I am a motivational speaker and a university student studying kinesiology. I have an incredible family and close friends, and I am blessed to be part of a wonderful Jewish community. I spent a year studying at a seminary in Jerusalem after I graduated high school. I have gone cross-country skiing, kayaking and rowing. I have even been interviewed on television. I have done all these things . . . and I have a physical disability.

I was born with a rare vascular malformation in my left leg, affecting one in twenty million people, and resulting in malfunction of the veins. As a result, I walk with two canes, and use an electric scooter for distances. The Torah teaches us that the events in our lives are messages from G‑d that help us realize our mission and true potential. I know the events I walk with two canes, and use an electric scooter for distancesin my life have accomplished just that.

There were times when my medical condition drastically impacted my life. At the end of eleventh grade I spontaneously fractured my leg, due to the weakness of my bones. A typical person would heal in six to twelve weeks. I had to wear a plaster cast up to my mid-thigh for six months. I was not allowed to leave my house for the first three months.

I was devastated. There were times that I felt lonely, pessimistic, and fearful of what the future would hold. I had lost so much.

In order to stop myself from dwelling on what I could not do, I made a list of everything that I was thankful to G‑d for. I could move my fingers, my wrists, my elbows, shoulders, neck, right ankle, right toes, right knee and leg. I was grateful that I had a mind to use, that I was able to go to school and do schoolwork. I was grateful that I could see, hear, think, smell and taste. I was grateful that I had such a wonderful support system from my parents, sister and friends.

Several years later, my hip seized up on me and became stiff due to severe muscle tightness. For the next seven months my hip muscles remained very tight. My cane was replaced with a walker. I had lost all my independence again. It was so hard for me to handle the fact that G‑d was giving me a second, seemingly insurmountable test. Wasn’t the first test enough?

Then my occupational therapist said something that had a profound effect on me: “Jackie, are you going to let your leg take control of you, or are you going to take control of your leg?” By pitying myself, I was letting my leg take control over my life.

Wasn’t the first test enough?

On November 8, 2011, I heard Rick Hansen speak at an event in Toronto. At age fifteen he fell out of a truck, broke his back, and lost the use of his legs. Twenty-five years ago he wheeled around the world in his wheelchair, raising money for spinal-cord injury research and awareness of people with disabilities. I approached him before the event and started tearing up, telling him how much he had inspired me. He then said to me, “Remember the family and friends around you who support you. You can make an impact on the world. You can live a full life and be a difference-maker. Focus on your ability and not your disability.”

It was these pivotal words that caused me to undergo a paradigm shift in my life. I now have a rejuvenated, joyful attitude toward life. I began sharing my story by speaking to Jewish high-school students, a way to turn my negative experiences into positive ones. I give two main messages:

  1. Don’t let your individual challenges stop you from living the most meaningful life possible.
  2. Focus on your abilities and not your disabilities.

Every single person in the world has his or her own challenges or personal “disability.” My disability is obvious, but many others are hidden. Some people have illnesses that are not visible; some are insecure and lack self-confidence. These are “disabilities” that have the power to control us and stop us from living the best life possible.

Are you going to let your challenges control you, or are you going to control them?