(role) model shaholly ayers

1911_550280571679024_415004854_nShaholly Ayers is the type of girl you can easily picture gracing the cover of any major fashion magazine. She’s tall and tanned with beautiful exotic features and the kind of perfect figure that women spend countless hours at the gym trying to achieve. She’s also very photogenic. So it’s not hard to believe that she’s a model. But Shaholly is up against some pretty tough odds when it comes to the fashion industry. It’s hard enough trying to make it in the modeling world when you have the looks and the talent, but Shaholly has something else that makes her unique in her chosen field: she was born without her right arm below the elbow. But if you think that’s deterred her from pursuing her passion in any way, you couldn’t be more wrong. Shaholly is determined to become the first amputee model to make it in the fashion world.

I recently had a Skype chat with Shaholly and asked her a few questions about her work as a model and her future goals. Read on:

So how did you get started in modeling?

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved posing for the camera and always wanted to be the center of attention. But as I grew up, I really started to feel that there was a stigma with disability in society. People said things to me like, “Oh, you’d be so pretty if you had two arms.” But I’m pretty just the way I am. I grew up thinking that I was perfectly fine and that there was nothing wrong with me. So when other people started saying condescending things, it made me realize that I was different. And now I’m determined to change other people’s notions of what it means to be beautiful. So my interest in modeling goes a lot deeper for me. It’s not all about just looking pretty. It’s a big statement I’m making on behalf of people like myself, who are amputees and who look different.

49526a1d05a86How old were you when you started modeling?

I entered my first modeling competition when I was 12. I remember getting really upset because I got honorable mention but no awards. My mom didn’t let me enroll in any more competitions after that. So I had to wait until I was 18 to really pursue it once I moved out.

Have you been to any any auditions where they commented on your arm or dismissed you because of it?

I tried out for America’s Next Top Model several times. I went the farthest in cycle 13, when they featured the shorter models – I’m 5’7″. I made the top 20, but I was surprised that I made it so far without anyone mentioning my arm. That was very different from my experience at the first modeling agency I went to. It was when I first got to Hawaii and didn’t have a portfolio but thought I’d give it a try. The people at the agency told me there was no way I would ever model, that having one arm meant I would never get signed. The woman said that she didn’t see anybody taking my photograph and that it was never going to happen for me. So that was my first encounter with modeling.

What has been your proudest moment as a model?

After being told by the first agency I visited that I would never be a model because of my arm, I worked hard to build up my portfolio. I went to photographer after photographer and started working with as many people as I could. Some of the photoshoots were bad, but overall I got a lot of good photographs out of the experience. When I went back to that same agency some time later and showed them my portfolio, the woman looked through it and immediately signed me. She said there was no way that she could turn me away after looking at my pictures. It went full circle, so that was really cool.

74410_549563358417412_1613244659_nIn some of your photos, you’re wearing a prosthetic. How do you feel about prosthetics in general? Do you prefer to wear one? 

I think a prosthetic is a tool, and I think it’s a very positive thing. I had one when I was little and used it all the time. But as I grew older and went through puberty, I had a stick-it-to-the-man attitude about it because I wanted to just be myself and not have to conform. So I took it off. But what I soon realized was that sometimes I need it. So I use my prosthetic when I work out and when I’m kayaking or paddleboarding, but it’s not something I use day-to-day. I think it’s also a tool when it comes to modeling. As a model, I’m going to have to fill out shirts and jackets. I don’t think wearing my prosthetic in that situation is negative at all. If anything, I can make it part of my outfit or make it really ornate and cool. If there’s something I want to convey that I can better convey with the prosthesis, then I’ll go with that. Otherwise, no. So I’m fine with both, but I’m more comfortable with it off because I can move better. It just depends on the situation. But whether or not I’m wearing my prosthetic, I don’t let it define me. I am my own person.

What sort of pressure have you, as an amputee model, felt from the industry or from people commenting on your role as a model?

When I first started out, there was a lot of hiding. Photographers often don’t want to show my arm, so I was turning to the side and hiding myself in the beginning because they would work with me only if they didn’t see my arm. But I felt like the industry forced me to be somebody else in order to create an image that wasn’t me and wasn’t the whole truth. I think the media and the society we live in pressure us women to think that we have to be perfect, that just because I’m missing a portion of my arm somehow means that I’m less of a person by beauty standards. That got to me a lot because no matter how much makeup you put on me, I’m still going to be missing my arm. That was difficult for me to deal with, especially when I was younger.

