When I worked for the YMCA I had a youth named Michael that since childbirth only had one leg. He did not have a left leg from his knee down. He wore a prosthetic leg every day. He was extremely comfortable with it and didn't care what anybody thought about it, said about it, or the way they looked at him. In fact he was so comfortable that sometimes he would turn his prosthetic leg around so the foot faced the other direction and would walk around the YMCA that way. It always made me laugh but it also showed me how comfortable he was with his disability. I was always really proud of him for that.
One year we decided to go on a White Water rafting as our summer adventure trip and Michael decided to go with us. We camped at a local campground and in the morning we got up and headed down to the White Water rafting company for our trip down the river. We had enough people on the trip that we needed two rafts. I was on a different raft from Michael when we started the trip. Michael’s raft had two guides, a gentleman that had been down the river hundreds of times and a lady who was a raft guide in training.
We left a little after 9:00 am for our three hour trip down the river. Everything was going great, the weather was perfect, the temperature of the water was awesome, and the water level was perfect for riding the rapids. About half way through our ride, in Michael’s boat, the raft guide in training took over to lead them through a couple of rapids. Their raft was following ours through the rapids. We came to one rapid that was a large rock in the middle of the river and you had to either go to the left or to the right. We went to the right and shot the rapid very fast down to the end. Quickly we turned the raft to watch the other raft come through the rapid.
They decided to go the right as well, but the guide in training didn’t have them pull far enough right and they clipped the side of the rock which made the raft stand straight up in the air and jettisoned everyone off the raft and into the river. Our guide quickly positioned our raft to catch their's as it floated upside down toward us. I was able to grab hold and with the help of another youth, we got it turned back over. The two guides were the first to swim over and grab hold of their raft. I jumped into their raft to pull them in and help pull everyone else in as well.
The three of us started to pull in people and that is when I saw Michael swimming up. He had his leg in his hand. When he got close enough to the boat, he threw his leg into the boat, grabbed my hands and pulled himself back in. He sat up and without even thinking anything about it, he picked up his leg, turned it upside down to dump the water out of it, and put it back on. He then turned to help me pull others into the boat. Neither one of us realized that the guide in training was freaking out because no one had told her that he had a fake leg and when he swam up with it in his hand her first thought was that he had lost a leg. We tried to calm her down but the situation was so traumatic to her that we heard the next year when we came back that she had quit the next day because of the situation.
I always wondered why she couldn’t get over the fact that he had a fake leg and was perfectly fine. The fact that Michael had a fake leg was something that we all accepted and knew. He had been in the program so long that it never shocked us to see him take it off or turn it around backwards. He played basketball and hockey with us. He ran around with the other youth without any problem. I have always remembered this story as funny but also a life lesson about acceptance and strength.
All Michael wanted to be was just another youth, yes he had a disability, but what is a disability really? It is what you allow it to be, and he didn’t allow his to be one. He has so much strength and I truly admired him for it. I am not sure where he is today but I will always remember this story and cherish it. It also makes me chuckle when I remember him swimming up to the raft with his leg in his hand. I can still see the water pouring out of his leg as we turned in upside down and then put it back on. The best part of the story is that it did faze him and he turned to help his friends out of the water.