Growing up with a disability of any form forces one to adjust how they view the world, how they react to challenges, and how they overcome them. These unique circumstances can be a great source of adversity, but they can also foster unexpected growth and strength. I am a twenty-one year old who, at the age of three, was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition where cerebrospinal fluid builds up and puts pressure on the brain. As a result, I required surgery to insert a shunt to drain and divert the fluid. Throughout my life so far, it has sometimes been very difficult for me to accept that I have hydrocephalus or that I was challenged in any way. It has been a reminder of what I am unable to do, but it has also led me on a path of self-discovery and ultimately, to my true calling.
Growing up, my love was sports, especially playing hockey and soccer. The games were exhilarating and I excelled in them. When body contact came into hockey, however, I was forced to the sidelines because of the fear of disturbing the shunt. Having to give up a game that I loved completely tore me up inside. I did, however, still have soccer and I played at a competitive level for a few years. Then, when I was fifteen, I was rushed into emergency surgery to repair my shunt, which had come apart. I had been experiencing headaches that became progressively worse, which led to the diagnosis of needing a shunt revision. The surgery seemed to go well, but within two weeks, the shunt had come apart again. This led to a complete replacement of the shunt, as well as all the tubing to my stomach. Unfortunately, this happened in April, the beginning of the soccer season, and it became quickly apparent that I could no longer play. Not only would the shunt replacement make playing dangerous, but my size had also become a factor. Although it was never diagnosed as being related to hydrocephalus, I had also been visiting an endocrinologist regularly because of my small stature. It broke my heart to give up another sport that I loved and as a result, that summer I went into a depression. Little did I know at the time, however, that great things in my life were yet to come.
Although my condition has affected what I’ve done in the past and will continue to be a reminder that I can’t always do the things I want to in life, not all that has resulted from these challenges has been bad. Through losing things that I love, I was able to find my passion and gift in music. I’ve been singing since I was about 11 years old, and taking lessons at the renowned vocal studio of Lisa Cosens Brillion, formerly of Phantom of the Opera. It was one early Sunday morning before church, where Lisa played the organ, that she approached my mom and asked if I might be interested in taking private vocal lessons. I wasn’t too keen on it at first, but decided I would give it a go and see what came of it. I had no idea that those very lessons would change my life.
After the realization set in that I would never play soccer at a competitive level, I felt as if all my hopes and dreams were starting to crumble before my eyes. It was at this difficult time, when I was sixteen that I heard about Rotary, a non-profit organization whose goal involves providing financial aid to third-world countries. They also give the amazing opportunity to a small number of students to study abroad as International ambassadors. I decided to pursue this chance and after months of interviews, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to represent Canada as one of those very ambassadors on a one-year exchange program in Brazil. Although they tried to persuade me to wait until I was a bit older, my parents supported my decision. At that point in my life, I needed a change and to find myself again, so I knew that the timing couldn’t have been better.
During that year away in Brazil, I had many life-changing experiences. I learned Portuguese, travelled around the country, made many new friends, and discovered my true calling in life in singing and songwriting. I would write about everything: my surroundings, people, the poverty in Brazil, and my own personal experiences. I was completely taken aback by how, in a country where half the population makes less than a dollar a day, everyone was still so happy and full of life. They had nothing, yet they were so eager to talk to you and share a bit of themselves: that’s what touched me and inspired me to write. I think music is the one thing that we can all relate to. It’s a healer as well as a beacon of hope that can help people through some of the darkest of days. The magic of a resonant lyric in a song is a universal experience.
There have been many people in my life that have inspired me to be the best that I can possibly be and I hope that someday, I can give back to them through my music. I want to be an artist that people can believe in and rely on for songs of truth and meaning. I think that everything happens for a reason. Although I don’t consider myself very religious, I do believe that there is someone watching over me, and all of us in this world. I don’t regret having to endure loss in my life because with loss, there has also been great victory. I have learned from experience that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger and I believe that having to work hard to overcome obstacles has not only made me a better person, but has also helped me achieve my goals and reach for my dreams.