I was once told a story about how the act of walking is actually a series of motions—falling forward and then catching oneself—that you can’t consciously walk if you think about placing one foot in front of another. Each step is about letting go and then trusting that you will catch yourself. And that the act of walking is a metaphor for life.
I have thought long about this idea. As someone who has never walked I found the idea both interesting and perplexing. I was born with spina bifida with my spine exposed outside of my body. I can never walk—at least in the conventional way. Getting around as a child I learned to walk, not on my feet, but on my hands. I look back now, seeing the situation in which I was born, a child without functioning legs. I have thought about all of the “what ifs” and have come to realize that the person and athlete I am today is because of what happened to me, not in spite of it.
I spent the first six years of my life in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. There were no wheelchairs. There were no rehabilitation programs. I never settled for my situation and was blessed with a creative and curious soul. Without the ability to walk on my feet, rather than drag myself around I learned to balance myself on my hands and “walk”. This became natural to me. And when I wanted something that was out of reach I would just pull myself up and climb from shelf to shelf.
I realize now that those aspects of me that others might have seen as limitations have led to my unique talents and have made me who I am today. I am not an example of someone who has survived against all odds, but a full- and able-bodied person who is exactly what I am because of all that has happened me. The situation of how I was born and where I was raised made me exactly who I am. I do not dwell on what could have been. Instead I look to what can be.
Recently when racing in the NYC Marathon, I cut a corner too tight and fell over in my racing chair. I was in the last 1/4 mile of winning the race. I immediately scrambled back into my chair and kept on going and won the race.
My life has been full of so many such “disasters” that I have come to learn that they are inevitable. I trust myself to get back up and get back into the race. I could have lost this marathon, but I knew that regardless of the outcome of the race I was winning at something much greater.
Most of us make assumptions that there are things in life that we can’t do, so we just don’t try to do them. If I have lived my life in that way I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I learned to turn my disability into possibility. Each of us is unique. We are given life without a blue print or road map—without directions. Often others try to tell us where we can and can’t go, they ask us why rather than why not?
As a new year is upon us, I have a challenge for all of my friends. Take a look at your lives and make a list of the things that you think that you can not do, and then, once a month, go ahead and try to do just one of those things. Be creative, be courageous, and then please share your experience with me. I would love to hear about your New Year’s Challenge.
Let me leave you with one last quote from sports legend Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year!