Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Showing Up!


I found out today that I am invited to represent the USA on the Paralympic Track team at the World Championships in New Zealand.

Now, if you had told me that I was going to make a statement like that 5 years ago I would have politely told you that you must have the wrong girl.

I have always been someone who loved to push the envelope, yes but I never thought that I would be an "athlete". Sure, it's nice to be in shape and exercise for health reasons but an athlete is someone who is just naturally gifted and competitive, I don't really see myself as having that killer instinct.

It wasn't always like this, being asked to fly around the globe to race internationally in track. In fact, just a few years ago I had never 'run' in my life.

I was given a pair of running feet to try out by Hanger Prosthetics and through the generosity of two amazing prosthetists, Will Yule and Coryn Reich, I was given the opportunity to open a new chapter in my life. It was a long learning curve and there was a point in time that I really didn't think I was going to be able to figure out how to do it at all.

You see, being BORN without legs created a complicated situation for me in that I didn't physically understand HOW to run.

I could jump really well, if there was a Paralympic event of bouncing I would have schooled 'em. Coryn and I would go out to 'jog' and I would bounce on each foot twice and she would (very sweetly) say, 'That's not really running'. But my muscles didn't quite grasp what I was asking them to do. Until we attended a running clinic for amputees that was put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (amazing organization - google them) and something clicked for me in the park that day. All of a sudden it all came together, within moments I was gliding down the path and shouting, 'Oh my god, I'm RUNNING!'. Truly a moment in my life that I will never forget.

It was within about a month of that day that I attended my first track meet and now I have to laugh when I look back on it, talk about a fish out of water! I had never competed in ANY SPORT before EVER. My attitude was that this would just be a fun thing to go out and try and not take so seriously, you know, no big thing. I signed up for the 60 meters, which, if you know anything about track, is not a real event, but this was an all inclusive meet with challenged athletes so it was again, no big thing. It was time for my heat. I grabbed my bib number and my lane assignment and I approached the starting line, my heart was pounding out of my chest and I was seriously questioning WHAT I was doing there.

There was no turning back.

I took my place in the center lane and glaced to either side of me to see what my competition looked like and there I was sandwiched in between 10 year-old kids. This was an incredibly humbling moment and I realized two things, one, I am truly starting from square one with this thing and two, I better win. The gun went off and in those next seconds I did what no adult should do, I raced children and beat them. I don't know if that makes me awesome athlete or a horrible person...

Little did I know that at that very meet there was a Paralympic coach that was paying very close attention to what I was doing and it was shortly after that that he was encouraging me to take track more seriously.

There are a myriad of stories that I could share about the events that followed after that but for now we are going to fast forward to 2007 in Rio. I had taken that coach's advise, trained my butt off, and made the US ParaPanAm team. I was to race in the 100 meters and I was in a heat with 6 other women, none of which had the same disability as me. There were three single below knee amputees, one single above knee amputee and two ARM amputees;

AKA I'm going to see the backs of 6 heads as they beat me to the finish line.

However, by this time, I had become much more confident and knew that I was not actually racing anyone in this heat but myself and the clock. I wanted to finish in under 18 seconds. That was my goal. We all approached the blocks, in this huge soccer stadium, our images projected on jumbo-trons and prepared to take on the track.

Bang! I chased those 6 women with everything that I had in me and as soon as I could, trying to catch my breath, I looked up at those giant screens to see if I had indeed reached my goal. All of the times appeared, all except mine. The other athletes happy with the outcome started heading down underneath the stands but I was moving as slowly as I could so that I would get what I traveled to South America for... I was the only athlete left on the track and suddenly, there it was,

KATY SULLIVAN USA 100m 17.68s

I leaped into the air and screamed in celebration, which lead to half of the stadium, in turn, to erupt into cheers. I'm sure those Brazilian fans were confused why the chick who came in last was acting like she won the gold but they joined me in my joy all the same.

To this day, that was one of the most amazing moments of my life. Setting out, in a very public way, to try to accomplish something that I had never done before and actually succeeding. That in itself was enough but what I didn't realize at the time was that just by showing up that day and running I became the first person with my specific physical limitation to compete in ambulatory track internationally in the world.

Just by showing up.


This chapter in my life continues to be humbling, inspiring and surprising. I am looking forward to New Zealand and to once again put on that USA jersey.


Where in your life can you make a difference in the world by just showing up?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's next?

I am part of a group called the Amputee Empowerment Partners and all that we do is sit down with people who are facing amputation or just after the surgery and listen to their worries, questions, fears and stories. I feel so strongly about this work for many reasons, I think it helps people heal with hope instead of doubt, I think it shows people what is possible, and I think that it gives people something to strive for.

