On January 4, 2007, I wrote about Joann Ferrara, a very special physical therapist whose work has been of great interest to me. Today, she speaks for herself.          —Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, WFVC Board Member

As a physical therapist watching the events of the past two weeks unfold, I can’t help but think of the road that lies ahead for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. From all accounts, under the best of circumstances, she has a long journey—and by these same accounts, the personality and will to meet the challenge. In his opinion piece in the New York Times on January 25, 2011, Richard Sloan speaks of the lack of documented evidence that a “fighting spirit” will improve health and wellbeing. While this may be true with regard to clinical medicine, I beg to differ when speaking of the challenges of rehabilitation. As a physical therapist for more than thirty years, I have witnessed time and again patients who surpass their expected potential due to their sheer willpower and “fighting spirit.”

I reflect upon forty girls who were born with physical and medical challenges, some so severe they require a tube to take each breath. And I marvel at their determination as I teach them at a special dance program each week called Dancing Dreams. Watching the dancers delight in accomplishing a movement we take for granted makes me realize that whatever I am giving them, I am gaining back in inspiration and introspection. Every girl teaches me by example. As they move their bodies, each in her own way, toward the ultimate goal of dancing onstage at our recital, I am reminded that each of us has at least one unique challenge in our lives that we can choose to overcome.

The last month has been a test of my own willpower.

For the last twenty three days, I have been harassing and yes, downright annoying at times, as I cajole people to “vote” for our program in a contest. We have made the finals of the Pepsi Challenge. By January 31, we must accumulate enough votes to be among the top ten vote-getters in order to receive a $50,000 grant.

First thing each morning, I send a “reminder” email to our contacts. And frankly, some days I feel like I have hit the wall and can’t possibly come up with another new and exciting way to convince people to vote that day.  Then I think about the dancers, what this grant means to them and their families. The Challenge is set up so we know only our ranking—we have no idea how many votes we have received or how far we are from the leaders. We have moved from #343 to #59, and have only four days left.  I won’t give up—after all, I am the “leader” of the program—and how can I not put forth my absolute best effort? How can I not teach by my example that even if we do not win—if we are not perfect—it is okay as long as we don’t give up?

Winning would allow our program to expand, allowing more children and families to experience the pride in their accomplishments that goes along with performing onstage.  But win or lose this particular challenge, I have more faith than ever in the “fighting spirit.”

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