Edit: The following post was actually published on “The Mighty”! You can find it here!
Growing up in small town rural Iowa, there wasn’t a whole lot of “different” people in my town.. nor children in my school. As the only kid in quite possibly the whole school to wear a prosthetic leg (at least when I was attending there) it was rough. “Peg leg”, “Pirate”, “Woodie”… were all names that I was called on a regular basis. I did my best to not let the bullying and name-calling get to me, but it does sometimes. I remember many days coming home from elementary school crying and not wanting to go back.
In fifth grade, we watched a movie in Mrs. Whitman’s class with the theme that knowledge is power.. and I believe that God inspired me through that movie. It has been something that has changed my entire life and the way that I have responded to being “different”. After thinking long and hard about it, I asked my teacher if I could do a presentation on my leg.. and hands. I told her that if knowledge was power, maybe if the other kids actually knew what happened in my situation, they would see me differently.
The teachers agreed and they got together several of the other grades in our same hallway. Packed into a 30 children classroom, I sat up in the front at a table and got out all the “things” that had anything to do with my leg and showed them to the other kids.. the prosthesis, the socks.. even the Amp-Aid cream that they used to use back in the day for sores. I explained about ABS and what happened to my leg… showed how I put the sleeve on.. the socks, how the leg held on.. and then, I took my leg off. It was hard for me to show them the one thing that I had always worked so hard to hide and not let anyone see. I remember my heart pounding as I sat there, feeling very very vulnerable, all eyes looking at my stump, eyebrows lifting and mouths opening.
I got through that presentation and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did the bullying stop, but one of the kids that had made fun of me the most heard another kid making fun of me and actually stood up to the bully for me. It’s been over twenty years now and I can still remember both of those events so clearly. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.. like I wasn’t defective, I was just unique… maybe even kinda special.
After that, the sky was the limit for me and I was determined not to let my leg.. or hands.. get the best of me. Through middle school, junior high and high school, I played softball, volleyball, track (shotput and discus), played the trumpet, rode horses.. anything I put my mind to. As an adult, that has stuck with me and I try my best to do anything and everything everyone else does., even if it’s a bit harder or I’m a bit slower.
I still get stares, but rather than hiding my hands.. or my leg.. if I see someone staring, I volunteer them information on my situation and ABS. It breaks my heart when a kid asks me what happened to my leg and a parent tells them that asking is rude. Knowledge is power! I know perhaps that not everyone in my similar situation is as open about it as I am. When I finally accepted myself and took the risk in educated my peers, my life and perspective changed drastically. Knowledge is definitely power so use it to bring change.