I was asked this week to visit a woman who three months ago was jogging in Iran on the sidewalk and was in a hit and run accident that took both of her legs above the knee. She has family here and they brought her over so that she could get the best care and prosthetics possible. She is currently using a wheelchair and is concerned about the months ahead of her and learning to walk again. In her home country, if you become an amputee (I was told) you basically have to be home bound because people don't get prosthetics and if you use a wheelchair you can't get around because there are no cut outs in the sidewalks. So, people become trapped in their homes.

She didn't have a concept of people successfully living full lives without limbs.

I walked up to the building where we were to meet and as soon as I got to the door, I saw her and her whole face lit up. We sat down and talked for quite sometime, she asked me about how I do different things in my life, like showering and cooking and just getting around.

It made me realize how lucky I am to not have to think about those things on a daily basis, when was the last time you worried about how you were going to get to your kitchen?

We also talked about how she sees herself now with all that has happened to her. She has to do some personal image revisions and get to a place of "Ok, this is what is, what do I choose to do with it?". This is, I think, the hardest part. I have met so many amputees in my time as a patient advocate and there really are lots of types but many fall into two categories , the 'shell shocked - I don't want to be seen - let me be' type and then there is the 'that sucked but I want to get on with my life now' type. Don't get me wrong, depression is totally normal in these cases but when you can get to the place of 'what's next?' then you know that you are on the right path.

She is getting there, she wants to walk again and to stand next to her husband. She wants to feel 'normal' again.

When I left the visit I realized that I might get more out of these visits then the patients do. I get to drive home, talk about my day with my amazing husband, enjoy dinner, and relax in our beautiful apartment.

I can choose to think 'what's next?' instead of worrying about all my daily life stuff.

Now this is all well and good but maybe you are asking yourself what this has to do with you? It has a lot to do with you.

What type of person are you? When faced with troubles in your own experience how do you choose to face them? This woman is, through no fault of her own, having to learn EVERYTHING over again and doing it with bravery instead of blame or self pity.

Could you do the same?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Saying 'Yes'


I have recently learned about the power of simply saying 'yes' more often. When you are looking for things to happen for you in your life and you expect for more opportunities to show up; you have to be willing to take a step outside of your comfort zone sometimes.

Jay and I have turned into a bit more home bodies in the past few weeks. Mainly due to not feeling well, which had it's own place in the spectrum of 'I'm exactly where I need to be' but after a few days, it's time to get out of the house!! Which is what we have done in a major way.

I had an audition on Friday for a commercial and I ran into a friend of mine that I had lost touch with and we were trying to catch up in the few minutes before he went into read. We quickly realized that there was so much more to say than we were able to cram into such a short time and he asked me, 'What are you doing tonight? There is a launch party for the new Beach Body product, it should be fun and Shawn T (of INSANITY - the craziest work out program I have ever done) should be there'.

Now, I wanted to go immediately, getting a chance to meet Shawn T would be super cool to me but then I remembered Jay at home still not feeling great. So I said that we probably wouldn't make it but we should get together asap. To this my friend was like, "Oh, just come for a little while".

So I went home and very sweetly asked Jay if he'd like to go out instead of relaxing at home and he said, "Yeah! Let's go out!"

So we did.

And we had a great time. Walked a red carpet, met some awesome new contacts, had some drinks and just really realized that we needed to do this more often.

I think this ended up going to our heads a bit because we have been 'out' 5 out of 6 nights.

We went to the Hollywood Bowl (my first time ever) to see RENT - which was a really magical experience for me because that was one of the first musicals I saw on Broadway when I was 17 years old. AND I was part of the film version - if you blink you will miss me - I am in the opening song playing a Bohemian in the street during "Rent". Being on that movie set was truly one of those experiences that blew me away - being a part of that, even in a small way was incredible. I got a chance to talk to one of the original cast members and told him that I saw them in their first year on Broadway and he was truly touched and said, "Humble Beginnings", as we stood on the Warner Bros. back lot on this MASSIVE New York City set singing the opening number from that play. What a great message and what a great guy.

It is interesting to see this show years later and seeing that I, in ways, relate to the 'bad guy' in the play that just wants to open a mixed media production company for his friends to create their art. What is so wrong with that?? Maybe I have lost touch with that idealistic teenager that wanted to stick it to the man but now I would love for a Benny to show up and say, let's create art and live in a huge loft..... for free.

The show was great, by the way and the Bowl is amazing. Go see something there. Do it.

We spent the next few nights celebrating a birthday in a park (so fun!) and having an amazing dinner with great friends/show peeps (the food was unreal!). These events were exactly what we needed to enjoy our incredible friends. We are just surrounded by the neatest people.

This week was topped off by dinner with one of my dearest friends who is making some huge changes to her life and moving across the country to live in the LA area! I literally started crying when she confirmed the move. I couldn't be happier to have her near by, I am feeling so lucky!

