I recently had the opportunity to photograph a truly remarkable family. Their story is inspiring, and I am thankful I was able to spend some quality time with them. Natalee has authored her first book, titled “Beautifully Different,” recounting her struggles living with cerebral palsy. Her story is inspiring and motivating and reminds you that you can actually do anything if you work hard enough for it.
Here is my interview with Natalee.
1. Describe yourself in 7 words.
Strong, passionate, loyal, empathetic, old-soul, determined and thankful.
2. Who is your biggest influence?
It’s hard to pick just one person as my biggest influence. I feel that every single person I’ve built a bond with has had an impact on the person I am today and who I want to be. I feel with each relationship that I’ve had and have in life I’ve learned something new about life and about myself as well. I like to find inspiration in the people I come in contact with.
3. When was the exact moment, if there was one, when you decided to dedicate your life to helping others?
I think I’ve always wanted to inspire people even if it was just by playing competitive volleyball one handed, but I truly realized I wanted to help others when I started meeting people younger than me with disabilities. When you’re young, it’s hard to accept challenges without wanting to know why they’re there and knowing that someone older than you who has gone through similar things, has overcome a lot, can provide some comfort. I also wanted to write my story as someone with a disability in order to help people without disabilities understand what it’s like. Often, it can seem like people are being judge-mental by the way they phrase a question about my disability, but I think if they had more of an idea about what having a disability means, they will feel more comfortable asking questions and allowing the topic of disabilities to be in a conversation.
4. Will there be another book? Is something already in the works?
I definitely want to write another book one day. I’d like it to be from my perspective as a wife and mother with a physical disability because I know that will be one of the biggest challenges I face and one a lot of women with disabilities go through. It’s one challenge I look forward to embracing one day!
5. Is there a philanthropic group you feel strongly about right now that you’d like to talk about?
There are a couple of philanthropic groups that have really captured my heart and those are: Via West and Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI). I love the purpose of via West’s camp and how their mission is to help others with physical and/or cognitive disabilities become more self-sufficient and as a result they are able to feel more a part of the world around them. BAWSI has a program called BAWSI Rollers that allows children with disabilities to learn sports in whatever way works best for them. They learn the importance of exercise and good health, which is something BAWSI, and Via West both have in common. It is also something that I’m passionate about.
6. Have you had a “this is why it’s all worth it” moment since you’ve started doing what you do?
I have asked myself that question a few times. Revealing details and moments in my life that weren’t the easiest puts me in a vulnerable state and it can be uncomfortable at times especially when I think about how many people I’m making myself available to. At the same time, I know that sharing what I’ve gone through and go through on a daily basis can possibly help others cope with whatever they are going through. Writing my book and talking about the details that fill it was actually therapeutic and my hope is that others will find it therapeutic too.
7. What advice would you give to others who feel like they want to be more involved in what you do?
My advice to anyone who would like to help others is look for organizations in your area that make it their mission to do so. Once you find an organization you are interested in, make yourself known to the people work there. Look up their contact info on the website and let them know how passionate you are and that your goal is the same as theirs. Determination and passion can create amazing outcomes.
8. Do you have any advice for someone afraid to ask for help?
My advice for anyone who is afraid to ask for help is don’t be afraid. When I was younger, I used to avoid asking anyone for help because it made me feel inadequate. As I got older I realized that needing help didn’t mean I was incapable. It meant that I was able to accept what I couldn’t and allow others to help me do it. I believe asking for help also creates connectedness with people in my life. They need to understand what my disability entails and the limitations that come with it, and that forces me to open up. As a result the relationships I have are deeper and really special.