Were you ever teased or picked on because of your arm?

Yes, I was. I actually think that molded me and helped me to become who I am. I mean, it was hard. I grew up in a small town in central Oregon, and children weren’t the only ones who stared and made comments. When it was a kid who did it, I was a lot more understanding. But I never thought adults could be so mean too. In high school I was picked on by both teachers and students. My track coach used to refer to me as the “one-armed freak,” and I was teased quite a lot. I used to wear long-sleeved shirts to hide my arm because I didn’t want people to see it. I did that for about a year until finally – I think it was in seventh grade – I decided that I didn’t care anymore what people thought of me. It made me strong to say, “This is who I am, like it or not.” And I still got crap for it – I still do to this day. You don’t get used to that, but you learn how to deal with it.

4af60fcd226eeThe fashion world is very exclusive and usually sticks to a very rigid ideal of beauty. Do you think the industry will soon open up to diversity and include models with disabilities?

They’d better! I can just see it. Right now, I’m excited because there are so many women out there changing the way people look at disability. There’s Nicole Kelly, who was just crowned Miss Iowa and will compete in the Miss America pageant. And then there’s Sarah Herron who was on The Bachelor. I think that it’s only a matter of time before the fashion world embraces this kind of diversity. I mean, Lady Gaga is so avant garde and out there. Why not take somebody who was actually born that way, with a physical difference, and use her as a model? I honestly feel like this is right around the corner.

Who do you look up to in terms of inspiration?

I really admire the artist P!nk. She’s so strong and ballsy, I love it! She speaks her mind and I think she’s a great role model.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for young kids with limb differences or disabilities who have big dreams?

Go for your dreams, whatever they are. Whether or not you’re disabled, people like to tell you that you’re never going to accomplish your dreams. Ever. But you have to listen to your inner voice and be true to yourself anyway. All of us have that drive and that voice inside us that says, “No, I’ve got this and I can feel this.” Follow that voice, no matter what your passion is.

I’ve read a lot about an organization called Models of Diversity. What’s your role with them?

This is a really cool story. When I first started modeling, I heard about a show called Britain’s Missing Top Model. I looked up one of the models competing on the show, Debbie van der Putten, and contacted her through a modeling website about wanting to be on the show. That was five years ago. In December of last year, Debbie emailed me and told me that they’d actually been using some of my modeling images to promote the show! It was very coincidental that I met her. And she was involved with Models of Diversity, an organization committed to promoting differences in the fashion world. Angel, who is the founder, wanted to use me as one of their models. So that’s how it all started.

What are you working on right now and what upcoming projects are you excited about?

At the moment, I’m acting in a movie that we’re going to start filming soon. It’s called Olympia Reborn and it’s an independent film, so it should be shown at the different film festivals. I’m very excited about that because I’ve never acted in my life, so it will be something new for me. I’m also hoping that I will be going to the U.K. soon. I’m trying to get more recognition and put some money together so that I can fly over there and get work as a model. I’m  filming a documentary for Models of Diversity right now too. It’s a new campaign for them. And I’m looking at putting together my own prosthetics company in the near future, so I’m trying to get all the people together for that.


Follow Shaholly on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Caitlin Michelle



(I do not own any of the images in this post)
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meet ryan sawlsville

-1Last night, America watched as 24-year-old Wisconsin native Ryan Sawlsville turned his life around and lost more than half of his body weight on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. After a car accident in 2009 cost him his left arm, Ryan’s unhealthy eating and exercising habits caused him to balloon to over 400 pounds. In the span of a year (and with the help of trainer Chris Powell and a few pro football players), he dropped the pounds and the negative attitude to become what he is today: a man who is amazingly faith-filled and incredibly inspiring, regardless of the arm.

The episode was very emotional and well-done, but I was curious about Ryan’s life today and about all the progress he’s continued to make. I had the chance to talk to him about his story a few days ago. Read on for the interview….

Ryan's 'before' photo

Ryan’s ‘before’ photo

What inspired you to lose the weight?