Saying 'Yes' to the opportunities that show up in your life can relight your passion and excitement for where you currently are and where you are heading.

But after a busy week it can also make you feel so thankful for having a quiet night at home.

I'll leave you with this suggestion, try saying 'yes' to 10 things that you wouldn't normally do and see the amazing changes that will happen!

You already are the change you want to see.

video

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being Forced to Sit Still


The last few months have been interesting for my husband and myself. We have been working on a project with a group of awesome people for quite some time now and although the company is great, the process can become hard.

Now, we happen to work in the entertainment industry but this can be looked at from any type of situation. The idea of declaring to the world that you want 'X' and then trying to figure out how to make 'X' happen. To a Type A personality, the temptation to 'force it to happen' is very strong. If I am not where I want to be I will pack up my bag and get on the road, it's out there and I am going to find it.

The only problem there is that you sometimes end up walking in circles and after much energy, stress, and seemingly gained ground, you look up to notice that you are exactly where you started.

Jay and I have found ourselves on this exact same path and have had moments of very real frustration and doubt. I have enough understanding of how things work that the idea of pushing against what you don't want will only bring you more of the same. "What you resist, persists." It's like when you decide you want a certain type of car, the moment you set your mind to it, it seems like EVERYONE went out and bought that car because they are everywhere. When all you think about is waiting, and frustration and stress, it's going to occur to you that way.

So instead of pushing against it, if you can just release it and let it happen. Relax into it.

HA! How easy is that?

When was the last time you really wanted something and you were able to "let it go" and "let it happen"? Sure, there are somethings that are easier to do this with, like things that make sense to you. Things that aren't out of the realm of possibility in your own mind. "I believe that I will get the job I'm applying for because I have all the right qualifications for it". You get what I'm saying.

Now there are times when you might be getting in your own way and are forced to sit still.

That is what seems to be happening to us this week. We have been sick, not horribly sick or hospital sick, we're fine, but unable to really do much in the outside world. I've noticed feeling like we needed this bit of required calm. We have been pushing so hard against what we don't want that we haven't sat still and trusted that we are exactly where we need to be.

I'm not suggesting that you do this everyday of your life and things will just magically fall into place but at some point, when you are exhausted and beaten down from trying to force things to work, stopping for a moment of rest can make all the difference. Both mentally and physically.

So maybe take a moment this week to sit still and smile because you ARE exactly where you need to be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why NOT me?


Well, hi there!

I have thought about doing a blog for quite sometime. On a recent trip to Chicago while sharing a story with an amazing friend I was asked, why don't you blog? I guess I never really saw myself as a writer and I didn't know if I had anything to say or if anyone would listen. But after thinking about a way to put out into the world a positive perspective NOW, this seemed like the perfect fit.

So, here it is. My blog.

Just to share a bit about myself first, I'm Katy. I live in Burbank, CA with my sweet, neat, funny comedian and writer husband, Jay. I am a classically trained actress, an internationally ranked athlete, a national advocate for amputees and an eternal optimist. I've spent a lot of my life doing things that other people might think are crazy or rash. I have chased my dream of being an actress all the way to California and have always had the mind set of "someone has to be able to do it, why not me?"

I almost see myself as a super hero, Optimist Girl, leaping over negativity in a single bound!

Now, don't get me wrong, I have my share of troubles and days that I listen to that little voice inside my head that rattles on about all of the reasons I won't have success and happiness. And that's one of the reasons I'm here doing this. I want to share what I'm going through on my path to who I want to be (who I already am) and hear what incredible things you are doing to make the world a better place, one smile at a time. I also want to use this as proof for that little voice that one person can make a difference.

I had the amazing opportunity yesterday to go and speak to a group of high school kids in Pasadena. They are part of a program for kids who are going to be the first ones in their families to go to college and I was asked to come in and talk a bit about the field of prosthetics but also to share my story. I was a little worried when the teacher that asked me to come said that this group was sort of immature. We had some trouble with the projector and I had to wing it for a while BUT the easiest way to reach 14-17 year-olds is laugh at yourself. After a few minutes of talking and a few well placed jokes about myself, I found that not only were these kids NOT immature but very smart and engaged.

I told them about my life growing up as an amputee and how it made me feel different. All I ever wanted was to be a ordinary kid, just like everyone else and it wasn't until I was in my 20's that realized that those things that make me different are the things that make me EXTRAordinary.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and there is a specific reason that I was born the way that I was, without my lower legs and that reason is because that is how I am set apart from the rest of the pack.

The students had some amazing questions at the end and if I could inspire just ONE of them to be proud of what makes them different, what more could I ask?

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I'm going to try to blog about once a week. I'd love to hear from you, your thoughts, ideas and challenges.

I'll leave you with a thought for the week.

Self-acceptance is having the awareness that you already ARE what you are seeking.