This past year I worked as an intern at No Barriers, a non-profit in the town I go to college, that’s motto is “what’s within us is stronger than what’s in our way. ” Erik Weihenmayer (often known for being the first blind man to climb Everest) started No Barriers to inspire others to harness adversity in order to create a life of purpose and impact.
I spent the year assisting with their youth specialty programs which include all the domestic and international expeditions for diverse populations such as deaf/heard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, children of fallen soldiers and low-income youth.
Although I learned many professional skills during my internship, the most impactful change has been the way that I look at myself.
I grew up with lymphedema during a time when their was little awareness about what the condition is and how to treat it. Unlike today, I wasn’t connected with any sort of lymphedema community.
When I was born the doctors told my parents I would be an amputee by the time I was five years old. Luckily, my parents didn’t take that as an answer and did research of their own. They flew me out to New Jersey to get treated by one of the only lymphedema specialists in the nation.
Once home, my parents did their best to keep my leg managed, but with no doctors in Colorado it wasn’t easy. At one point, my left leg was probably at least three times larger than my right leg. The only shoes I could fit in when I was a toddler were moccasins and as I grew older I had to have shoes specially made to fit.
As a little girl I always wore dresses and showed my leg openly but that changed quickly once I started to get comments from many peers around me. The most impactful being the girl with the “tree leg”.
My leg grew so large at one point I didn’t feel comfortable wearing regular jeans so I went to school in sweat pants. Everyone always wondered why.
Today, I no longer hide my leg in sweat pants or feel ashamed of the condition. And now looking back – it seems crazy that I let myself feel so much shame.
This past year has by far been the most transformational year of my life. A year ago, I was afraid to show who I really was. Now I embrace the questions that I get about my leg as another opportunity to teach someone about my story and about lymphedema.
A little over a month ago I attended No Barriers’s Summit – an event that brings together people of ALL abilities to do adaptive recreation and other activities together. I was surprised to find a considerable difference in the way people interacted with me when I was wearing a dress (showing my leg) compared to when I wore jeans. I had a plethora of people coming up to me asking about my leg and instead of pity, it came out of pure curiosity – a look of understanding and acceptance. At an event filled with people of differing abilities I no longer felt like the odd one out. I felt like someone who had something to offer.
The creation of this blog is my testament to living a No Barriers life. It is my way of sharing my story in the hopes that other people will share theirs too 🙂
Pictured above is my friend Adrienne and I reppin’ our No Barriers Flag.
ALSO – if you want to check out No Barriers this is their website: