By Catherine Cheng, Amazing Kid of the Month Writer
Sarah Todd Hammer was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, an autoimmune spinal cord condition that paralyzed her from neck-down, when she was eight. However, she didn’t let that stop her from pursuing dance. After working hard in therapy, she was able to continue dancing. Today, she regularly choreographs her own dances and has also co-authored a book about her experiences with TM. Read on to find out more about her inspiration story.
AK (Amazing Kids): When you were eight, you were paralyzed due to Transverse Myelitis. Please tell us a bit more about your condition and how it impacted your life.
STH (Sarah Todd Hammer): Transverse Myelitis is an auto-immune condition. When I first got TM, I was paralyzed from the neck-down, but now, nearly 6 years later, I am walking. My arms are the main issue for me. Of course, there are many things I cannot do that “normal” girls my age do, and that’s hard. But, I believe that God has a plan for everyone and that everything happens for a reason. So, I can get through my days with some help from my friends at school and my parents at home. I know my boundaries and the things I can and cannot do, so I am able to recognize when I may need assistance with something.
AK: Would you consider dancing a passion of yours? Why do you dance? What is your favorite part about the activity?
STH: Dancing is absolutely a huge passion of mine, specifically ballet! I started dancing when I was three, and I’ve continued it since (so for around eleven years). I actually was in my ballet class when I got TM. Despite having TM, I’m still able to dance, just not at a company. I dance pretty much every day at my house to my videos from my old dance company. I wasn’t going to let TM take my true passion away from me. My favorite part about dancing is I can express my feelings through the movements and the mood the dance creates. Performing for audiences always gives me a huge thrill, and I love getting the opportunity to show people what I can do.
AK: In the summer of 2014, you performed at a camp. Please elaborate on the experience and the meaning of the dance you preformed.
STH: In Summer 2014, I performed at the Camp for Courageous Kids (CCK) in their talent show. I had recently gotten more into choreography about a year before, and I decided that it’d be cool to choreograph my own dance to one of my favorite songs “Falling Slowly.” I spent a couple months choreographing and perfecting this dance, choosing a costume, and making sure everything was how I wanted it to look when I performed it. At camp, I ended up naming the dance “Adrift.” The story behind this dance is a homeless girl trying to find her place in life, which is something I came up with along with my friend Jen based on how we interpreted the song’s lyrics. Because of the story we put together, I had my hair done in a messy braid and wore a brown-gray dress for the performance. The performance was a huge deal for me because it was my first solo I’d ever performed onstage and also my first performance since getting TM. The audience loved it, and I received many sweet compliments after it. I would surely jump at an opportunity to do this, or something similar, again.
AK: What were the most challenging aspects of your journey and how did you overcome them?
STH: TM brings me many challenges each day. But, I try not to focus on them. When I first got TM, since I was only eight, I didn’t totally understand what was going on. Now that I’m older, though, I just focus on feeling grateful for everything God has done for me. TM has made me realize that life is so easy to take for granted. Most people don’t realize that each time they pick something up, they are fortunate that they’re able to complete, in their eyes, a simple task that means nothing. However, to me, holding something with my left hand is a dream. Although, there is no reason to dwell on the negative things TM has brought. Sure, I do get upset sometimes if I can’t do something, but that’s only normal. So, when I’m upset, I remind myself that so many amazing things have come out of a negative experience and that God knows what He’s doing.
AK: You’ve written a book with Jen Starzec about your experience. Could you tell us a bit about the book and the story it told? Why did you choose to write it?
STH: Jen Starzec and I met in 2012 because of TM. We both became pretty close friends after meeting, and Jen told me her love for writing. She suggested we each write about our experiences with TM, and combine them into a book. Our book, 5K, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury, published in 2013, alternates chapters between me and Jen. The story starts with us getting TM and works up to how we met (which I won’t talk about because it’s in the book! 🙂 )! It’s available for purchase via Amazon Kindle or lulu.com. The book is a special thing for us because we love being able to educate other TM patients or TM parents about ways to deal with everything and how to be positive. Jen and I have done many book signings, and we’re currently working on a sequel titled Determination. We’re hoping we’ll eventually be able to make it a trilogy.
AK: You are also currently working on a second book. What will it be about? What message do you hope to relay?
STH: Determination is a continuation of 5K, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury. It starts right where the first one ended and continues on until Summer 2014. As of now, we’re expecting the third book will continue on from then. We are thinking Determination will be ready soon, and we’re very excited! Currently, we have about 2/3 of it finished. We hope to relay the message of positivity, perseverance, and of course, determination. In our opinion, Determination is an even better book than 5K, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury so far because our writing has matured.
AK: Besides dancing, what other things do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
STH: Other than dancing and choreographing, I enjoy reading, writing, acting, and singing. English is my favorite subject in school, and I love improving my writing skills each year.
AK: What are your personal and professional goals for the future? In other words, where do you see yourself twenty years from now?
STH: I’d like to see myself as a best-selling author and/or choreographer/dancer in the future. I strongly believe that I’ll be able to do what I dream of, and I don’t plan on letting TM or anything else stop me.
AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?
STH: Some advice I have for your readers is to never let anything or anyone get in the way of your dreams, whether it be an illness, a friend, etc. God has a plan for you, and everything happens for a reason. Don’t ever give up, and continue doing what YOU want to do! Everyone has their goals, and if you reach for them, you will certainly achieve them. Stay humble, happy, and honest.