How many times have you felt like you’re in the midst your own particular difficult situation, and then when you hear an inspirational story you think, “Wow, my crappy problem doesn’t seem so bad anymore.”
That’s the power of an inspirational story. And on April 4, two Whitehorse residents are going to share their stories of doing what came naturally to them — and is inspirational to us. Bringing Youth Towards Equality (BYTE), has organized an evening of powerful narratives.
The event is called ConneX. Liam Finnegan and Stephanie Dixon will be the guest speakers.
Finnegan, a 16-year-old student at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, has come into the Canadian spotlight this month for speaking out against his school administration’s homophobia.
“What’s going on with Liam and Shara Layne (another queer student at Vanier) has really sparked a lot of discussion and controversy in the community,” says Scott Carlson, BYTE’s outreach coordinator. “We think it took a lot of courage to speak out and we’re particularly interested in promoting youth leadership in young people.”
The second speaker of the evening, Stephanie Dixon, also began showing leadership in her teens. Dixon was born with one leg and by the age of 13 she was training and competing in swim meets with able-bodied people.
By 14 she was public speaking, among other things.
“At the age of 14 I qualified for my first World Championship,” she says. “I was training and competing against people with two legs.
“Then I qualified for my first Paralympic Games in 2000 at the age of 16. So I was competing internationally in the Paralympics and competing nationally with the able-bodied athletes.”
Her approach to public speaking is to be honest and connect with the audience, rather than to preach.
“It’s vulnerability and authenticity that connects people,” she says. “Not medals and accomplishments.”
But she’s got the medals and accomplishments, too.
Dixon has racked up seven gold medals from three Paralympic Games. She’s got 19 medals in total, and currently holds three world records in her category — for the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke. In able-bodied competitions she’s placed 16th at the University Championships.
Now 29 years old, Dixon is used to standing in front of strangers and sharing who she is — from the vulnerable core to the world-wide recognition.
“You need to relate to people to inspire them,” Dixon says. “It’s sharing your most intimate and deep fears, that’s when you can really capture people. It’s not easy to be vulnerable in front of people, but over the 15 years I’ve developed that ability. That, and at the end of the day I’m walking around and I’m missing half my body, so being vulnerable is something I’ve never really had a choice about.”
Dixon has learned that success is about how we deal with the steady stream of challenges that faces us. That’s where sharing stories can come in handy, because swapping success stories can bolster us all, no matter whether the obstacle is a physical disability, an oppressive school administration, poor self esteem or an addiction.
“There’s not one person on this planet who doesn’t have anything that challenges them in their life – that’s what connects us all,” Dixon says. “I met one woman and she told me that I had inspired her to work harder on her marriage – and that doesn’t have anything to do with medals or swim competitions. It’s an energy. It’s a way to live your day-to day-life.”
The BYTE ConneX Event takes place on Thursday April 4th, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Baked Café in Whitehorse. Admission is by donation.