What’s the first thing someone notices about you?

No, really. Think about it. When a random stranger meets you for the first time, what do you think is the first thing they notice about you? Is it your eyes? Maybe your smile? Maybe you know what it is even though you wish it was something else. For me, I don’t really have to speculate. I know what the first thing somebody notices is... because it’s obvious. And, honestly, I don’t see this as a bad thing.

Hi. I’m Avery, and I was born with a rare disability called AMC. In easy terms, it is defined as the tightening of joints and muscles. This means that I have muscles in my legs, but they aren’t helpful enough to make me walk. This also means that regardless of how big I smile or how good my hair looks on any given day, the first thing someone notices is my wheelchair and my legs.

When I was born, my legs were twisted up towards my face kind of like a monkey. Every doctor my parents talked to told us that I would never walk and there was a slim chance that I’d be able to sit like everyone else. And thus began the long journey to becoming the best version of myself I could be. The first few years were full of hospital visits, casts, and 24/7 physical therapy. My fingers were also paralyzed in place as a child. I owe my ability to type this article to the daily dedication of my mother. She turned everything in my life into games that had physical therapy woven throughout them. My mom taught me to climb by making stairs out of pillows and putting toys at the top. She also engineered a contraption on wheels that helped me learn to crawl. The doctors said that if I didn’t learn to crawl then they wouldn’t able to do a series of surgeries to reshape my legs to be straight so that I could sit up.

At age three, I had mastered the subtle art of crawling - meaning my family then entered into the world of hospital stays and pain medication. The series of surgeries spanned eight weeks in the hospital and eight months of recovery, and I remember absolutely none of it. After that, I got casted for my daily plastic leg braces that would keep my legs straight. When you’re that age, you don’t remember much of anything other than snapshots of moments. But, I can honestly say that one of my clearest early memories was the day that my family went into the therapy room in the hospital to see four different walkers waiting for me.

I was never supposed to walk, but with dedication from my mom, cooperation from my dad, care from my older sister, and a lot of hard work from me, I was able to do the impossible and take steps that day. From there, I taught myself how to walk in a different way than the rest of the world, and life went on just like every other four-year-old in America. My friends didn’t care that I was different, and when they did, I would answer any questions they had easily. Because I went to the same school from kindergarten to senior year, I grew up with all the same kids. They became my family. And by the time we graduated, every one of them had seen me cry after wiping out, and they all knew the correct way to get me off the floor. Nowadays, I can be found scootering around UT Austin majoring in English without much of a plan as to what I’m doing with my life. I spend my time studying in obscure places on campus or walking to Tiff's Treats with my friends in the middle of the night all while coming up with new ways to fix the accessibility problems the world throws at me.

My journey with my disability made me the incredibly determined and slightly stubborn person that I am today. It created my drive to complete things I’m passionate about. It also gave me a perspective on life that allows me to appreciate the small things that I don’t think I would have noticed otherwise. So, yes, maybe I have to deal with buildings not always being accessible and kids staring shamelessly at me in parking lots. But, it’s okay. I wouldn’t trade my disability because it has made me stronger in the face of any challenge. I wouldn’t be me without it.