Winter 2001
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TCU Magazine "Purpectives"

Rounding the bases

By Jaime Walker '02

Almost from the moment I was born, I've had three strikes against me:

I'm a woman.

I'm ambitious.

I'm in a wheelchair.

But that hasn't stopped me from trying to hit a home run, even when society's coaches, fans and my own self-doubt suggest it would be wiser to watch the game from the sidelines instead of picking up a bat and giving the world's curve ball your best shot.

I've been searching for 21 years, in one manner or another, for ways to prove myself a key player instead of a benchwarmer. While I've grown up in an era where women are more commonly found in offices with Persian rugs and cityscape views than they used to be, having the degrees, titles and killer power suits still doesn't mean we get equal respect for the work we do.

I hate that even in situations where I knew I was more qualified, I received $.50 less an hour than my male co-workers. I hate that a woman's shirt costs $1.35 to dry clean when my dad might only have to pay $ .75 for the same service.

Although Emily Post is no longer a strong presence at our graduations, women are still expected to maintain the decorum and meekness that would make our grandmothers and cotillion instructors proud. Just because we can look good in a power suit doesn't mean we've earned the right to assert our competitive nature or on-target instincts with the same ferocity as our male counterparts. Societal pressures still force us to temper our drive with ladylike reason and moderation.

I've wanted to be an investigative reporter for as long as I can remember. I love the adrenaline rush I get from tracking a story. On several occasions I have been in the middle of a hard-hitting interview only to have my source say something like, "If I were you I wouldn't worry my pretty little head about that issue."

I've learned to tolerate such commentary without letting my inner fury show, but from time to time I've wanted to halt the interview, if only for a moment, to prove I have a deadly right cross any boxer could be proud of, or spew sports trivia, debate politics or smoke a cigar just to prove I could play hardball.

So far I suspect I've tackled the first two strikes about as well as the rest of us. But battling the third is like waging war against a silent, unknown enemy. Few people have ever approached me and said outright they thought I couldn't do something because I'm in a wheelchair.

And no one, not even those closest to me, has been willing to address some of the things I will never do. They don't want to point out that I will never feel the strain in my calves from a long day of mountain climbing or know how your heart flutters when you're dancing cheek to cheek with the one you love.

I've tried to walk unaided a million times. One time I even got across the room before I fell down. But I will never know what it's like to run along the ocean without worrying that my crutches will sink in the sand. I'm resigned that I won't walk down the aisle in my long white gown and meet my groom. I've learned, albeit not for lack of trying, that I will never, no matter how hard I try, shower, get ready for class and arrive on time if I don't allow myself an hour.

I decided a long time ago to count the can-dos instead of the can't-dos. In essence I did what we all do to some degree -- I decided my successes depended on my strengths. If I couldn't capitalize on them, how could I convince any employer to offer me a job, any source that I would be accurate and fair, any potential friend they could count on me to provide honest and strong-minded opinions, or any potential mate that I could weather a storm with grace and courage? If I didn't see my life as a challenging adventure, how could I convince myself, or anyone else, to see beyond the pity-party-waiting-to-happen?

I've just done what I had to. I woke up. I got up, and I got going. It was a choice, yet it wasn't. It was a necessity.

I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was a year old. As soon as my parents heard the prognosis, they started me on a regimented, often demanding physical therapy program. Their mission was to, with vigor and compassion, equip me with as many tools as possible for success. I might never walk without assistance, but I learned how to get where I wanted to go even if it meant I had to crawl, walk with a heavy walker or crutches or push a wheelchair. At a very young age I began to realize independence could be my greatest asset. The more I learned to do on my own, the less I would have to rely on someone else. But it's far from easy. It's a battle for access. It's a war for acceptance. And often it's a pride-swallowing siege against your own doubts.

Without knowing it, I came to value independence above almost everything else. I saw how positively the world reacted to my accomplishments. It didn't seem to matter if I wasn't the one who decided what to accomplish, so I wasted a lot of time trying to live up to other people's expectations. I kept a smile on my face because it's what people expect. I took jobs because others said it was the right thing to do. I gave up or revised certain dreams because society told me my original plans couldn't be done.

I struggled but learned that my limitations didn't stop me from success as a daughter, friend, co-worker or even lover. The fighter in me softened when I learned that needing other people is not a sign of weakness. In fact, I've come to believe the game demands it. We all play better when we're on the same team.

I've learned that a new curb cut is merely a gesture toward equality. True equality is developed through conversation. By sharing experiences, we discover the common bonds that link each of us as members of the human race.

My choice to live life as barrier-free as possible is most assuredly a blessing. I've had the opportunity to do and see things I would never have dreamed if I stayed at home with a look of gloom on face.

But in some ways my limits have also been a curse. I never asked to be a crusader for disability rights. I never asked to be an inspiration to others. But both titles have been inadvertently thrust upon me. Although I have finally embraced both labels to a certain extent, the pressure they create is occasionally more than I want to bear.

I'm not extraordinary. I'm just a college senior with goals and dreams who has learned and relearned how to get dressed just so I could shave a few minutes off my preptime. I'm not sure I will ever understand how my quest to be normal makes me more than normal, but there's something about it that inspires awe to such a degree it makes my visits to home plate more stressful.

I've spent sleepless hours contemplating the complexities of the human condition: Why can some people throw out unwanted food while millions starve? Why do some people find financial successes in careers they enjoy, while others lose their jobs or slave away just to make ends meet? Why do some people live happily with "the right one" for 65 years, while others love for only a moment? And why are some people given social, physical or mental limitations?

It's true the world would be a simpler, perhaps better place if we didn't judge others on the basis of their race, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or their ability to walk, hear, see or talk. But the truth, is we do.

The only way to combat our own injustices -- our various three-strikes-you're-out policies -- is to realize we wake up every morning, tackle the day to the best of our ability and long for an opportunity not just to play the game of life well, but to be remembered for the risks we took as we rounded the bases.

Jaime Walker '02 is a journalism senior from Roswell, Ga., who has her eyes set on a Pulitzer Prize. E-mail her at