06/28/2013 02:50 pm ET

'I Defied The Odds'


This is a teen-written article from our friends at Teenink.com.

I can't complain. I can't complain because I'm alive and walking, and that's more than was expected, honestly.

There's something strange about being a sixteen-year-old stroke survivor. I had the stroke when I was three weeks old, so people seem to think that it would have little bearing on my life now. And honestly, even the title “stroke survivor” feels weird to me. I don't remember being anything but the kid who had a stroke, so is there really a stroke-survivor title, or is that just a part of me?

At sixteen, I am partially-blind, and I had trouble walking even at eight. Being a kid it was almost impossible for me to actually understand; I didn't grasp the idea of not being able to run and play with other kids, and I didn't get why gravity seemed to constantly be pulling me to the ground and bruising my hands and tearing my clothes. Then I resigned myself to sitting on the steps while other kids played. Most of my time was spent reading a book or watching the sky.

The bright side to being somebody who spent every recess tearing through books and being as much of a philosopher as you can be even at six is that you learned things.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the fact that I couldn't walk also meant physical therapy. The unfortunate part came from my parents' decision to put me in a full-body sport, in other words, dance. I can't even begin to explain how disastrous this decision was, but predictably a girl who can barely walk can't walk any more easily when her movements are choreographed and she is wearing a pair of steel-toed tap shoes.

The fortunate part came later. When I was nine, they opted out of dance for gymnastics, and that is when my life changed. Girls with streamlined figures pirouetted on their hands, flew and flipped and twirled with a blatant disregard for gravity, swung bar-to-bar like circus performers, and then took their beautiful flips and tumbles and twirls and put them on a four-foot-high, four-inch-wide beam. They ran at vaults with the intensity of creatures pursuing their prey, and then in an instant catapulted themselves into the air. They were superhuman.

Finally I felt determined. I felt ­determined just like I'd felt determined to run with the kids on the playground. But it was even more intense than that: I truly, genuinely, felt like I needed this. I needed to be superhuman. I worked harder than the other kids, and still got fewer results. You can't tumble until you can run, and you can't run until you can walk.

That's just the obvious progression of things. But somehow, I got through it. There were some advantages to my situation, I'd fallen so much that I was extremely pain-tolerant, and unlike the others I felt like I had something huge to gain. I got through conditioning workouts without complaining. I listened to every criticism. I shied away from sympathy. I learned to walk. Then to run. Then to tumble.

Last year I attained my peak. After all that time, I reached one of the highest levels of gymnastics. This meant that I'd earned the right to travel and compete, and even wore an expensive leotard, matching my teammates and was looked up to by the young kids.

Although it wasn't my first year competing, it was the most intense. I knew it might be my last, too; my body had learned the sport, but my heart was growing tired of it. You can only be so committed before your heart gives way, and I'd given up too much of mine at the start. My goal was met and surpassed: I was walking. Screw that, I was flying!

The final and greatest ­opportunities were to compete in Hawaii, and to compete one last time in a State Championship. I took third all-around in Hawaii, and took first on beam at State. The girl who couldn't walk took first on beam. Pigs can fly and the blind can see and I cannot only walk but also win beam.

After a summer of aggravation, I quit. I hardly felt like I'd won anything anymore. I was done flying. They'd given me the ability to leave. I was grateful and amazed, but I was ready to go.

I am sixteen years old. I am partially blind, and I had trouble walking when I was eight. I will never be like everyone else. My left side is weaker than my right, and I walk with a limp even after all of my training. I forget things constantly, and part of me wonders if this is from my stroke. I don't tell most of my friends I had a stroke; they might never look at me the same way again.

But here's the reality: I can't complain. I had a stroke, but I defied the odds. I proved every doctor wrong, and I did it with style.



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