I realized how much of a problem my weight was after my car accident in 2009. Honestly, I’ve viewed my weight as more of a disability than missing an arm because I can still do everything I could do before. It takes a little bit longer now, but that’s it. With my weight, it was just hard to move around and maneuver things, so I realized that I needed to lose the weight in order to fully live my life.

Did you always struggle with your weight?

I was always a bigger kid. I was an athlete in high school, but my weight never got in my way or really affected how I thought about myself. Because I was involved in sports, I always had friends. But a lot of things changed after my accident. I was actually going to culinary school at the time and ended up giving up culinary arts and moving back in with my parents. I also couldn’t find a job. I realized that my weight, probably more so than my amputation, was what acted as a double-edged sword and held me back. So the first time I ever realized that it was something I had to fix and get under control was after the car accident.

Can you tell me a little more about how you bounced back after the accident? 

I had just turned 21 and was getting started on doing my own thing. I think the biggest issue for me was having to rethink my life and just start over after I lost my arm. I was so set in my ways and thought I knew what path I was taking. But when I went home after the accident, I fell into a depression where I wasn’t doing anything and there was nothing going on in my life. The first part of my recovery was surgery and relearning how to do things. If I wanted to do anything, I had to be driven around or helped by other people. It was hard to adapt in the beginning. But now I’m able to live a normal life.

Do you still enjoy cooking?

Yes! A lot of people believe that if you want to lose weight, you can’t eat anything that tastes good. Fortunately, with my culinary background, I learned very quickly that food can be healthy and still taste amazing. I’m excited to really incorporate that into my lifestyle every day with friends and family.

Ryan's favorite Bible verse

Ryan’s favorite Bible verse

Is there a motto you live by?

I live by a Bible verse, actually. It’s Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” There were a lot of things that I set out to accomplish on the show that a lot of people would say was impossible. But it’s not impossible and there’s nothing that you can’t do. I don’t care if you’re missing an arm or missing two arms or missing half your body – you can do anything you want to do if you work hard and don’t give up on your dream. My faith is a huge part of my life, and I feel that there was a reason I survived my accident. The doctors told me that I really shouldn’t have survived that day. They couldn’t explain why I’m still alive.  It was so blatant to me that I survived for a purpose, but it took me four years to find out what that purpose is. Now that I see the platform God has given me with the show, I’m determined to make the best of it and inspire people with my story. I clearly remember waking up after the accident without the arm and praying that if I could impact one person and show him or her that you don’t have to give up in life and you can keep fighting, then I’d take it. I knew that, in a way, this would open up doors for me. I had to trust God, and it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of ups and downs, but my faith was a huge part of getting me through those downs.

What have you taken from the Extreme Weight Loss experience?

Through the show, I’ve realized just how true it is that I can do anything. There’s nothing that holds me back. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I pushed myself. One goal that I set out to achieve last year that [the show’s host] Chris Powell motivated me to try was riding a bicycle. I’d never been able to ride a bike my entire life, even before the accident. For me to even try that proves just how much my mindset has changed. Another thing I learned from the experience is that transformation – whether it’s losing weight or something completely different – starts from the inside out. And that was the biggest part of my transformation this last year: changing how I felt about myself missing the arm and how I thought other people would see me.

What was the most memorable part of your experience on the show?

I got to meet Donald Driver and Clay Matthews! I’m a huge Green Bay Packers fan, and those two are my idols. They helped me overcome my fears and reach for my goals. It’s also really neat to see that even though they’re high-profile athletes, they’re just everyday, amazing people. That was an eye-opener for me too because I realized that I’m getting this really big platform on the show that I think will help me with my ultimate goal of helping other people. I was just fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity, and I feel like I need to take advantage of it. I think that even when people look up to you, you need to just be thankful for everything you’re given and not let it get to your head. So even after the show and the things I’ve accomplished, I’m still that young boy from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ryan's 'after' photo

Ryan’s ‘after’ photo

Now that your story has aired on national television, what’s one thing you hope viewers are going to take with them after seeing the episode?

Do not give up on life. No matter what happens, there’s no reason you can’t accomplish your goal. A lot of things I set out for this past year seemed pretty impossible at first to do with one arm. It takes hard work, dedication, and trusting in something that will get you through the bad times. For me, it was my strong Christian faith. And I know that’s not what everybody has, but it’s important to just find something or someone to trust in and rely on to get through those times. In life, we’re always going to have to deal with something. Mine is just more physical and obvious. There are lots of people out there who are hurting, and I just want them to know that they can get through whatever they’re going through.

