When people say they can't do yoga because they are too stiff, too injured, too busy, or just plain frightened, I think of Lesley Robinson, named Ms. Wheelchair California 2014 at the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 1.
In her final speech, she exhorted: "People with disabilities should be able to be part of all humanity." She urged them to focus on what they are able to do. And she talked about what she can do: "go to yoga twice a week. I never thought I could do that."
She didn't mention that twice a week she rolls into a class where everyone else walks in. I teach the class she has attended regularly since late 2012. Most of my students were nervous about their first class. The courage it took for Lesley to come to an ordinary studio class has made her a role model for us all.
Lesley and the first runner-up have only one thing in common at first glance: the wheelchair. The runner-up is young, a graduate student at Fresno State. The other is middle-aged and assisted in student affairs for the Cal State chancellor until 17 years ago.
But they both beat huge odds even by being alive. Tiffany Hendrickson, who has cerebral palsy, weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces when she was born 24 years ago. Lesley Robinson's family was told that she would certainly die from her brain stem injuries that resulted when her car was broadsided.
They both show ferocious will, Tiffany in her studies to show agriculture may be a subject accessible to all, Lesley in her role in various organizations promoting accessibility.
Both talk of what they do.
Tiffany started riding horses when she was 8, determined to find her own way to accommodating her body, weary of physical therapy. She is completing her single subject teaching credential in agriculture at Fresno State.
Lesley was working in Long Beach as assistant director of student affairs for the Cal State University system chancellor when she was injured in the car accident that robbed her of her ability to communicate. She had to learn all over again to read and write. She says she felt overwhelmed by self-pity at first until her family reminded her that this was not her nature.
Lesley, now a Riverside resident, has raised six foster children with her husband. Asked by one judge how, with such a busy life, she did this, she replied quite literally: by loving them.
Both women will help promote accessibility for those with disabilities at various events. Lesley will go on to the national competition.
Read more about Lesley Robinson in my blog.