YOUNG AMPUTEE FINDS EMPOWERMENT IN COMMUNITY
By Divine Favour Akin, Youth Engagement Reporter
My newly found treasure, the experiences from the Amputee Coalition Youth Camp and National Conference, has given me the confidence and the belief I did not know I needed. I saw I could do more and accomplish more, and, most importantly, embrace the me I had shunned. I went back to school, and from then on I noticed a more audacious and confident me. I began wearing shorts (because it was a better option on multiple scales than wearing trousers).
With my head held high, I owned my prosthetic look and my clicking knee. I stuttered less whenever I spoke regarding any topic surrounding my prosthesis. I had been looking for my community, and I found it. A community that made me proud and unapologetic to own what I had frowned upon. It was OK, it was normal, and it was an aspect of me I was encouraged to embrace.
Another jewel was the concept that one person’s struggles did not belong to that person alone. It was the project of the whole community. A community acted as a support system. This aspect was not dependent on people who were alike or came from the same background. It depended on the empathy and the shared desires that bonded us.
This was expressed to me during my experience at JROTC summer camp. Having been in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps class at my school for a year, I took on my biggest challenge yet: a military-style summer camp. It was a terrifying trip.
Nevertheless, I made it through the first two days. Unknown to me, the most challenging was yet to come: Day Three, the pinnacle of the camp. After our routine activities, we set off deeper into the camp, where we were to engage obstacles as a team and challenge ourselves physically.
Apart from these daring obstacles was the zipline I had wanted to do so badly. The instructors were concerned as to how I would be able to climb the pole to the line. They made me try to climb a smaller pole, with a safety rope and harness attached to me and projections sticking out from the side for me to step on and hold on to.
I initially attempted to climb it, and after one step the projections became smaller and smaller. I tried hard to flex my prosthetic knee, to no avail. I tried to pull up with my one good leg and hand, but it was obvious it wasn’t built with me in mind. After struggling for a good three minutes, I finally retreated to my wheelchair.
All those voices began circling in my head: You’re not good enough. Why do you have to be punished for something you couldn’t control? My instructors helped me realize my inability to climb didn’t make me inferior or less of a cadet. It just meant I wasn’t able to climb it. My instructors also reminded me of all the obstacle courses I was able to do and all the things I did accomplish.
I was still upset, but I had accepted that it wasn’t for me. I instead watched my classmates climb the poles, walk the tightrope, and engage in other activities. I saw my instructor coming toward me with a huge smile. He told me they had figured out a way to get me up the 146-foot tower pole. I was flabbergasted, but that quickly changed to excitement. I was frightened, but they did take a lot of work to figure it out, so I thought I would at least attempt it.
I was internally agitated as I came closer and saw the height of the pole. Still, I had all these people on standby to pull me up, so I got hooked to the safety rope and was in position to start climbing the pole behind me. There were five men holding on to the safety rope. I began climbing, and they began pulling. I did not look down because I knew how high it was, and after what felt like a tense action-movie scene, I eventually made it to the top, where I questioned every decision that led me to that moment.
I was petrified, yet I knew there was no turning back. The only other way was forward. I sat down, and the two Marines attached me to the zipline. I said the command word, and I was off. I contracted every muscle in my body as I descended. It felt like I had dropped straight down from a skyscraper. I did not dare open my eyes.
Unknown to me as I rode the zipline, all the people who had helped me get up there were looking up at me with excitement and joy. They all shared in my victory, and it was not just my victory. It was our victory. That experience felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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