Dear Coach Kuyper,
The choice to send Vanessa to a week long summer camp is quite understated as a challenge. To share my thoughts (glorious) and feelings (pride) with you regarding the week is difficult. If emotions ran my life Vanessa would not be where she is today.
My forethought going into camp was bring it on. There is a lot of planning and analyzing involved in ensuring that Vanessa’s medical condition does not negatively influence her self esteem or interfere with her quality of life. There is a medical routine that must be melded with the activity schedule. None of that matters to Vanessa, she is 9. She wanted to play basketball. Her day is focused on her new best friend and whether I heard her scream the loudest when her team won.
I think Vanessa recognizes she has a different place in life. She thinks she is great at dribbling because she is better than she was, not because comparatively she felt better than someone else. I kept waiting all week for the ‘ball to drop’ on her perfect world to her first ‘handicapped heartbreak’ but it never did. Neither did mine.
My thoughts and feelings are told best through my actions. There were 50-70 balls flying around the gym at any given moment and all I could think to say to Vanessa for support was you can’t slow down. Stay close to the wall. Focus on where you need to go and just walk straight ahead; strong and steady.
Vanessa Gillette has to be one of the most courageous people I have ever met. Somewhere along her 9 year journey she has forgotten that she was born with Spina Bifida… or at least she refuses to let this inconvenience slow her down.
She loves sports. She loves to run around and have fun. She just happens to wear 2 leg braces and doesn’t run as fast as the others.
I think she broke the all time record for falling down during a week-long basketball camp. She was run into, “banged in the head”, tripped, knocked down, and never cried once. She just gets up, takes a few seconds to gain her balance and takes off again.
Then there are the big tough basketball stars who barely tumble down on the floor and need you to call 911 to take care of their little “owies”.
“What was your favorite thing to do at camp?” I asked Vanessa.
“Dribbling”, she said, “because I’m really good at it”.
“Were you afraid that you were going to get hurt when you fell down?”
“No, it doesn’t hurt so bad”.
Vanessa isn’t much for big explanations, because everything that is big has to do with her heart!
Vanessa gets it….she loved basketball camp and dribbling because she doesn’t compare herself to others. She doesn’t try to beat the others nor is her main objective to win. She just gives her all and does her best and that is that.
Then, she smiles a lot and has just as much fun as anyone else… maybe more. She is such a blessing to all those who get to be with her.
I kept on wondering why all the kids wanted her on their team for the dribbling relays. Then I saw the reason… her influence had challenged their desires to go for it with out holding back, for the simple pleasure of having pure fun.
Vanessa, keep on doing what you are doing, and being who you are! You have an amazing potential for influence.
I can’t wait until next year’s summer basketball camp to see your smile and enthusiasm, and of course the new skills you will develop. Thanks for being such a great example to all of us!