Then we grow up and we begin to absorb rather than deflect how others see us. If we are fortunate, we learn how to cope and just maybe grow stronger, but it’s not easy.
As we close out the year, I choose to highlight some individuals who have learned not to hide, but rather flaunt whatever difference may cause others to judge them (or their children):
- Oscar Pistorius: “You are not disabled by the disabilities you have. You are abled by the abilities you have.” In 2011, Pistorius became the new face (and body) of A* Men fragrance by Thierry Mugler, and was named GQ’s 2011 “Best Dressed Man.” Pistorius lost his legs at eleven months old, and ultimately learned a different way of mastering balance through competition. He not only won several medals at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, he has since become a triple world record holder and triple Paralympic Champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races.
- Andrea Gormley: “Acceptance is a very big issue for me. I try to teach my children that no matter what color someone is or how they look, we are all people and have feelings. My daughter once asked my hubby & I why she was tan and Daddy & Mommy were different colors. I told her everyone is like a different flavor of ice-cream. Some have nuts or jimmies, and sometimes you get an unexpected chocolate chip in the plain, but that’s what makes it awesome! When she sees someone different from her and has questions, I encourage her to talk to them and remind her of the ice cream scenario. ” Via Parents Magazine’s Facebook page in response to my article, “It’s Okay to Stare” in Parents, when giving advice to her own daughter when people stared at her different skin color.
- Megyn Kelly: Kelly is part of a new generation of TV anchors that have juggled their careers and family life in a way that their female predecessors did not. As recognized in a recent NY Times article: “Rather than hide their pregnancies, they flaunt them; rather than cover up their off-hours role as mothers, they turn it into part of their on-air persona.” Kelly is a Fox news anchor who was told in the past, “You’re going to need to choose: you can either have a family or you can be a major anchor.”
- Matthew Sapolin: Sapolin was the captain of his high school wrestling team in Islip, N.Y., the town where he was born. He went on to be co-captain of the wrestling team at New York University and was profiled in Sports Illustrated when he had the Division III nationals within reach, competing against sighted wrestlers. Sapolin went on to become New York City’s inaugural Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities. An early bout with cancer at age five left Sapolin blind for the remainder of his life, but it did not hinder him. Many who knew him explain that Sapolin’s blindness did not narrow his life — “He was informed by it.” I had the privilege of meeting Matthew Sapolin recently, and he was a great supporter of my Don’t Hide it, Flaunt It message. Matthew passed away from cancer on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at the age of 41.
- Nick Newell: “It’s more of a message I’d like to send, that if you have a goal, go out and do it. Try it, whether it’s fighting or something else. Whether you want to be the best at your job, or at sports, just do your best. Give it everything you have. Winning is very important to me, but at the end of the day, even if I lose, as long as I know I gave it everything I had, there’s no shame in that.” Nick is a professional American mixed martial artist. He is well known for being an one-armed fighter, with his left arm ending just after the elbow. Nick describes his early MMA career as a struggle, not because he could not win (he is currently undefeated), but because other fighters did not want to fight a one armed fighter.
- Jyoti Amge: An eighteen-year-old Indian student measuring just 62.8 centimeters (less than 2ft, one inch), Amge was confirmed in 2011 as the world’s shortest living woman, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Amge’s goal in life? She has expressed hopes of becoming a Bollywood actress and loves that her height will set her apart from the other hopeful actors. Amge, who has a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia, is a high school student and just finished her final exams.
- JR Martinez: Iraqi War veteran turned actor who won 1st place in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in the Fall of 2011. “What really made me sign-on to the show was the fact that I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. That’s how we grow and continue learning; that’s how we create those memories that we’ll never forget.” In 2003, JR was badly injured when his truck ran over a landmine leaving him with burns on over 40 percent of his body. In addition, due to the explosion JR lost most of the hair on his head and one of his ears.
Happy New Year!