Written by Bridget Krysztopa
I have been thinking about what to write about and this person keeps popping-up in my head. At Keith Country Day School, juniors are required to take a leadership class where business professionals and community leaders come and speak about leadership, life experiences, goal setting and how to make a difference in the lives of others. We have had CEOs from national companies, regional politicians, community activists and many others. But one woman whose life did not start out at the top, whose life didn’t include open doors and privilege, whose life today includes navigating herself around in a wheelchair has inspired me to be more and to do more.
By the time Lisa Coryell was seven years old she had been physically and emotionally abused and was living in poverty. Lisa’s Mother was raising Lisa and her three other siblings on her own, and at this point things could not have been worse for Lisa and her family. At this very young age, Lisa was beat down not only by her circumstances, but by the kids in her school who made fun of her on a daily basis.
She grew up in a community where the winters were cold and harsh. She never really had a decent winter coat and gloves to keep her warm at recess, so she purposely would get herself into trouble in order that she would be sent to the library – a place to keep her warm and where she could escape the bully’s on the playground. The principal finally permanently assigned her to the library as punishment – no more recess. That turned out to be the best thing ever!
In her school library is where Lisa’s life began to change.
The school librarian saw something in Lisa and began leaving books out for her to read while she was being “punished.” She also showed kindness to Lisa and gave her graham crackers to eat. Lisa never did very well with reading at school; but now with all these book recommendations and the encouragement of a kind adult, she began to read. And boy did she read! This librarian was the first adult in her life to tell Lisa she could rise above her circumstances and get a college education. She believed in Lisa.
Lisa shared with my class that the lesson she learned is that all it takes is one adult to make a difference in a child’s life. One positive adult – that is all it takes. That librarian showed Lisa that she had a life that was worth living and that there is a way out of a life of poverty and heartbreak.
It is no surprise that Lisa was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She said so during her presentation. She now knew that the world was bigger than just her hometown. She enlisted in the army and earned her GI bill to pay for her college education. While in the military she was given a vaccine in which she had a negative reaction – so much so that she developed severe Multiple Sclerosis and is now bound to a wheelchair. In spite of this debilitating disease, Lisa has earned two bachelor’s degrees and has earned nearly all of her credits to complete a master’s degree.
When first diagnosed with MS, Lisa said she was living to die. She had no motivation at all, as she knew this disease is terminal. Then in 2015 (only 16 months ago) she discovered the sport of para-archery. She was sold! She has a coach, competed in the Worlds (in Germany) and won, and is on her way to accomplish her goal of competing in the Paralympics in Rio this September.
Lisa is the first female ARW1 on the US Para-Archery team. #GirlsCanDoThis
AEW1 is a Paralympic archery classification. According to Wikipedia, “Archers in this class are allowed to use simultaneous protrusion and strapping. They may use any wheelchair and amount of body support/strapping to maintain body stability as long as no support is given to the bow arm whilst shooting.”
Lisa also shared with my class some lessons she has learned while on her journey to compete in the Paralympics. She said that life is only 10% of what is dealt to you. Lisa had a whole lot of obstacles dealt to her at a young age. Most kids with those kinds of challenges never see a way out. She finished her comment with saying that 90% is what you do with what you’re dealt with that enables you to make difference in your life. Don’t fall back on the 10% – rely on the 90% to get you where you want to go.
Every day, Lisa makes a conscious effort NOT to make decisions out of fear. She has an acronym for Fear – Face Everything And Run! That does nothing to help you move ahead with your life and your goals.
According to Lisa, that is not a way to live your life. Instead she said, Face Everything And RISE!
Lisa has special respect and admiration for the men and women (who often times aren’t much older than me and my classmates) who have fought to defend the Constitution of the United States. They put their life on the line every day. She mentioned that thousands of men and women have been wounded during their service, and get up and face their challenges each and every day. That takes courage! She challenged all of us to act with courage, too.
I know I will be watching Lisa over the next few months as she sets out to get herself to Rio. I also know that I appreciated her honesty and open comments about her past and how she overcame many challenges to be the person she is today. Her advice – be kind to one another, do not make decisions out of fear, and be courageous. These are her words of wisdom that I am trying to adopt in my own life after hearing her speak. #LisaCoryellRio2016
Lisa with her sister, LaVonne Brown, and her nephews, Isaac and Ethan