How has the process of working out and losing weight affected your confidence?

One of the first things that went through my head after the accident was that I was damaged goods and that no girl was ever going to want me. When I lost the arm, I really felt that I was going to impact people but that I was never going to get married or have kids. So it held me back. After the accident, I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything. And that thinking process didn’t change until this past year. As I lost the weight, I grew more confident. Now I’m out there living life and being an active and contributing member of society. I’m at the point where, in my heart, I accept myself and who I am no matter what. If a girl doesn’t want to date me because I’m missing an arm, then that’s her decision. But I know I’m an amazing guy and I’ve changed my thoughts a lot. Now I know without a doubt that someday I will have a wife and kids, and I’m going to be an amazing father and husband. That’s something that I never imagined would ever happen to me when I started the transformation.

Are your friends and family supportive of your decision to be healthy?

Definitely. That was one thing that contributed so much to my success this year because it was a family endeavor. We went to the gym and ate as a family. And it’s cool how getting healthy brought my family closer together. It’s because it’s been a combined effort. To have my family come on board with me in this process has been an amazing blessing and I’m very thankful for that.

BNtr600CQAAj4ikSo what’s next for Ryan Sawlsville?

I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to share my story with people. Who knows how long that’s going to go? So after that I want to create my own future and go back to school for psychology. My ultimate goal is to become a motivational speaker and help others realize that they need to keep fighting in order to thrive. Eventually down the road, I want to start a family. So pretty soon maybe I’ll start looking for a girlfriend. I’m not going to focus on that, but if the right girl comes into my life I know I’ll be ready. I won’t be shy or freaked out. We’ll see. I’m taking it day by day. Doing the show has been an unbelievable and overwhelming experience, but I know that God is working for me. He has a plan and a purpose for me, so that makes life a whole lot easier.


Check out Ryan’s website here and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


Caitlin Michelle


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one-on-one with kevin michael connolly

armed-and-ready-hawaii-pictures-1When I was growing up, my dad owned a hardware store. That means he was always inventing new devices that would help me do everyday things like any other kid would. I remember him making me a jump rope with a handle I could tie around my prosthetic hand and drafting a few ideas for a flipper hand that would help me swim faster. But he never came up with anything as extreme or as exciting as the many contraptions we’ll be seeing on the new show Armed & Ready.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of interviewing the show’s star, Kevin Michael Connolly. Kevin, who was born without legs in 1985, has spent the last few years traveling the world on a skateboard and snapping photos of people who stare at him. He penned his memoir Double Take in 2009 (a great read, and he kindly signed my copy). Now he’s taking it to the next level in Armed & Ready, trying new extreme sports and undertaking new and dangerous adventures across the country. I sat down with a handsome and confident Kevin, his skateboard propped against the adjacent wall, at Travel Channel headquarters to ask some questions about his latest project:

What’s your favorite of the places you went to while filming Armed & Ready?

Probably the coolest place I’ve been to while filming the show has been in Hawaii. In Kona, the Big Island (which is where we shot), you go inland and you can be on a 12,000-foot-tall mountain. During the mountain-boarding sequence when we’re up there riding around on this thing, we actually even had trouble getting the engine going not because of any mechanical failures, but just because the air is so thin up there. It had a tough time sucking oxygen. But then you drive a couple hours and you’re surfing. So, you know, the amount of biodiversity there was just jaw-dropping. It was really cool.

armed-and-ready-smoky-mountains-picturesWhat was your favorite of all the MacGyver-like tools and contraptions you built during Armed & Ready?

Of all the things we made during Armed & Ready, I would say the customized street luge was probably the coolest. Obviously no one without legs has ever been street luging before. So not only did we have to figure out A) if it would work, but also B) how I would stop. If you watch the sport of street luging, you’ll see the first thing they do if they need to stop is they put their feet down. So not being able to do that and going up and above 50 miles per hour, you freak out a little bit. And so the local guy that we met down there, my guide, he ended up building a little brake system into the street luge, which as far as I know is the first time that’s ever been done. So it was cool to be able to integrate something into it that just let me do what I needed to do.

