I hesitate to say that I have overcome my disability because in my eyes it’s not something that I overcame, but rather had to learn to overcome the circumstances around it. As an individual with a physical disability I can only speak of my experiences, and to me disability is something that is and will always be part of my identity, especially because my disability is physical and quite obvious. To clarify, I am not disparaging myself by qualifying my disability as my only/single most defining characteristic, but rather that I am an individual who has a physical disability. The difference and the understanding that I hope comes from this statement is that I have limits but I am limitless in opportunities.
As a young child maturing into a young adult I had to come to terms with my own disability; in fact, there were times when I needed to remind myself that I had a disability. That is not to say that I was imposing limitations on myself, but it was the fact that I had to understand and grow into what my true capabilities were, not ones I thought others saw suitable for me. I come from a place where arms were not open wide to me and where disability was not the norm. Unfortunately, it was a place where I would have not had the same opportunities if I had stayed. As proud as I am of my origins in my native Romania, and as much I hope to return one day to understand where I came from, my heart belongs across the sea. Romanian runs through my veins, but the American Dream runs through my spirit and this country alone gave me my second chance.Growing up I never really gave much thought to my disability because I didn't have the opportunity to do so. I went to school, played with my friends, participated in sports, and did all the “normal” things my peers were doing. My parents always created a safe and loving environment, one where I didn’t feel different. Dynamics changed once competition kicked in; as I aged, school become harder, responsibilities increased, and relationships shifted. Things were no longer the same and I had to adapt to a changing culture. Peers started to compare themselves to each other and that is when I began to recognize that I may not be the same.
This narrative of changing dynamics and adapting is not much different than that of a regular teenager going through middle and high school, except that I went through it in a wheelchair with an para-professional aid. I have learnt to adapt and mold my life not around the limitations of my disability but around my values and aspirations, and learnt to take my physical limitations into account but to never let them stop me. I hope to impress upon people that this is what I see as living the experience of this beautiful thing we call life. We learn, we grow, we live, we love, and sometimes we make mistakes. We are in this crazy hell of a ride together because, ultimately, we all share the same visceral desire to carry out our hopes, goals, and need for accomplishment. A life with a disability is just like any life with its own set of obstacles, but that does not make it any less awe-inspiring or rewarding. The most profound lessons that I learned over the years were that: hard work gets you anywhere you want to be, that kindness, compassion and, vulnerability is far more valuable than any title, and that life is too short to not be thankful for what you have. I have not overcome my disability, because it will remain a part of my life for the rest of my life, but I am learning to overcome the obstacles that surround my disability. I am immensely grateful for all, past and present, who have shared my journey. I am young and inexperienced but I have a fire that I hope will help those in front of me live a better, happier, and more prosperous future.