Teachers are often role models for students but sometimes students serve as role models for teachers. This is true about Robyn Clarke, a senior at Northgate High School. I have known Robyn for a while since she is in the same grade as my daughter and worked with her in the National Honor Society. I have harassed Robyn incessantly for wearing her Florida Gators shirts as she walks down the hall. This year I have the privilege to have her in class. I approached Robyn at the end of last year about sharing her story on my blog and am excited to share it with you today. She truly is a role model not only for me but for the Northgate student body and our community. Here are her words:
“You’re so strong!”
I hear it all the time. And every time, I wonder why people say it. Because I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not strong. I’m not strong at all.
I can’t even open a door on my own. It’s something I’m working on, and I’m getting better at it, but am still red-faced and exhausted every time I try. My physical therapist still has to give me assistance, and I’m still terrified I’m going to fall each time I let go of my walker. That’s not strong, is it?
My goal every day is to make someone else’s day brighter. I want everyone that I come in contact with to leave with a smile, and I also want to be known for always being positive. One way I try to accomplish that is by always wearing a smile. Most days, it’s genuine because I know how blessed I am to have such an amazing family and to be surrounded by so many kind and incredible people. I know the Lord will use my disability for His glory, and that it’s a platform I have to spread His light and love. But there are some days when my smile hides the fact that I’m frustrated and fighting back tears. Those are the days when I feel like my disability defines me. On those days, I lose the ability to see myself through God’s eyes and I’m overcome by the desire to be able to snap my fingers and make all of this go away. I’d erase the disability, make the walker disappear, and I’d straighten my knees. No one knows how much I can’t stand the fact that they’re forever bent. No one knows how often I wish I could be able to walk, run, and dance. No one knows how many times I wake up, look in the mirror, and see myself as “The Girl with the Walker.” Those days are filled with tears and pain, and lately, they’ve attacked me far too often.
But then, I think about all of the incredible experiences I’ve had and the wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet as a result of my disability. When I was fourteen, I was blessed to open our school’s diversity program with a speech about how being different has impacted my life. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You are important. You are who you are for a reason,” I told the audience of over 900 people. No one was more surprised than me when every single person in the room stood up and clapped as I finished speaking. I remember standing there, staring out at the crowd, overcome with awe and wonder. They were clapping for me. That was the first time I realized just how much of a difference telling my story can make.
Almost exactly two years later, I was given another opportunity to share my story, this time at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Gala. To be honest with you, I was terrified. While everything had gone well in eighth grade, then, I had been speaking to people I saw every day. This would be in front of not only the foundation’s donors but Tim’s family and friends. There was no room for error. Heart pounding, I stepped up to the podium with my father at my side, praying I’d be able to deliver this speech successfully. As I started speaking, I realized something: the room was so dark that the only two people I could see were Tim and his mom. In that instant, my nerves disappeared. To my surprise, that speech got the same result. Tim got on stage moments later and said it was “unbelievable” and one woman came over to me and told me she hoped that one day her little girl, who also liked to write, would follow in my footsteps. I was floored. But the compliment that meant the most to me came not from Tim or a donor, but from Kate, a little girl with cancer who had been invited as Tim’s special guest. Moments after I spoke, she came over to tell me that my speech was “really good.” She blew me away and showed me why I need to share my story: because it will connect me with people who will forever change my life.
Speaking at the gala wasn’t the biggest blessing of the weekend though. The biggest blessing was the people I met and the friends I made. As part of the foundation’s family, I got to meet and spend time with other kids and families Tim and his foundation had granted W15Hes to. You want to talk about strength? You should meet these kids, many of whom have gone through more than I ever have. Two of my amazing W15H friends have beaten cancer twice. Another, after having her W15H granted, started her own foundation and has since raised over 100,000 dollars for the foundation. These kids are strong. These kids are amazing.
So on the days when I’m frustrated and hurting, I think about them. I think about the obstacles they’ve overcome and the way they spread light and love everywhere they go, and I have the strength to keep fighting. I think about the love my family and friends shower me in, and the way the Lord has used the very thing I’m frustrated about to open beautiful doors and put the most incredible, amazing people in my life. That’s what gives me strength: my faith and the love I’m blessed to be surrounded with.
Maybe strength isn’t found in the tasks you can do; maybe it’s found in the way you overcome the ones you can’t. Maybe the days when you’re hurting and frustrated are the very days that make you stronger. Maybe strength is having the courage to share your story whether it’s on a stage or in a letter. And maybe, the reason we think we aren’t strong is the very thing that can inspire someone else. Perhaps, it could even change a life.
Maybe… maybe I am strong, after all
I would say she is one of the strongest people I know and have a front row seat to see her display her strength every day. Stay in touch with Robyn by reading her blog or following her on Twitter. In addition Robyn and her family are hosting a fund raiser for the Tim Tebow Foundation on Tuesday, September 12th. This event has been rescheduled for October 3rd due to inclement weather. Stop by and encourage yourself or leave a comment here to encourage Robyn. I’m so proud of her for sharing her story and know this world is a much better place because of her!