Do you have a mantra or motto that you follow every day?

The one I have is not necessarily a mantra. It’s kind of something I say after I’ve done something particularly stupid, which is “Not dead yet.” Not dead yet, we’re good! But in terms of a motivating mantra, I don’t think anything beyond the basic “Oh, here we go!” Those would probably be my two.

Did you ever have the mindset that you had to prove yourself more because you don’t have legs?

I don’t think so. I certainly don’t have a competitive chip on my shoulder in terms of needing to go out and accomplish something in spite of not having legs. That’s never really entered my lexicon. It’s been more just the fact that there’s so many things that are unknown to me. I’ve never heard of a legless guy going out and street luging or a legless guy going out and skydiving. And so a lot of those unanswered questions are really what kind of drives me to do what I do. I’m naturally a really curious person and, more often than not, that gets me into trouble.

armed-and-ready-sneak-peek-picturesIn a promo video on the Travel Channel website and in your book, you said that you never really felt like you contributed to a group. Do you feel that traveling and seeing the world have helped you feel like you can contribute?

Yes, one of my main hopes for the show – obviously I hope everyone watches it and really enjoys it, etcetera – but I hope there’s a very small number of people who are going to see this and not get inspired in a “Oh, I think I can go out and do this” way, but get inspired in a “Oh, I can go to my garage and make a custom street luge and go out and do this for myself” way, if that makes sense. I really hope that somewhere out there there’s someone like me who’s seven or eight years old in second or third grade and the most I could ever hope for is that their life and their social life is made a little bit easier by the fact that this is out there and visible now.

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?

The most outrageous thing I’ve ever done, I would say, was fake-chopping my leg off and squirting 25 gallons of blood that was made out of clothing dye onto people. I still feel really bad. It was fun for the theatrics, but I actually feel bad because I know we ruined clothes. I mean, my skin was red for 3 or 4 days following. So all these people getting showered with blood probably thought it was really funny until they got home later that night and realized it wasn’t coming out. I do remember us getting kind of glared at by a couple elderly people once we finished with the float. I quickly got out of there; I didn’t want to deal with whatever fallout was going to happen after doing that.

I read on your blog that there’s going to be a film version of your memoir Double Take. Is that still happening?

That is still in development, yes. There’s no greenlight or casting process yet. So I’m just more focused on not dying and making this show good, which actually tend to run hand-in-hand. Making the show good definitely brings you close from time to time.

Would you be playing yourself, or would they choose another actor?

We’ve had that discussion. They’ve definitely told me that I would probably need to play myself, but beyond that I really try to ignore it. Until that moment happens, I’m going to kind of not deal with it. I’m very good at denial and pushing things away, a common trait in men in their late 20’s, right?

I know in the book you mentioned that your hands are pre-arthritic. Does your body take a lot of wear and tear due to not having legs?

I think so. I mean, I would also say that any body would take a lot of wear and tear based off the stuff I’ve done. You compete in five X Games and then you do a show where you’re undertaking a new crazy sport every week, and your body’s going to take wear and tear, legs or not. I think the only difference with me versus someone else is that the damage gets placed in different areas – my hands in this case rather than my knees or my ankles or something like that.

I know you wrote about your ex-girlfriend in your book. (The parting scene made me cry, by the way.) I was wondering: is it difficult dating when you travel so often?

Yes, a little bit. I don’t really date a ton anymore, or right now. It seems like most people my age in their late 20’s are getting married, houses, or children. And none of those are really on my priority list. No would be the answer. I feel very comfortable going up and asking someone for a date. I mean, the worst-case scenario is you get rejected.


Now that you’ve traveled the world, what country/state/city is next on your list?

Well, in terms of personal travel, I’ve always really wanted to go to Russia. But in terms of what I would do next for the show: one of the most common questions I always get asked is, “how do you drive?”.  And trying to answer that, whether it be through racecar driving or rally car driving, would be really awesome. For anybody who is paralyzed or doesn’t have legs, you know how the basic hand controls work. But everyone has to drive an automatic. So the question would be: how would you create an adaptive device to allow you to drive stick? And one of the things that I would tell your readers that we’re really trying to accomplish with this show is doing a little bit of MythBusters. We’ve never built a device like this for anyone before. It’s never been out there. So let’s try and do it. If you can add to the database of adaptive devices out there in the ether, that would be great.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self or a kid growing up with a limb difference now?

