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Friend of Youth

2022-23 Essay Contest Winner

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Essay

1st place, and a $2,500 scholarship:
Brooke Lewis, age 16 from Zealand High School
Holland Optimist Club


“Who is an Everyday Hero that Brings Out the Optimism in You?”

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in their leader. Great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves.” Linda Stone is a great leader. She was my physical therapist for five years, but she was a vast deal more than that. She changed the course of my life. She forever altered the way I perceived myself and my conduct toward other people. This is the story of how I became an optimist.

It all starts with a little girl with chocolate brown eyes and sparkly hearing aids, a silly smile, and a goofy wave. Bruises chronically colored the fabric of her skin. She fell numerous times daily, just walking around – so much that her kindergarten teacher said, “I’m afraid to hug her; she might fall.”

That was me. I was born with Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome – a rare genetic condition that hinders my ability to balance and gives me bilateral hearing loss. Incredibly timid and gentle, I was far behind other kids physically. All the things that someone else could do in a flash – jumping rope, roller skating, running – would be like climbing Mt. Kanchenjunga for me. I was vexed!

So my school day included physical therapy with Miss Linda. During our PT, Miss Linda would try to get me to stand on one foot or jump rope. I would grouse and say, “No, can’t do that” or “No thank you.” But unlike many of my teachers, Miss Linda never took no for an answer. I genuinely didn’t believe I could do it. .. until 4th grade when she made me prove it to myself.

Miss Linda challenged me to do something I found impossible: she challenged a girl who couldn’t walk without falling to ski.

When she first suggested it, my mom and I looked at her like she was having a cerebral hemorrhage: had she been here for the last few years? She had been teaching me how to put my hands out when I fell! Miss Linda persisted. She said to my mom, “Challenge Ski Association teaches kids with disabilities how to ski. If she knows that she can do this, she will know she can do anything.” My mom was convinced; I was not. Miss Linda told me the story of Amy Purdy, a Paralympic snowboarder. “If Amy Purdy can win an Olympic medal skiing with no legs, you can ski with a balance disorder.” Miss Linda believed in me before I believed in myself. Because of Miss Linda’s prodding, I decided to do the most unfathomable thing I could imagine. I lifted up my colossal, snow-encrusted skis and marched up that bunny slope. I face-planted as many times as humanly possible, yet I picked myself up. With smattering static sounds against my hearing aids, I put my feet french fry straight and coasted downhill, wind kissing my cheeks.
Miss Linda is an everyday hero because in challenging me to do the impossible, she challenged me to become an optimist. I started to stare my trials in the face with an irretractable optimism. I began to believe that I could do anything. My physicians told me playing soccer past 5th grade was unrealistic and could result in deafness. I figured out how to play without heading the ball. I play elite club soccer. When dyslexia dismembered my reading, I practiced reading to anyone who would listen including my pets. I currently read at least three books a week.

I have applied what Miss Linda proved to me to my life. She knew I would. It will never be “I cannot.” It will be: “why not?!” Miss Linda’s lesson inspires my education as well. With dyslexia my coursework takes me longer. This year I took 5 AP classes. I’m an optimist; I’m not going to let my disabilities inform my abilities. I will learn as much as I want to. I will say yes to every volunteer opportunity that interests me, will try my hardest in every sport, and will live my life. Because why climb the highest mountain? “Not because it is easy but because it is hard.”(Kennedy, John). A great leader, an everyday hero, once inspired me to say “Why not?”.
This story is for all the wide-eyed little kids wondering if it’s possible. “Live beyond limits.” (Purdy, Amy). The world gives you limits, you show it what you’re going to do with them.

Works Cited
Kennedy, John F. “We chose to go to the Moon.” 12 Sep. 1962. Rice University Commencement, Houston Texas.

Purdy, Amy. “Living beyond limits.” November, 2011 TEDxOrangeCoast, Costa Mesa, California. https :// azGoA

Roosevelt, Eleanor. “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” United Nations Foundation, New York, New York. https:/ /




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