TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH: A LITTLE BOY’S STORY TOLD WHEN ALL GROWN UP

by michael on July 15, 2011

I have had the pleasure of meeting wonderful people through Twitter. I don’t know if ‘meeting’ is exactly the best verb since I have met none of these interesting folks in person. But over the course of several communications by tweets and emails, and, in some instances, by telephone conversation, I am reasonably certain I have an accurate sense of who they are and their values and their messages.

One of the more inspiring exchanges I have had recently was with Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. Within the first few Twitter ‘Mentions’ and ‘Direct Messages,’ I knew Dr. Weichman had a story worth learning and worth sharing with my readers. Many aspects of Dr. Weichman’s narrative are identical with that of Dick Cabela, which I posted on January 19 of this year in my blog titled HONESTY, A FAMILY AND A SON’S GRATITUDE. It is worth re-reading.

Many poetic and profound statements grace Dr. Weichman’s statement, but to me, here are the two money quotes:

“I think my success came from the fact that I was able to see my amputation as just a thing I had to deal with but never as something that defined who I was as a person.”

And

“The greatest challenge of all, however, is forcing yourself to get past that which limits you.”

I hope my readers can draw upon Dr. Weichman’s wisdom and courage.

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON DIFFERENCES

It was never a secret that I was different from the other kids. It was first grade though, when my parents dressed me in long pants on a hot day, when I remember first realizing that my amputated leg was something which people might judge me for.

It seemed quite strange looking back on it. Because to me, I was just me. A kid with a lot of energy. A kid with two younger brothers. A kid who liked to run and ride bikes and climb trees. A kid who just also happened to have a prosthetic leg.

From a very early age, when my doctor told my parents not to expect me to be able to walk, the odds probably seemed stacked against me. But when it was time for me to walk, I just walked.

I ended up being a pretty good soccer player, enjoyed baseball and football throughout my youth, and played Division I college football where I was a place-kicker, kicking with my prosthesis and even training with Tom Dempsey. There was even a time when a competing team argued (and was over-ruled) that my prosthesis as a kicking leg presented an unfair advantage! As an adult, I now live to snowboard, surf, and ride mountain bikes.

Looking back on my earlier years, I think my success came from the fact that I was able to see my amputation as just a thing I had to deal with but never as something that defined who I was as a person. I always knew I was so much more than just a guy with a prosthetic leg.

It drove me nuts that people passed judgment based solely on what they could see on the outside. I was the guy with the prosthesis. The one-legged kicker. Something different. Something weird. When I was bullied and teased — and this happened more often than I care to remember – I recall thinking that I wanted to remember how I was feeling so I could use it to help other kids in the future. And I ended up getting my Ph.D. in clinical psychology so I could do just that.

Everyone has disabilities or challenges. Mine just happens to be outwardly visible. But I realized then, and still believe today, that we all face insecurities. The greatest challenge of all, however, is forcing yourself to get past that which limits you.

Whether your insecurity is physical or mental or a combination of the two, you cannot let it define you. You simply cannot. And even when other people don’t believe you can accomplish something, you can never, ever give up.

Jerry Weichman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist focused solely on teen and preteen issues. Based out of his private practice at Hoag Hospital’s Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach, Dr. Jerry is also an author of a teen self-help book, “How to Deal,” and a noted public speaker on teen-related topics including parenting, bullying, and adolescent coping skills. When not working or spending time with his family, Dr. Jerry is most likely boarding down a black diamond run and loving every minute. www.drjerryweichman.com

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