Adapt. If there’s one word that I kind of have to operate by at all times, it’s adapting to your surroundings. The more willing and able you are to adapt to a situation or adapt to a sport, even if it doesn’t mean that you’re competitive or able on the same level as someone with legs or that’s fully able-bodied – I think that your ability to do that is really what’s going to get you out of the house, what’s going to make you lead a fuller life, and ultimately what’s going to make you part of a group and give you a sense of community.


And adapt he does. This guy is going places (quite literally) with his spirited determination and sense of adventure. Check out all his contraptions and follow his journey on Armed & Ready, which airs on the Travel Channel this Tuesday, February 26th at 10/9c.

Have Twitter? Tweet with me during the first episode: http://bit.ly/YQ9jAf


Caitlin Michelle




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meet adam pearson

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Adam Pearson, a 28-year-old TV and film buff who works as a developer and presenter for the British network 4oD. I heard about Adam one night after watching an episode of Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, which he starred in. Each episode of the show featured two people, one a woman obsessed with her physical appearance and the other a person living with a facial disfigurement, who spend some time in each other’s shoes. Adam has Neurofibromatosis, which causes benign tumors to form on his face. He’s had over 40 surgeries to relieve the pressure of the fibromas.

Watching the clips from the show, I was struck by the way Adam handled the stares and questions about his face. Of course, stares and questions about a physical difference are things that many in the limb difference community are used to, so I thought I’d reach out to Adam for advice and for his take on the situation.


Adam and his Yorkie Freddie (who looks just like my dog Augustus)

After work one day, I started Skype on my laptop and dialed Adam’s video-call number. Adam was a total sweetheart right from the beginning. He told me about his latest projects, which I promised to keep secret (though I will assure you that they sound awesome!) and about his current hobbies – video gaming and late-night TV marathons. (He’s the one who got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory.) Adam’s confident, self-assured, and happy – everything I’m working at becoming. He’s also very open and honest, as I learned from his sincere answers to my questions.

The first thing I asked Adam about was his career in television, since we had that in common. He said he was destined to work in TV from a young age, when he first developed a fascination with all things media. He realized early on that the media is a powerful vehicle through which he could educate and inform others about facial disfigurement. The mainstream depictions of people with physical differences (from the Phantom of the Opera to Captain Hook) don’t accurately portray the truth. Media consumers are probably very familiar with a limited number of tropes, usually involving an evil personality or embitterment about being different. Adam’s mission, he says, is to dispel the myths people hold about those with differences.


Adam also featured Carla, a limb different model, in a billboard similar to his own

In a campaign he started while working on the show Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, Adam directed a fashion show featuring models with various differences – from plus sizes to missing limbs. And in an even bolder move, he posed half-nude (ala David Beckham in his famous Armani ad) in a London billboard for the Changing Faces foundation, which helps those with facial disfigurements cope with their daily challenges. Recently, Adam went skydiving to raise money for the charity. Yep, the guy pretty much does it all.

When I asked Adam what his ultimate goal was with his work, he reiterated that he hopes physical differences get more accurate onscreen attention so that audiences understand that people with differences aren’t necessarily all that different. Those with a facial disfigurement like Adam’s or a limb difference like mine have hopes and dreams similar to those of the general public. We are not sideshow acts or curiosities; we are human beings, beautiful in our own right. And I can’t help but think of Adam as incredibly inspiring as he moves forward with this mission.


Adam the skydiver

I know “inspiration” is a loaded word, one that I often take issue with. A lot of people use it to describe someone with a difference when that person succeeds or accomplishes something that you would only expect of someone without a difference. For example, I hate being called an “inspiration” when I wear sleeveless shirts or when I perform a task as mundane as sharpening a pencil. Adam has no problem being called an inspiration, he says, because he recognizes it as a compliment. So I hope he doesn’t mind that I find him inspiring (which I do believe is different than “inspirational”) and feel empowered to be myself and feel beautiful after speaking to him.

Today, Adam and I still keep in touch via Skype and Facebook. We’ve become friends, which is pretty inevitable when you meet someone so easy to talk to and so easy to love. He continues his campaign to put physical differences onscreen, and he’s making his mark on British television. He’s living his life to the fullest and never letting anything get him down.

