Some people go through life taking what comes and getting by. Others live their lives to the fullest.
Amanda, one of my daughters-in-law, has a lifelong friend named Jessica. I'm sure, when Amanda and Jessica were little girls they shared their dreams about the lives they would have.
I'm also sure that Jessica's dreams didn't include cancer.
At age 11 Jessica was diagnosed with bone cancer and her family was faced with the tough decision to amputate her leg.
I won't argue about the fairness of life, but life certainly didn't seem fair for Jessica about that time. Within a month of losing her leg to amputation, the family home was hit by a tornado... and then her father died.
Some people would have given up, or at the least decided that life had it in for them. Not Jessica. The bad things that happened put things in perspective for her, and hardened her determination.
Jessica said, "After my dad died I realized that some things are way more important than others. Losing my leg didn't seem like that big a deal at all when I had lost someone I loved so much."
She underwent chemo and learned to walk with a prosthetic leg by the time she started high school. In high school Jessica took part in band and went skiing.
After graduation she went off to college at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. There she met her future husband, Bryant Minton, and found out about the Lakeshore Foundation based in Birmingham. Jessica began to volunteer at the non-profit foundation, which provides activities and support for those with such issues as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and the effects of a stroke. One of the activities she helped with was wheelchair basketball.
In her junior year at JSU, she got a call from the University of Alabama, wanting her to play on their first women's wheelchair basketball team. While studying psychology at U of A, Jessica got a call asking her to play on the National Women's Sitting Volleyball Team. Encouraged by Bryant, she joined and traveled with the team to Europe and was an alternate on the U.S. squad at the 2004 Paralympics in Greece.
Jessica and Bryant married in 2005 and she gave birth to their son, Grant, in 2006. The storybook ending was not to be theirs, however, as Jessica suffered a series of small strokes during her pregnancy, and then one large one which prompted doctors to predict that she would never be able to speak in full sentences or even change their son's diapers.
A normal woman maybe, but not Jessica! As she said recently, "I guess I'm just good at figuring out how to get around things. I still have trouble with my right hand and sometimes I say one thing when I really meant to say something else. I've had to re-learn a lot of things but giving up was never something I would consider."
Despite her prosthetic leg, residual effects of the strokes, and now a pacemaker, Jessica has taken up handcycling. With a medical record that could be used as a textbook, she competes in 5Ks and 10Ks, and has plans to participate in an upcoming 15K (9.6 miles).
How much can one person take? "Setbacks don't depress me," she explained. "I'm still going to do the things I love."
Love your millionaire sports stars if you want, but Jessica is my inspiration.
As her husband, Bryant, put it, "She can be an inspiration to so many people. She is an amazing woman, not because she's done all these things but because she's done them when the rest of the world thought she couldn't."
I might add, when the rest of the world wouldn't.
We all have to deal with what life gives us, but some of us never go beyond that. Then there are people like Jessica, who take what life gives them, explores it, builds on it, and then wrings all the goodness out of it. Rather than feeling sorry for themselves when bad things happen, they check the map and pick a new route that keeps them moving forward. And mark my words folks Jessica is going to keep moving forward.