Why I Smile By Sarah Todd Hammer (Age 16)

Every day I walk into school with my hair in a bun or two braids, my scar from spinal fusion surgery on display.  I am 16 years old, and I’ve learned how to walk three times in my life: when I was a baby, when I was in the hospital a recovering quadriplegic for two months in 2010, and when I was in the hospital recovering from a spinal fusion for one month in 2016.  I make my way through life with the use of only one hand—even though I have two. Most importantly, I smile all the time. This is not because I’m trying to be the inspirational girl with a disability who is always happy.  I smile because I’m truly happy. When people who don’t know me look at me oddly, I present them with a smile. I’ve learned that a smile goes much further than a frown, which is what motivates me to radiate positivity.

When I was eight years old, I became paralyzed from the neck-down due to a rare neuro-immunological disorder called Transverse Myelitis.  I’ve regained the ability to walk, but my arms and right hand are partially paralyzed, and I cannot move my left hand. Transverse Myelitis has been a part of me for half my life now.  I don’t remember what it feels like to raise my arm in class or hold something in my left hand, but when I wake up every day, I don’t immediately think, “Oh, I can’t move my left hand or my shoulders and my right hand is weak and that sucks.”  Staying positive is really what keeps me going. I love spreading positivity as much as I can, because I believe it’s important to focus on the good. I go on with my life just like everyone else, and I know I’m capable of doing anything I want to do. My mom has been my biggest supporter throughout everything I do. Without her by my side, it would be difficult for me to stay so positive.

Of course, I have bad days like everyone does, but my disability does not impede my ability to be truly happy.  People with disabilities are often portrayed in the media as pity cases who are unable to live life to the fullest like everyone else. Why? Yes, there are times when I struggle to open my food or put my perfume on or do my hair and I can get frustrated. These frustrations don’t inhibit my ability to live a happy life. However, not being able to get dressed independently does.

For example, when I try to get dressed for school it is hard for me to remain positive.  Being unable to get dressed on my own is the one thing that damages my spirit every morning. I’m unable to do buttons or zippers because of my disability, which means getting dressed is a challenge. I wear a uniform to school, and my grandma was kind enough to replace the buttons on my polo with Velcro, but the button and zipper on my skirt weren’t as easy to fix, so my mom still helps me get dressed.  I often feel like a rag doll in the mornings as my mom pulls my arms through the sleeves of my shirt, and I have always felt jealous of my friends who can get dressed on their own. Getting dressed in the mornings almost always ruined my mood, and I’d start my day on a negative note.

For years, my grandma, my mom, and I have been trying to find clothing options that’d work for me.  I hated finding a cute pair of shorts at the store and being excited to purchase them, only to sigh and place them back on the rack when I noticed they had a button and a zipper.  I’ve said, “I can’t get these; they have buttons” countless times while shopping. This is why when I found out Tommy Hilfiger released their Tommy Adaptive collection with the Runway of Dreams Foundation, I was so excited!  I bought dresses and shorts, all with magnets instead of buttons! Magnets were the very solution to all my clothing troubles, and I could feel confident while wearing clothing I could put on myself! Watching people with disabilities model adaptive clothing at the Runway of Dreams Fashion Revolution Runway Show and Gala in New York City made me incredibly emotional.  Tears fell down my face the entire show. And when the choir sang “This Is Me” and the models sang along, proudly embracing who they are, my mom wrapped her arms around me and held me tightly. My disability may make some things like getting dressed difficult for me, but I’m able to live a great, happy life, made even better by Tommy Hilfiger and Runway of Dreams!

And most importantly, I’m extremely proud of who I’ve become.



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