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How Far Will I Go? Confessions of a Disabled 'Moana'

If you haven’t seen Disney’s “Moana,” I’m about to spoil it for you. Sorry, but it’s important that you know the basic plot points for the purpose of this article.

The story follows Moana, a 16-year-old chieftain’s daughter who lives on a
Polynesian island. Although she longs to be on the sea, there is a rule in her village that no one is allowed to go on the water, so every day she stares at the horizon wishing she could go beyond it. She does achieve this, eventually, and goes on a voyage with the demigod Maui, in order to restore the Heart of Te Fiti, the goddess who is responsible for giving the islands life.

Now, here’s a spoiler about me: I am Moana. And here’s another spoiler: I have quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that leaves me needing to use a powered wheelchair and requiring help with the most fundamental of tasks. Growing up, I was always that kid: the one who never brushed her wild hair and came back from chasing frogs with the biggest of beams on her face. The English countryside village I grew up in (and where I still live today) is one of the most landlocked places in the country. However, that still didn’t stop me from dreaming of something more.


As I got older, I was academically successful: I went through school, earned 16 qualifications, and have just completed my undergraduate degree. I was adamant; nothing was going to stop me from seeing the world.

People were skeptical, however. I have cerebral palsy. This wasn’t what I was supposed to do; it would be much too hard, much too expensive, much too everything. For the first time in my life, I began to think my ambition might be my undoing.

And then I saw “Moana.”

Just like Moana, I was told I couldn’t go on the water, and was stuck on the shore wondering if I’d ever cross the line where the sky meets the sea. But also just like Moana, there was no quieting the call of the horizon, and the voice inside sang a different song than those around me.

Enthralled by the spirit of adventure I found in “Moana” and wanting to answer that call, I emailed the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Honolulu, begging to be taught their ways. I have cerebral palsy, but to me that matters little, I wrote. If nobody has done the things I choose to do before, then I shall be the first. They have yet to reply, but I pray and hope every day that they will.

I mean what I said to them. I want nothing more than to cross the horizon, to see those beautiful places in Oceania. I have this notion that difficulty is just a self-imposed limit we use to justify our excuses for not doing something, and that if we have the drive, ambition, and courage to do something, why shouldn’t we? Those of us who have additional needs don’t need a mass desertion of those who deem it too hard; we need a rally of those who support us. All too often, people say no; why can’t someone say yes, just this once?

As I write this, with Hawaii in my head and my legs strapped in metal, I cannot help but wonder: how far will I go? 

Update: Since this article was published, I have been contacted by the Polynesian Voyaging Society! They have been most kind to me; I am eager and ready to find the way, and cannot thank everyone enough for their support!

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