Friend helps Julie Foudy stay joyful

Courtesy Julie Foudy

Amy Liss has been one of the brightest stars at Julie Foudy's Sports Leadership Academy for six years and counting.

The ebb and flow of daily life can lead to wonderful highs, crushing lows and everything in between. Whether it's the life-altering feeling of winning an Olympic medal, the gut-wrenching news that you're being cut from the team, or the sheer annoyance that comes with being stuck at the airport during a five-hour delay (which was just the case on my trip home), we often live in the moment.

It all comes down to perspective. When I get crabby about something, like the delay that was driving me crazy because I told my kids I'd be home for dinner, I have to remind myself where it fits in the scheme of things. We have to say, "that's life," which can sometimes be comforting.

I don't know about you, but I need reminders. Sometimes a slap-in-the-face reminder is what it takes.

That's why I'll be forever grateful for the experience I just had in Chicago at our second Sports Leadership Academy of the summer. I got to spend it with one of the most inspiring young ladies I've ever met; her name is Amy Liss.

Amy was born three months premature at 1 pound, 14 ounces with severe cerebral palsy. She has spent all 30 years of her life confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, eat, shower or do almost any basic function (the ones we often take for granted) on her own.

I met Amy six years ago when our academy was doing community service with the Easter Seals. Each year we ask the 12- to 18-year-old girls who come to the academy to do one afternoon of community service to build leadership skills. Easter Seals has always been one of my favorite nonprofits in Chicago, thanks to their work with children with disabilities, and in large part due to Amy. Year after year, she's the first one to greet us at the door with a huge smile.

Amy's been part of Easter Seals since she started therapy at 5 months old. Now she works there, and she leads us on a tour while answering all the girls' questions. Last year I had an epiphany: Amy should be with us all week, not just one day. So I asked her to join us at the academy. She giggled, said yes and asked, "Why me?" I knew she and the girls would learn so much from each other.

Amy is completely dependent on her "family and team," as she calls them. They help her with all the things we do without question -- from brushing her hair to putting on her shoes. I've realized that spending a full week together gives our academy girls a glimpse into Amy's life. They learn to appreciate her for who she is and recognize all the things that come easily to them, but aren't so simple for everyone.

Although Amy has many physical limitations, she is a shining light -- all smiles and positivity. She laughs, she tells jokes and she loves sports. She asks the girls how they're doing and what they dream about. She shares her fears and her wishes. And she's out there in 90-degree temperatures with the rest of us, not missing a practice!

Amy is real and raw and honest. She worries about who will take care of her when her parents no longer can. Yet with so many things she could fret about, her spirit shines so bright you can't miss it. When the girls ask Amy how she deals with her cerebral palsy in such a positive way, she says she's lucky; a lot of people have it worse than she does. She's grateful for all that she has, especially her "team."

In one week, the girls change one another's lives. Amy affects them the most, and they are not shy about telling me she's their favorite part of camp -- every single one of them! They're no longer afraid of approaching someone in a wheelchair or worried about how to handle someone with a disability. They move beyond their fear of the unknown, and instead of shying away from one another, they cling to Amy and the lessons they learn from her. Perspective.

My week with Amy reaffirmed my need for these reminders. Getting upset about a five-hour airline delay is silly. The pressure to perform is actually a privilege. Being left out of the starting rotation is a sign you must work harder. An injury is only a temporary obstacle to overcome. Stressing out over how you look, what you're wearing or when you're getting home is not worth it.

Amy reminded me to stop feeling sorry for myself and to forget about what could've been. Instead, rejoice in who you are and what you're doing right now. As Amy says, "Live each day with an attitude of gratitude." I remembered that when I finally got off my flight and arrived home to see my kids. Thank you, Amy, for shining so bright and inspiring us all.

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