“You’re not handicapped, the rest of the world is for thinking you are.”
Casey sat me down the first day I joined Faubourg School of Ballet and asked, “why does your Mother think you’re handicapped?” I was shocked, I thought it was clear. I was born blind and although regaining eyesight in my right eye, I wore a prosthetic left eye to cosmetically fit in with my peers after losing my left eye in surgery as a child. I explained these details to Casey, especially that I cannot see out of my left eye and therefore turning and balancing like other ballerinas is more difficult for me. He responded, “you’re not handicapped, the rest of the world is for thinking you are.” He went on to say “the lessons you learn in this ballet studio have very little to do with ballet, and so much more to do with life itself.” My 14-year-old self didn’t understand what he meant, but after having been doubted in the professional realm of ballet, in a cardiothoracic surgical operating room and behind the wheel of an ambulance as a first responder in New York City all for having one eye, it became overwhelmingly clear what Casey’s teachings meant. Casey was the first person to teach me that my handicap can be used as a strength rather than a weakness, and this has helped guide me throughout life. This lesson has taught me to remain confident in myself despite others doubting my abilities, and even more importantly, to perform even better when under external pressure.
“It’s 90% mental.”
Casey loved the phrase “it’s 90% mental.” Every pirouette or jeté not executed perfectly came down to these words. Training as hard as the dancers did at Faubourg certainly took a lot of discipline, and therefore, a lot of mental control to remain focused and diligent towards the goal of a perfect execution; however, what I didn’t realize then at Faubourg was just how far these words would carry me in life. Attending Columbia University as a premed student meant most of the students I was surrounded by have studied all their lives to get to such a high-performing level. Many of them from the outside-in appeared as machines, sleeping only 4-5 hours a night and limiting their social lives throughout all of college to get ahead in any way they could. Many of these students were foreigners, embarrassed to return home without a perfect GPA to their families. Having lost my Mom to cancer in high school, I had no parent to check-in on my GPA, rather, I had Casey calling me in the middle of the night making sure I was getting enough sleep and reminding me that the perfect execution of anything remains “90% mental,” whether that be in the ballet studio or on an Organic Chemistry exam. These words have carried me throughout life, helping me perform on each exam, assist in human heart procurements for transplants, and save lives as a first responder in New York City. Even more so, overcoming my two greatest challenges in life so far were single-handedly due to Casey’s impact on my life. Overcoming the loss of my Mother to cancer and walking again after a neurological disorder that left me confined to a wheelchair all within 10 months of each other was only possible by applying “it’s 90% mental” to my recovery. Just as I had approached my “handicap” with Casey, where I transformed it as a strength in my life, I also used the loss of my mother and the diagnosis that I’d remain in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future as motivation to heal my body and mind, stronger for what it’s been through.