So I’ll leave you with this, the advice Adam said he hopes anyone with a difference (or without one, of course) takes to heart:

“You need to live the life you have as opposed to grieving the one you don’t.”



Caitlin Michelle



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interview with ryan niemiller

Hey there! A lot has happened this week, the highlight being that my boyfriend Chris started a new job in New York. I’m super proud of him, and I know that he’ll do amazingly well there. He’s very interested in the work he’s doing, which is the key to any great career. This, of course, got me thinking about my own future career and jobs in general. While I’ve never experienced discrimination because of my disability (I work as a writing tutor and as an intern for NBCUniversal), I know that it’s a very real possibility for many people.  So to get a better perspective on the matter, I decided to interview Indiana-based comedian Ryan Niemiller. Here’s what he had to say (I color-coordinated it for you because I’m thoughtful like that):

Me: Has your disability ever been the reason why you didn’t get hired for a job you applied to?

RN: Certainly. It comes with the territory. People see me and since I have a fairly obvious disability, it’s much easier to assume I can’t do something without giving me a shot than it is to give me the opportunity and see what I can do. I used to get really mad about it, but it’s a natural human defense mechanism for some. But really, as frustrating as it is, do I really want to work for a place that assumes I’m incapable?

Me: I understand that you’re a professional comedian. Do you view your disability as an advantage or disadvantage in your stand-up career?

RN: I’d say it’s 80/20 advantage to disadvantage. My arms make me unique. I can guarantee there are no other comedians just like me in the world. I’m not just a late 20’s single white guy comic. I have something that helps me stand out, a hook if you will (pun intended). I have something I can immediately bring the audience in on. At the same time, there’s the fear of me being a comic who ONLY talks about his arms. Plus, a lot of times I have to over prove I am actually funny and not just a gimmick. There’s certain bookings I probably don’t get because people assume I’m a novelty act. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

Me: I know that you work as a barista at Starbucks. What’s the strangest reaction a customer has had to your arms?

RN: A little girl screamed in terror once, which was fantastic for my self esteem. But really, there’s not a lot of strange reactions. Most people just stare at most. I’ll get the occasional, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration!” line, which is irritating, but really, most people just want their damn lattes. 🙂

Me: Would you say that your co-workers treat you differently because of your arms?

RN: Not at all. Anyone who gets to know me and sees me operate doesn’t worry about my arms anymore. Once I am given the chance to prove myself, I take care of business and it’s a non-issue.

Me: So let’s say you were born with two “normal” arms. Would you still be in the profession you are now?

RN: I’d like to say yes, but honestly, I doubt it. I developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism – I’d make all the jokes before anyone else had a chance to. If I was “normal,” I doubt that would have ever developed the way it did. I’d probably be an accountant or something equally lame. Ha ha.

Me: Let’s take that question a step further: how do you think your life would be different if you had “normal” hands?

RN: I’d probably be happier, as unpopular of an answer as I’m sure that is. Not that I’m necessarily miserable right now or anything, but my arms do lead to a lot of issues that I wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise. Getting jobs wouldn’t be as difficult, it would be easier to find someone to date, etc. But really, that’s just speculation. There’s no real way of knowing. Maybe I’d be even worse off.

Me: How do you respond when someone asks you about your hands?

RN: It depends on tone. If it’s a child, I try to be patient, because as irritating as it is, they don’t know any better. If it’s an adult who I don’t know well, usually with annoyance. Because I rarely get asked simple questions about it. I know some people are just curious so I try to be patient, but I’m almost 30 years old – I am a little tired from answering questions.

Me: What’s the best way to own your disability? By that, I mean: what do you do to feel confident when the world gets you down?

RN: I make money off it. I travel the country telling jokes about it, and then they hand me a check afterward. For me, it’s hard to get much better than that. And recently, I’ve just started cutting out a lot of the negative energy in my life. So if you’re not with me, you’re against me. That’s how I own it.

Me: Now I’m about to go all college-application-interview on you: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

RN: Not a damn clue, and that’s half the fun. 🙂

   Thanks so much to Ryan for his time and honest answers. 

   If you’ve got comments or thoughts or ideas or anything else you feel like sharing, comment below! 

Caitlin 🙂

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