“Why should you care, what they think of you. When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you? Your don’t have to try so hard…you just have to get up, get up. You don’t have to change a single thing.”-Try, Colbie Callais
Like me, all the other 2nd grade eight-year-old girls at Islamabad’s International School proudly wore black leotards, along with special colored cloths around our forehead and waste, anxious to perform our ballet routine. But unlike the rest, with my one-toed feet (that couldn’t fit into ‘normal’ ballet slippers), shortened forearms and one-fingered tiny hands I was unquestionably different.
Feeling the music move me, I rushed out in front of the audience with the rest of the girls, prancing in a circle. Briefly, I glanced over at my mother, our ballet teacher, whose encouraging smile immediately gave me a welcomed boost. Following the choreographed routine, I reached my arms out, effortlessly swaying back and forth. Although I was absorbed in the performance, I could see and even feel the audience’s positive reaction. On occasions like this, I didn’t have to try…..being myself on stage felt more than natural, it felt exhilarating!
Earlier this week a DHIFI follower sent me a video that I couldn’t get out of my mind. The video showed an adorable smiling eight-year-old girl named Alissa Sizemore sporting a long ponytail, sparkly teal dress and smile so wide it lit up the high school gym. Swaying initially from a bench to Colbie Callait’s beautiful song, “Try,” I quickly picked up that this wasn’t just any ordinary girl. No, Alissa was proudly wearing a prosthetic leg as she swayed to the music from her bench. But then, while still dancing in place, Alissa beamed and removed the prosthetic leg attached below her right knee. Using the support of her arms and left leg, she finished gracefully her routine on the floor to a standing ovation.
Inspired by the performance, I decided to search Alissa on the Internet and learn more. According to media reports, at the age of seven Alissa had been playing with her siblings near the street and some garbage cans when she was struck by a UPS driver who couldn’t see her. The truck crushed her foot and lower leg.
That was nine months before this video was made. A dancer since age 4, the accident left Alissa discouraged and filled with self-doubt. It was then her mom stepped in with needed encouragement. “I told her, you’re still you. A lost leg doesn’t change who you are.” And then, right before being fitted for the prosthetic, Alissa heard Callait’s ballad, ‘Try,” which emphasized inner beauty despite physical imperfections.
And so, for her first Spring recital since the accident, Alissa followed her mother’s advice and showed what she could do. After her performance, the director of Alissa’s dance studio remarked, “Nothing will keep that little girl down.” When asked how she decided to continue dancing despite the setback, Alissa replied, “I just didn’t want to give up. Dancing has been my favorite thing. I don’t have a part of my leg, but I can’t let that stop me. I still want to dance.”
Having danced in public as a child, I couldn’t help but relate personally to Alissa. I am positive many watched her performance and thought, ‘That must be hard for you.’ But no matter what we look like, doing what we love is easy and motivates us to persevere. When I showed Alissa’s video to our kids, I happily noted that as the sibling of brothers who look different, Savanna was enjoying the performance and mainly focusing on Alissa’s dress, unfazed when Alissa pulled off her prosthetic to continue her dance. Meanwhile, the boys understood her drive. Ethan mentioned his commitment to playing basketball, even though other kids his age that meet him for the first time still can’t fathom how he can dribble a ball with only one finger. And then Charlie reminded me that his having two fingers on each hand motivated him to push through all our doubts so he could play baseball, his favorite sport.
I had written previously a blog post entitled, “Top Ten Reasons It’s Amazing to Have Two Fingers.” There was so much to mention, last year I came up with more! In honor of Alissa, this week my kids and I decided it was time to come up with a Top Five version of the list for kids. Something tells me we will easily add to this list in the future! Here it goes:
#5 Teachers not only remember you, they feel instant affection
#4 You can bring only yourself to show-n-tell, no props required
#3 In sports, opposing players become distracted by your difference, giving you an immediate edge
#2 You don’t have to waste your time with shallow kids-only the most wonderful kids want to be your friend
#1 Just do what you love, be yourself, and you’ll motivate others