Inspiring Change Through Example
She recalls a particular incident that served as a turning point for her. On one summer afternoon, she was reluctant to accompany her Mom to the beach, but reasoned that she needed to start living rather than feeling sorry for herself. Once in the water, she realized freedom again: she could walk without crutches and braces. After this incident, she decided to resume a normal social life and live fully in the present rather than worrying about the future. Instead of making plans, she became more spontaneous.
Maya speaks of how living with a disability caused her to mature at an early age, and living during war made her stronger. As she says, 'I was always afraid of not being able to run, if needed, and had to sleep with my braces because we did not know when shelling would begin.'
At age 16, she and her family moved to Boston. In the subsequent years, she has undergone many surgeries, including an Achilles tendon transplant, a leg lengthening, a total knee replacement, and treatment of decubitus ulcers. More recently, just after being promoted at work, she lost mobility and became more dependent on her wheelchair, which she previously used exclusively for traveling or long distances. Despite her ups and downs, though, Maya is confident that she will again walk with the assistance of crutches. She believes that laughter is the best therapy.
At the Oak Square YMCA, she worked as a business manager and became a certified trainer to teach a mandatory course to employees on how to work with people with disabilities. She also used this experience to work with a personal trainer and take yoga classes, where the instructor modified the movements for her. As she says, 'I learned new things about myself: that I was good at training others, at multitasking, that I had great people skills, and was a good negotiator.' She was able to show others (members and colleagues) that she was capable and successful.
Maya also served as Project AIMFREE's (AIMFREE~Manuals) New England coordinator by locating fitness facilities and recreational parks for involvement in the project. As she says, 'Working on the project was a great accomplishment for me as I was contributing to making fitness facilities and recreation parks more accessible for people with disabilities and to raising public awareness for the need to make these facilities and parks accessible to all. People with disabilities have the right to enjoy and benefit from fitness facilities and parks like any other person. It has opened my eyes to [access issues] that I had overlooked, like the height of water fountains, Braille writings in the elevator, etc. It made me more aware of other disabilities than mine and how each person with disabilities has different needs.'
In sum, through Maya's positive attitude and involvement in improving access for people with disabilities in fitness and recreation, she demonstrates how one life can positively influence many others.