it and that is something I will never forget.

I guess today I wish I could have gone back in time and told the “me” nearly six years ago that it will all be okay, because today it became ever so prevalent, yet again, that as long as you never stop believing nothing, and I mean nothing, is impossible.

August 09, 2013

A Dream You Dream Together is Reality

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream, but a dream you dream together is reality.”

This quote is one that I hold near and dear to my heart for many reasons.  The major one being that in my life I truly believe those words.  We spend so much time dreaming and for some dreaming even brings a sense of fear, but there is something so incredibly special about not only dreaming but also sharing those dreams with another.

I used to often say be careful who you share your dreams with, because unfortunately in life there are always doubters, but then there is the other side, the beauty that comes with sharing your dreams with another.  Every now and then throughout our lives if we are so lucky we find another, someone we trust, someone who respects us and someone that will do nothing but encourage us to fulfill our dreams, someone that holds our dreams as close to their heart as we do ours.  Then, there are the times that we find not just an individual but a group of people, a community, a family of individuals who we are able to share our dreams with.  It is in those moments that we realize how many people play a part in making our dreams a reality.

You see, in London I achieved a dream, one of my ultimate dreams, but it wasn’t a dream that I dreamt alone and I certainly didn’t turn it into a reality alone.  It takes another, it takes someone we love, a community of people, a family, people far and wide, some who we may not know, to come together and help push us towards taking that dream and turning it into a reality.

As kids we dream, we dream of being a professional athlete, a business owner, an astronaut, an actress or actor, or maybe even the President of the United States, our world is full of dreams.  Then, as we get older we find ourselves at time losing sight of those dreams, having others around us tell us that our dreams are too grand. When we as adults stop dreaming and losing sight of our dreams we risk losing that innocence that we had as children.  Sure, as you get older reality sets in but who is to say that reality can’t be your dreams that you once dreamt?

We have these hopes and dreams for what our life will be, what we will be, how we will leave our mark on this world, but why does it seem that with age people stop dreaming?

At 20 years of age I created my dream of Paralympic Gold and it was then that I realized I couldn’t dream it alone, I needed the support of others, I needed a community of people around me who shared that dream with me in order to succeed.  Now, I am 24 and chasing the most personal dream of them all for myself, my dream of walking.

Some days, it is hard to consider it a dream because it seems too simple.  I walked for over 18 years of my life.  I woke up every morning and I put one foot in front of the other and I never thought twice about it, it was what I knew.  Now, something that for so long of my life was second nature is one of my biggest dreams and that is a hard thing to explain.  In some ways it seems hard to consider it a dream knowing how freely I was able to do it for majority of my life.  But now, this dream, much like my dream of Paralympic Gold, I know in order to achieve I can’t dream it alone, I need to share this dream with loved ones, with a community, with all of you in order to make it a reality.

I often talk about dreams, and quite honestly I could write about dreams everyday, but I believe it is the ability to dream that gets us out of bed every morning.  The ability to aspire to achieve greatness, and no matter what the age continue to chase our dreams. The reality is until we dream we don’t know our full potential because it is those dreams, simple or grand, that push us each and every day.  If we are lucky enough maybe, just maybe, we will find another to share those dreams with and together it will become a reality.

August 01, 2013

Never Let Fear Keep You From Believing

There is a quote that I love, it is an excerpt out of a Jodi Hills book and it reads…

“As I get older, I know my summers may not last forever, but I’m not going to stop believing in the chances that rise with each mornings sun.  And I know it matters… it always does… the things we do, the things we say, the lives we lead, and the hearts we touch.”

It is easy to get lost in life.  It is easy to lose hope and most of to stop believing.  It is even easier to allow fear to take over.  Although, I believe that in every moment throughout life, good and bad, we can find not only hope, but also belief for what tomorrow has to offer.

Throughout my lifetime I have had countless moments when I have wanted to get lost in fear.  Moments that I have wanted to allow that fear to consume me.  In those moments I honestly don’t think anyone would have blamed me should I have allowed the fear to take over, but I quickly learned that fear is one of the most paralyzing emotions of them all.

We all have fear; we have fear for what tomorrow may bring, fear for our loved ones, and most of all fear of the unknown.  When I was paralyzed I was fearful for what this meant for my life.  I couldn’t see beyond those four wheels and I had no idea what it meant for me moving forward.  It was the unknowns that left me with the most fear.  Although, I quickly learned again that the fear was more paralyzing then my actual situation.

You see bad things happen, unfortunately, it is inevitable, but they don’t have to take our ability to believe in the beauty of tomorrow.  We all have struggles in our lives, moments that leave us fearful, moments that leave us unsure, and moments that steal not only our ability to be hopeful but also our ability to believe.  Although even in those moments if we dig deep we still have the ability to believe.  That is an emotion that no matter how big the storm we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of because once the storm passes and the skies clear, we can find a way to be thankful for even the biggest storms because the sunshine that comes after the clouds clear is unlike anything you could ever imagine.  You just have to believe that the clouds will in fact clear and be ready for the sunshine when it comes.

So remember, no matter how hard, no matter how unfair, and no matter how scary life may get, don’t ever allow the fear to consume you because the moment it does it takes a piece of you.

I was fearful when I launched my campaign “Against All Odds – The Journey to New Mobility” I was scared because it was new, it forced me to be vulnerable in a way I have never been before.  Now, I am not only hopeful but I believe.  I believe because I have been blessed with support from individuals far and wide, some whom I have never met.  Those individuals have helped me believe.  They have helped me remember that it does matter… the things we do, the things we say, and the hearts that we touch.  Most of all they have helped remind me that we cannot live in fear of the unknown because that is when we miss out on the beauty of tomorrow.