Sometimes the biggest heroes are found right in your own backyard! Recently I had the opportunity to learn of two such heroes. One of them shares her story here...
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My journey! Well I grew up in a small town in the outskirts of Orlando with a twin sister, great parents and a barn full of horses. It might sound like a normal farm life to some people but my journey has grown way beyond that. I was born missing the lower half of my right arm. Things were very different. When I was born the doctor asked my mom "well, what do you want to do?" And my mom was so taken back by the question she told them she would raise me just like my twin sister who has both hands. It took a lot of learning for me to figure out how to do things with one hand but eventually I would always master it. I never wanted people to give me the easy way out. I could do everything MYSELF. Except maybe the monkey bars but who needs those anyway! I grew up horseback riding and was in western competitions when I wanted to try English like the other kids. It required you to hold onto the reins with two hands. My neighbor had a brilliant idea and made a strap to go around my arm and attach to the reins and the rest is history. Since then I have gone on to compete in English riding events at a national level. I was bullied a lot as a kid especially in middle school. I would always hide my arm behind my back and wear long sleeves to school everyday even in the Florida heat just so no one would see my arm. After a long day of making sure that no one knew I had one arm except my closest friends, I would come home to my horse. But that all changed when I started dancing.
I realized when I got into high school and danced for my schools team that I couldn't hide anymore. People are going to see my little arm and they are going to know. So I decided that I can't change for anyone. The people who don't accept me for who I was, and didn't want to be seen with someone who was different didn't deserve to be an important person in my life. It shows more of their character than mine! But ever since then I have had one mission in life and that was to never let anyone else feel that way. Because you only have one life to live and you deserve to be happy. Life is way too short to be anything but happy.
The people who don't accept me for who I was, and didn't want to be seen with someone who was different didn't deserve to be an important person in my life.
There are a few specific things that have inspired me. I remember the first time I saw someone with a missing arm. My first reaction was shocked, my face was all hot and red and I got butterflies. I was about 5 years old but I came to understand that some people may feel that way when they see me. It's a normal reaction when you see someone with a limb difference for the first time, but I was inspired by her because she was a mother. Married and pushing a stroller with her full arm and holding a baby with her little arm. From that moment I knew life would be okay for me.
I want to inspire people to live out their dreams despite anything that may come their way! Not just by talking about it but through my actions and accomplishments at the young age of 22. I wanted to be a great horse woman and compete at the world show and I'm going to this year! I wanted to be a scuba diver and learn more about the ocean and I now dive professionally at an aquarium. I also want to make sure that the next generation doesn't feel alone. I didn't have a role model growing up because you never saw people with limb differences anywhere, whether it's TV, magazines, movies or just everyday life. I want to make sure they never feel isolated in this society.
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It tugs at my heart to know what Ashley went through as a child....feeling she was different and afraid to acknowledge her true beautiful self because of bullying. However tragic that was, I believe that we are faced with challenges for a reason. To use our lessons learned to help others. This is exactly what Ashley is doing. Ashley is showing children that have limb differences that they can achieve anything they set their heart on. She is an amazing role model, inspiration, and Personal Hero. Make sure to tune in next week when I share the story of a sweet little boy whose life has been touched by Ashley.
You can find Ashley on Instagram and Facebook @OrlandoCyborgAshley
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