Before I was born, doctors predicted I would most likely die, or, if not, I would be entirely dependent on my parents and would struggle with even the simple blessing of breathing. Spinal dysgenisus is a peculiar handicap to have as no one seems to know what it is. In all my research the only thing I’ve ever found on it was Segmental Spinal Dysgenisus (SSD) which is similar to, but not the same as, what I have. I am, for all intents and purposes, paralyzed from the waist down with full feeling in my legs. This is a result of the T-12 section of my spinal cord not forming all the way, setting up an effective roadblock in between my brain and my legs. Try explaining that to a five year old.
As strange as it may sound, five years of age was how old I was when I finally understood I couldn’t walk. Only when I started kindergarten wearing full-length leg braces and using a walker did I realize how different I was from my peers. However, it was when my little sister began to walk that I figured out that I wasn’t just a slow learner. That I was just…different.
Growing up with four, highly competitive older siblings and a tough-as -nails little sister resulted in a strong, almost instinctive, competitive drive. Developing my abilities in music, trying to see if I could get through the Suzuki Method books faster than my friends , studying intricate chess patterns so I could crush my next opponent and attempting to keep up with my brother’s reading level all taught me the importance of hard work and dedication. I had a wonderful family, loving parents, adoring siblings, what more could I want? I knew I was loved, I never doubted that, and yet, regardless to all the advantages I had, I this misconception that I was alone.
I felt alone, utterly and completely alone in my disability. I felt (as we all must feel sometime in our lives) that nobody could possibly understand what I was going through. I distanced myself from the other children, and instead of engaging in social times, i.e. recess and hanging out after school, I more or less sat in a corner and wallowed in self-pity.
My mother tried for years to get me to sign up for wheelchair basketball, but I resisted, thinking that I was probably way different than the other kids and that it would just be weird. I had never met another wheelchair-bound person like myself, and in my microcosmic and introverted view of the world, I imagined myself to be all alone. Finally, my mother took matters into her own hands and signed me up. I was apprehensive the first time, unsure of what to expect. I needn’t have worried. The basketball team was well set up and the people welcomed me with open arms. I met other kids who understood me better than I ever imagined possible and I came to the realization that I was not alone, that I could, and would, get over this trial. As a direct result of basketball, I started realizing all I could do, rather than what I could not.
Instead of just seeing my own weaknesses, I began to notice my team members’ strengths. Instead of solely focusing on how I could win, I thought more of how to improve the team as a whole. Playing on a team made me look for what people were capable of, to see their potential, rather than their shortcomings. And as I took notice of others I started to see my talents and my strengths, realizing for the first time my true potential.
All it took was the sacrifice of time, effort, and resources of my first coach, Dean Oba. Because of a wonderful wheelchair-bound rocket scientist who dedicated his time and resources coaching a bunch of handicapped kids, I was able to find myself and start living up to my potential. Giving back to your community, wherever you live, is an essential step, in your life and the lives of others, to being happy. Seemingly small acts of service add up in a big way-you never know how your actions may impact and influence the life of another. Now, I am trying to do the same with others.
As one of the Event Captains on my debate team I have dedicated hours of after school time to help coach other students in the art of debate. I really enjoy passing on my knowledge and experiences in order to help them develop their talents. Also, as president of the chess club, I do my best to help others have an enjoyable time while they discover their potential. As a direct result of my joining the basketball team, I built up the courage to put myself out there and make introductions to people who have now become my greatest friends.
I’ve joined my high school’s debate team which has taken me across the country to compete at Nationals twice which has made me decide to become a student of the law. And, I found the courage to travel to Argentina to gain publicity for their music program there and encourage music students to fully develop their talents through volunteer workshops I taught at. I tried to impress upon the Argentinean youth what Dean Oba had taught me; everyone has potential. It’s the least I can do, after all, I’m just passing on the favor.