How I Found the Power to Stop Bullies as a Child With Limb Differences
Growing up in small town rural Iowa, there weren’t a whole lot of “different” people in my town, nor children in my school. As the only kid in quite possibly the whole school to wear a prosthetic leg (at least when I was a student there) it was rough. I was called “Peg leg,” “Pirate,” “Woodie” and more on a regular basis. I did my best to not let the bullying and name-calling get to me, but it did sometimes. I remember many days coming home from elementary school crying and not wanting to go back.
In fifth grade, we watched a movie in Mrs. Whitman’s class with the theme that knowledge is power, and I believe God inspired me through that movie. It has changed my entire life and the way I have responded to being “different.” After thinking long and hard about it, I asked my teacher if I could do a presentation on my leg and hands. I told her that if knowledge was power, maybe if the other kids actually knew what happened in my situation, they would see me differently. The teachers agreed, and they got together several of the other grades in our hallway.
Packed into a 30 child classroom, I sat up in the front at a table and showed them all the “things” that had anything to do with my leg. The prosthesis, the socks, even the Amp-Aid cream they used back in the day for sores. I explained about amniotic band syndrome and what happened to my leg, showed how I put the sleeve on, the socks, how the leg held on… and then, I took my leg off.
It was hard for me to show them the one thing I had always worked so hard to hide. I remember my heart pounding as I sat there, feeling vulnerable, all eyes looking at my stump, eyebrows lifting and mouths opening. I got through that presentation and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did the bullying stop, but one of the kids that had made fun of me the most heard another kid making fun of me and actually stood up to the bully.
It’s been over 20 years now and I can still remember both of those events so clearly. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. I wasn’t defective, I was just unique… maybe even kinda special. From then on, the sky was the limit for me and I was determined not to let my leg or hands get the best of me. It opened me up to getting involved in activities even though I knew there would be crowds watching. Through middle school and high school, I played softball, volleyball, track (shotput and discus), played the trumpet, rode horses… anything I put my mind to.
I’m thankful for the lessons I learned growing up and to those who helped me learn and grow. As an adult, I still get stares, but rather than hiding my hands or my leg, when I see someone staring curiously, I volunteer the information. It breaks my heart when a child asks me what happened to my leg and they’re told that asking is rude. I encourage them to ask questions, so they too can learn that others who might “look different” are no different than they are. Knowledge is power! I know not everyone in my situation may want to be as open about it as I am, but it wasn’t until I finally accepted myself and took a risk in educating others that my life and perspective was changed.