The story of a young disabled girl called Kristie. Kristie didn’t let being confined to a wheelchair get in the way of participation. According to Kristie, kids in wheelchairs can do anything.
I once had the privilege of teaching a young disabled girl called Kristie. Kristie was twelve years old and had been confined to a wheelchair for most of her life. I no longer remember why she was in a wheelchair, because that some how wasn’t important at the time. What was important was her attitude to life. Kristie was a role model for the other pre-teens in the class, never believing anything was impossible.
At that time there was a slogan popular in New Zealand, maybe it was in vogue everywhere in the world. This declared, Girls can do anything.’ It certainly helped many young girls believe in themselves and attempt things they may not have otherwise done. Kristie took this slogan one step further. One day when she had accomplished something, I praised her. She grinned. “Didn’t you know,” she declared, “kids in wheelchairs can do anything.”
Kristie was a pretty girl and the boys in the class admired her determination and positive attitude. Unfortunately not all the girls felt the same way at first. However, thanks to her incredible attitude towards life, as the year progressed Kristie became one of the most popular class members. Two major incidents helped this.
Part way through the year the school held a disco for the students, all aged between 11 and 13. Kristie came. I’m not sure why, but I worried that Kristie would feel left out. When I told her it was good to see her there, she reminded me, “Mrs Mills, remember, kids in wheelchairs can do anything.”
I don’t know about all wheelchair bound kids, but that girl could certainly dance. And she didn’t sit out a dance all night. She manoeuvred that chair of hers as if it had been built to dance. Look out anyone who got in her way. Kristie didn’t stand on toes, she ran them over. In the Gay Gordons she had everyone laughing and joining in the fun. This is an old tradtional dance with couples in a circle, and every time a set of movements was completed the girls moved on to the next boy partner. I watched anxiously as she wheeled into the circle, grabbing the first unsuspecting boy she could find. I needn’t have worried. I’m not sure if it was because of Kristie’s enthusiasm, but the Gay Gordons dance seemed to last longer than usual that night.
Another occasion fixed firmly in my mind was the school cross country race. Kristie lined up with all the able bodied runners, a more senior student being allowed to push her from behind as they completed the circuit of the school grounds several times. Whenever they met a bump in the grass Kristie had to hang on tight so as not to be sent flying from her chair. Kristie didn’t care how long it took her to complete the course. Participation was the name of the game.
These were major school events and Kristie didn’t want to be left out. It was like that in the classroom too. She was always one of the first to volunteer for something. Not for her the can’t be bothered attitude that tends to creep in with young people of that age group. In my eyes, and gradually in the eyes of most other class members, Kristie was a winner. She didn’t consider herself handicapped in any way. Her wheelchair wasn’t an issue. As far as Kristie was concerned, she could do anything.
I have no idea what became of Kristie as I moved out of the district after that year. Over the years I’ve taught many children, many of them have long been forgotten. But Kristie is one I’ll always remember. Her determination to be just another one of the kids in the class had to be admired. She taught me a major fact about life that year. Kids in wheelchairs can do anything. If they want to, that is.