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Carrying Myself This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Ever since I was young, I have loved to be carried. As other three-year-olds bounced and crashed around the classroom, I longed for the safety of my teacher's arms. While some kids wanted to dash up and down the aisles at the grocery store, I was happy sitting in the cart, admiring the sights passing my eyes. Perhaps it was due to my gentle, shy nature.

On my high school crew team, I experienced a similar preference for being seated. When the coach deemed me too small for rowing, he set me in the rear of the boat, called the coxswain's perch. From that small seat, my job was to steer the 60-foot human-propelled craft through the water, rather than drive it with my strength. I loved sitting poised with eight rowers in front of me, ready for the explosion of power that would come not from my body but theirs. It never occurred to me that my partiality for the seated position was because of a birth defect.

Although I was not required to exercise with the rowers, I was determined to build my strength. I put my body through intense training during the first six months of crew. However, this increase in physical activity caused staggering pain in my hips. A trip to an orthopedic clinic soon followed, and the X-rays revealed that I had congenital hip dysplasia. The hip sockets inside my twiggy legs had never formed correctly. I was surprised and scared by the diagnosis. As a 14-year-old, I was embarrassed to be affected by the same disease as my elderly collie.

Instead of providing a cushioned notch for the round tips of my femurs to rotate in, my misshapen hip sockets caused my bones to grind against each other with each step. It is no wonder that I enjoyed sitting so much. The only way to fix this was through reconstructive surgery. I was a puzzle that did not fit together. An orthopedic surgeon was the only person who could remake my pieces and join them properly.

By detaching my hip sockets from the pelvis and realigning them with four three-inch long screws on each side, the surgeons formed a more functional structure. I underwent two operations, during consecutive summers so the three-month recovery time wouldn't interfere with school. Instead of working on my tan, I spent two summers perfecting the art of maneuvering a wheelchair and crutches.

The biggest question confronting me was whether I would ever walk normally and without pain. I spent months on high doses of medication to mask the pain caused by the severe trauma to my body. Blood loss caused extreme fatigue. By the time school and crew practice began again, I did not know if I could handle the stress of performing academically in class, physically at crew, and socially with my peers.

Crew turned out to be a respite from the challenges of rehabilitation. My coxswain position has allowed me to continue participating without damaging my fragile new hips. The eight other girls in my boat hold me together, much like the eight screws inside me. Without their support, I could not continue to stand. Instead of letting myself retreat into the shy girl sitting in the corner, my impairment has pushed me to stand taller; the team even elected me their first female president this year. Taking care of my body has become a priority. I am now able to exercise regularly without too much discomfort.

Pain has given me an appreciation for my healthy life. I am grateful to my surgeons, my family, and my friends, who encouraged me when I truly needed others to carry me. By keeping a positive mindset and focusing on my goal to walk normally, I developed a heightened sensitivity not only for those with disabilities but for people in general.

Everyone has a story. I look at each person now with an open heart, knowing that they too have endured struggles of their own. I am no longer the three-year-old girl who loved to be carried. My struggles have prepared me to carry others.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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