Sometimes we tend to limit ourselves in life out of fear. This can be especially true with the spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) community, where we often depend on others for menial tasks throughout the day. There’s a familiar feeling that we face, the feeling of dependency on others that we can’t seem to possibly ignore, and as a result, there are times that opportunities that once seemed so wonderful ended up becoming “unrealistic.”
On the other hand, I have found that in order to grow as a person, one must take risks. Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the first steps to finding your full potential. What reason is there to hide away in a shell when there are so many experiences in life that will pass by, unclaimed? And for what reason would the idea of others seeing a person as a burden limit them from making the most of their life?
As a junior in high school, I felt like I needed to get more involved in my life in order to reach this full potential. That’s when I decided that the first step I would take would be joining Academic Decathlon, a nationwide competition that encourages high schoolers to study a given set of materials for 6 months before competing in a battle of the brains: a series of tests requiring teamwork, perseverance, and intellect. The only problem with this, of course, was that even though I knew I had the potential to make the team, I was afraid that my disability would find a way to drag everyone else down. I would start feeling anxious about how my coach would have to explain to other team’s coaches that I deserved to be there like everyone else. I was afraid of judgment, and beyond that, I was afraid of bringing that judgment onto everyone else on my team.
Yet despite my fears, I was accepted. I tried to stay confident, and I’d often joke around about the content of our study materials to loosen the tension that I felt at first when I joined the team. Talking to my peers in a natural way seemed to really let everyone know that I wasn’t as different as they thought I was, and with time, my friends were already able to tell my cues for “pass me my pencil” or “hand me my lunch” without me having to ask them for help. Just like that, I was able to overcome one of my biggest hurdles in joining Academic Decathlon.
Put bluntly, becoming part of the team has opened many more doors for me than I could’ve imagined. It has let me prove to the world that I was able to utilize what I have. SMA has never robbed me of anything in life, but it has made me doubt my abilities at times. Participating in a team sport like Academic Decathlon changed that, and it developed skills that I was able to use for the rest of my life. There will always be people in the world who will judge others, or find some way to make them feel like certain things aren’t worth trying, but the key to finding your full potential is letting your voice be heard. Let your disability enable you. Let it give you a reason to push harder than anyone else. At this day and age, I think it is impossible to see something as unrealistic. With a little help, you can be the first to achieve something if you’re determined enough—just remember that in order to find your true potential you can’t think small. I encourage all of you to find your calling and find some way to let your ideas be heard not only across the community, but across the world.
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