As we enter the Winter Olympics I wanted to share a gold medal story that is near and dear to my heart. But first, some background might help:
My name is Amy. Other than a very part-time side gig, I am a stay at home mama of three kiddos. Our youngest child has Legg-Calve Perthes Disease. This is a childhood disease that affects the hip and makes walking difficult and extremely painful at times. Our daughter has a very severe case. She began having pain right around her 4th birthday. At 4.5 she had surgery, was put in a Petrie cast (google it), and was wheelchair bound for a year. She re-learned to walk shortly before going to kindergarten. She is now 7 and still struggles with pain off and on but is walking, skipping, dancing and doing really well at this point!
The story I share with you today takes place in May of 2016. Vivie was 5 years old and had been wheelchair bound for 11 months at this point. She also had to wear an a-frame brace (much like the petrie cast) that went from her hips to her ankles and kept her legs apart in a “V” for much of her day.
On this May day I wheeled Vivie in to preschool as I did every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I should actually say, she wheeled herself in, she preferred to not have my help if at all possible. But this particular day as we came in the classroom her teacher came up to me and said, “we are Running Relays today for the letter “R.” It will difficult for Vivie to participate so I was thinking she could watch from the sidelines and start the students then pass out the medals at the end.” Vivie’s teacher was a kind woman who cared for Vivie very much. But she was not good at “thinking outside the box” to include her in activities. This plan of having her watch from the sidelines was not going to cut it for me. I began listing different options to include Vivie, “could someone possibly push her in one of the relays?” “No, that won’t work, we’ll be in the grass. Too bumpy.” “Could you do one race scooting on their bottoms (Vivie was able to scoot using her hands to push herself along). “No, again we’ll be in the grass, kids would get grass stains.” We went on like this for quite awhile and it became clear to me that this teacher was not going to be helpful in finding a way to include Vivie in this activity. By this point I was red hot mad and decided I would take Vivie home with me and we would do something special instead. I wheeled her aside, “Vivie, your friends will all be running relays today. Would you like to come home with me? We can go do something special just you and me!” “No mom, it’s okay. I wanna stay and watch my friends.” I hesitantly left her there tears burning my eyes as I walked away. The minute on got into my van I sat in the drivers seat and burst into tears. I envisioned my daughter sitting on the sidelines in her wheelchair feeling sad and sorry for herself as she watched her friends run. I called my husband and mom sobbing trying to figure out what to do (I was still thinking about marching in there and bringing her home with me). My mom answered and we decided that since I had given Vivie the choice and she wanted to stay, it was best to let her stay. I pulled myself together and went to my part time gig.
When I arrived back to pick her up she seemed to be okay. The second I had her loaded in the van I asked her how it went. “It was fine mom. I got to say “ready, set, GO!” And I got to pass out the medals to the winners.” We headed home, ate lunch then I moved her to the couch as I did every afternoon to read books. We were in the middle of reading a story when she inched her little body as close as she could to mine. Even though we were the only two in the house, she leaned in and whispered in my ear as if to tell me a secret, “mom, you know when all my friends were running today? Well, in my mind I was running with them too. And guess what mom? In my mind, I WON the race! So I snuck into that bag of medals and pulled one out and put it around my neck.” She leaned back and gave me a proud grin. I was BLOWN AWAY. THIS was the moment that I knew, no matter how difficult things were with this disease, it would not defeat her. You see, I was sobbing in my van thinking of her being sad and feeling sorry for herself. But that was not her experience at all. Although she had been wheelchair bound for 11 months, she was not sitting on the sidelines feeling sad and defeated. No, she was DREAMING! Dreaming of RUNNING. And not just running....but WINNING the race!
People often say things like, “your daughter is amazing and handles this disease so well!” Of course I think my daughter is amazing because she is MY daughter. But really, there is nothing special and unique about my daughter. This is the mindset of a child. Children are resilient and strong. They are dreamers. They have undying HOPE.
I read an article about what sets Olympic gold medal athletes apart from other athletes. What gives them the drive to achieve what seems impossible? One thing was consistent about all these incredible athletes...they dream! Dream constantly of feeling their body crossing the finish line at the front of the pack. They envision themselves standing on the winners block being awarded that gold medal. They imagine the weight of it around their neck. They’ve kept that childlike ability to dream of what seems impossible to the rest of us.
Three weeks after the running relay incident at preschool Vivie’s surgeon gave her clearance to re-learn to walk. Man, that was painful and HARD. But not once did she stop or want to give up. There were times I wanted to yell at the physical therapist, “STOP! Can’t you see this is hurting her?!?” But he was incredible at helping her have the strength to keep going. He would get at eye level with her and say, “Vivie, I know this hurts but I KNOW you can do it!!!!” Sometimes a silent tear would fall down her cheek but she would grit her teeth, focus with determination, and do what was being asked of her. At one point in the process her physical therapist pulled me aside and said, “Amy, your daughter is stronger and more determined than the teenage boys I work with.” Well of course she is, she is a dreamer. And she is still young enough to be a dreamer. As we seep into our teenage years and beyond, that ability starts to fade. The heaviness of the world weighs our dreams down.
My daughter might not ever win an Olympic gold medal but she taught me an important lesson about what it means to have hope and dream about the impossible. And then, follow the dream up with hard work to make it happen. This month my Vivie is taking her first ballet class. Something that felt next to impossible three years ago.
How different would our world be if we all saw one another as dreamers and helped each other to reach those dreams? If we could imagine a world where we all take care of each other and lift one another up? Could we dream of a world where all are fed, people are loved for who they are and we treat each other with respect and kindness? I think if we all dreamed like a 5 year old, we could change the world.
Peace, love and dream on my friends.
Amy and her husband Ryan joined Saint Andrew in 2005. She loves working with the Saint Andrew Children’s Choir and doing VBS music. Amy has 3 children; Owen (11), Max (9) and Vivie (7).