Growing up in a small town in rural Indianapolis, Indiana, I never considered myself as different even though I was, according to the “normal” teenager. I guess I never noticed it because I didn’t allow myself to notice it and neither did my family or my friends.
I wasn’t allowed to have extra pity parties for myself because I wasn’t able to do some of the same things that the “normal” kids did or because I couldn’t wear some of the pretty shoes because they wouldn’t fit over the mold of my leg braces. My family wouldn’t allow it, my friends wouldn’t allow it, and most of all I wouldn’t allow it.
After all, how could I ever consider myself just as “normal” as my peers if I never tried to do the same things that they were doing or become involved in the same activities or programs that they were involved in?
So I wasn’t athletic, so what, I had TONS of friends who weren’t either and it didn’t make them social lepers so why should it be any different for me? I was always accepted by my classmates, friends, and other peers so what was the big deal?
I’ll tell you what the big deal was. I wanted to be as “normal” as “normal” could possibly be so I decided that I would become involved in all kinds of school activities.
After all, if I was involved in the same activities as my peers then I had the resources to make new friends, find new hobbies, enjoy myself, and be considered “normal.”
So that’s where it started. I joined every club and after school function that even mildly interested me. What did I get out of it? I got the feeling of normalcy. When my peers noticed that I was no different than they were on the inside, they stopped noticing my differences on the outside. I simply became ME and not the girl who walks funny and wears braces on her legs.
It was my 6th grade year, my first year of middle school, and all of my friends were trying out for basketball, cheer leading, and various other sports. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of something that was so much bigger than me, so I thought long and hard about what I could do to become involved in those same activities as my peers.
For starters, I gave it my best shot and tried out for the cheerleading team. After all, how could they accept me if I never tried! It turns out that my bad attempt at gymnastics and extremely loud voice just wasn’t enough for me to make the squad. So did I give up and walk away? No, I found a way to be a part of the squad even it meant that I didn’t get to wear the cute little outfits.
I became the cheer manager. I made sure that the girls always had what they needed for games, pep rallies, etc. I made signs for games, helped out at the pep rallies by being what they called “the yell leader,” etc. Simply put, I made sure that the students were getting into the cheers and giving all the school spirit they had to give.
What did I do that was so different? I got involved. So I didn’t officially make the squad. So what! I didn’t give up when they didn’t call my name that day to join the others who had made it. I simply made no excuses and got involved in any way that I could.
Instead of playing sports, I managed sports. When I started high school my dream was to earn my letterman’s jacket. How on earth was I going to do that if I couldn’t play the sports to earn my jacket? Well I did just as I did in middle school and I got involved.
I first approached the football coach who agreed to let me manage the football team and in return he would make sure that I received points towards my letterman’s jacket. For the first time I felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself.
I got so addicted to that feeling that I couldn’t just stop there. Next, I found myself talking to the basketball coach, and then the baseball coach.
By managing sports I became a part of something that was so much bigger than me, and it allowed me to enjoy spending time with my peers in a social and academic setting.
No one made fun of me because I wasn’t athletic; instead the other girls envied me because for me it was so much more than just having that feeling of belonging to something that was bigger than me. It was where I truly found myself! It was where I realized that I wasn’t so different than my peers; instead I was just as “normal” as they were. It didn’t take long after that for the other things to fall into place.
I love to write, and I always have so I decided to join the yearbook club, and the newspaper staff, but that wasn’t enough for me, so I found myself also joining the prom committee, the SADD club, and the drama club. Needless to say, my social calendar was booked to capacity.
During my sophomore year, my peers nicknamed me the “go-getter.” I earned this particular nickname because I didn’t just sit back and watch as others enjoyed their lives, but I decided to join in and enjoy my life as well.
Throughout my high school years, I continued to manage sports, work on the yearbook, write stories for the school newspaper, attend SADD club meetings, be a part of planning the prom, and star in 3 of the 4 productions that the drama club presented.
In doing this, I found that my peers accepted me as simply a normal human being because I chose to get involved instead of sitting back and watching life pass me by.
I met some of my best friends on the sports teams that I managed; I was the envy of all of the girls when I managed the boys’ basketball and baseball teams, and I earned a spot as Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper in my junior and senior year. I was voted Homecoming Princess my junior year as well.
I truly believe that this is all because I chose to get involved instead of just accepting that I was different and letting life pass me by. Instead I chose to work hard and make my dream come true. Standing in front of an auditorium that seemed to overflow with my peers, I received my letterman’s jacket, and it was worth every bit of the extra effort that I put into earning it.
Nobody felt sorry for me because I couldn’t physically play sports. I earned my letterman’s jacket and it felt GREAT!
Standing in that same auditorium with all of my peers, I gave my graduation speech and read aloud the poem that I had written describing how each and every one of those activities and people made me feel as “normal” as I could ever be. At the end of my speech I received a standing ovation.
I didn’t receive that standing ovation simply because I was different, but because I had made a difference in some of those lives. I had showed them that it was okay to be different and that being different didn’t necessarily mean being invisible or standing in the shadow watching life pass you by. It meant getting out there and giving it everything I had.
Getting involved doesn’t mean that you have to be involved in every club, school activity, sport, etc. What it does mean is that if you are willing to put yourself out there and show yourself and others that being “normal” is simply a behavior, not a way of life than you can achieve any goal or dream that you have set for yourself.
In order to meet new friends we must continually put ourselves out there. We must set aside our personal fears and give it everything we’ve got. After all, you could meet your best friend or your soul mate by simply getting involved.
Who knows, maybe you will be receiving your letterman’s jacket, accepting the crown at your prom or homecoming, or giving that all important last speech at your graduation. Put yourself out there and get involved, it could enrich your life in more ways than you could ever imagine.