Finding Beauty in Being Different: A Word From a Disabled Athlete

About the Author: Dani (@onearmdan) is a track runner and Nordic skier. Born without most of her left arm, she grew up trying to hide her disability, fearing the judgement of others. Now, she trains for Team USA for Paralympic Track and Field, and proudly shows her arms as she does it

“What is wrong with her?”

“Why does that girl not have an arm?”

“Look!  What happened to her hand?”

When you have a physical disability, you become accustomed to people asking questions, staring at you in public, and looking at you as if you are different.

Teenage years are already hard enough as a young female.  You are dealing with boys, puberty, self-esteem, and trying to figure out who you are and what you want your life to look like. 

When I was younger, I hated going into public with my left arm exposed.  I was born without my left hand and forearm, and my arm extends barely past my elbow.  I remember wearing my prosthetic arm in the heat of 100 degree summers, with a long-sleeve shirt on top just so I could avoid people asking me questions when I went in public.  When my friends starting getting boyfriends in middle school and I wasn’t, I blamed it on the fact that I only have one hand.  It was exhausting trying to cover up my hand.  

It was in high school when it hit me.  I was a stand-out athlete in my respective sports, and boys started expressing interest in me.  I was comfortable around my friends and classmates, we would even make jokes about the one hand all the time, yet when I still went in public and was around a ton of strangers, I would do anything to hide my left arm.

If my friends loved me the way I was, and my self-esteem was high enough to make jokes about my own disability, why did I let the opinions of people who I did not even know affect me so much?  Why should i care if a stranger stares at me in public?  Do I really make myself uncomfortable just to try to make others more comfortable?

Screw it.  No more prosthetic arm.  No more sweatshirts when it was over 100 degrees outside. I realize that for the rest of my life I may get stares in public, I may have to answer constant questions about what happened to my hand, but it is okay.  I am confident in myself enough now that it does not bother me.  

Flash forward and I am now 23 years old.  I am training to qualify for Team USA for Paralympic Track & Field, and I train full-time as an athlete.  While I was younger, I would have done anything to look "normal".  Now, I would not change my limb difference for the world.  It makes me unique, gives me opportunities I may have never had in modeling and athletics, and is a great platform to be able to stand up for the adaptive community.  

April is Limb Difference Awareness Month. 

It is a time to recognize that while some of us may look different, we are still all beautiful and powerful and confident individuals.