My chest was tight and I couldn’t breathe–because my spine was pinching my right lung. My classmates passed me on the track. And when all of my friends were done, I still had another lap.
Until that mile run in the seventh grade, I used to pretend my disability wasn’t there. But that day, I realized I’d have to face it.
My doctor told me that one in a million people have multiple pterygium syndrome — a combination of congenital scoliosis and a joint disorder that makes it hard to move my arms and legs. At the age of 10, I went from being a kid who climbed trees and ran just about everywhere, to one who might never play sports again. I felt angry and alone.
Then, I was adopted out of foster care, and eventually my mom took me to wheelchair basketball because she didn’t want me to give up on being active.
I remember my first time in a gym full of other kids with disabilities. Some were making basket after basket from in their wheelchairs, but I was just trying to get used to pushing one for the first time.
From then on, I practiced every Saturday and traveled out of state to compete with other teams. My body changed. Muscles grew. My lung efficiency shot up–I got more air with each breath.
The emotional changes were even more profound. As a former foster kid, I was used to being alone, and not relying on other people, But to improve as part of a team, I had to learn to listen to criticism, be vulnerable, and trust my teammates. Eventually I was able to do the same with my adoptive parents.
My case of scoliosis won’t ever be “fixed.” For a while, it was getting worse. At its most extreme, I couldn’t walk a block without scorching pain. But I stopped seeing my disability as a limitation. Sscoliosis enabled me to be who I am–the athlete, the daughter, the friend.
With a Perspective, I’m Christie Levine.
Christie Levine is 18-years-old and lives in Berkeley. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.