A Gift to Last a Lifetime
by Gretchen Evans, No Barriers Advocate
I remember the holiday that changed our family traditions forever. It started when I asked my daughter in March what she got for Christmas, and she could not remember. I knew our traditions needed to change. For every holiday after, we found ways to give to others. There were still a few presents under the tree but this new tradition changed the way our family cherishes the holidays and gave us a way to give back to the world. Now when we share memories months later about the holidays, we know we gave and received gifts that matter.
My holiday present came early this year through generous donations from donors like you. I was able to pay my No Barriers experience forward by leading an expedition for youth of mixed abilities in Nepal with Bill Barkeley, Mandy Harvey and Erik Weihenmayer. This program included kids with physical and emotional disabilities that were significant barriers in their lives. I witnessed a transformation with these kids as they gained a broader vision of themselves and their place in the world.
I want you to meet one of these students. His name is Michael.
We aren’t what others perceived us to be based on our appearances or what the human eye predetermined us to be.
Before birth, I was diagnosed with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a birth defect in which all of my joints are contracted and the muscles throughout my body are either missing or stiffened. As a result, I have gone through countless bilateral clubfoot and jaw surgeries; today, I wear leg and arm orthotics on all my limbs.
I receive looks of sympathy and pity daily and have experienced many prejudicial statements that could so easily scratch away at the human soul and translate life into nothing but a sob story.
I was ecstatic to join the No Barriers journey to Nepal this summer through a scholarship from Cabinets To Go. Immediately when we arrived in the Los Angeles Airport, I witnessed outward obvious disabilities and challenges wash away. We aren’t what others perceived us to be based on our appearances or what the human eye predetermined us to be. Everyone was high spirited, energetic, outgoing, unique, and their best possible self because No Barriers quickly created a safe place to be the authentic people we are.
The next two weeks became unquestionably the most awesome adventure of my life!
We became a rope team and built upon the seven elements of a No Barriers Life within the blink of an eye. We showered each other with motivation, vision, passion, and unconditional love.
Our days gleamed with indescribable moments, hysterical laughter, magical experiences, and the knowledge that what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way. I know now that I do not, and never have had, a disability. It is a different ability. To me it is a gift.
On the last day we did a No Barriers coin ceremony that honors our self-worth and pride. The coin also serves as a reminder of the powerful and amazing two weeks we had just had and helps ignite the flame that pushes us to persevere in life and strive for the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations. During the coin ceremony, I experienced tears of joy for the first time and my heart filled with unwavering love and pride for my new rope team and forever family. This was far beyond just a trip. It was an experience that changed my life forever and helped me to live a No Barriers Life.
I still carry my coin with me daily, everywhere I go, to remind me of the strength within me. I am infinitely grateful to those who support No Barriers, and in doing so, supported me. I walked away from the program with a confidence that I did not know existed, unforgettable jokes, hilarious memories, moments that will ride with me forever, everlasting bonds, and a No Barriers family and rope team that leave me speechless.
— Michael O’Hearn
I know now that I do not, and never have had, a disability. It is a different ability. To me it is a gift.MICHAEL
You have likely heard my No Barriers story before: I was a soldier in the Army, wounded by a mortar round that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, deafness, and other injuries, ultimately ending my career and leaving me without passion or purpose.
No Barriers provided me with an opportunity to create a new vision for my future and allowed me to reconnect with myself, my family, friends, and community.
I was able to pay my No Barriers experience forward by leading the youth expedition in Nepal with Michael and his fellow students.
With no cell service in the mountains of Nepal, the focus wasn’t on the day-to-day; we were reflecting on life and the future. We were dreaming big!
They were talking about an illuminated path that allowed them to dream about all that was possible in their life, who they might become and all that was possible in the world.
My holiday present came early this year through generous donations from donors like you.
Please join me in giving gifts this year that will be remembered long past the holidays.
Command Sergeant Major (RET), U.S. Army
November 14, 2018