100: Astronauts and Olympians

100: Astronauts and Olympians

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Astronauts and Olympians

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.

~Author Unknown

When I was eight I was diagnosed with asthma. The doctor was very intense about the diagnosis and I was given photocopied pages and stern lectures from the imposing, gray-haired man about all the things I would no longer enjoy in life. He told me that I could no longer have stuffed animals and that I couldn’t have any rugs — that all the floors had to be able to be cleaned very easily. Even a throw rug was dangerous, as it might not get washed as often as it should. He told me that my mattress would have to be wrapped in plastic. Most devastating, he told me that I would have to give away my dog and that I could never be around animals again.

I clutched my new asthma inhaler as I left his office, shocked. I had just been told that the life that I knew was over and that all the things I loved best were to be taken from me. Even going outside would have to be approached with caution for fear that allergies could be triggered and that could, he declared, kill me.

I spent about a month being depressed. I did my chores and I read my books, but the desire to live life had been snuffed out of me. I took my asthma inhaler everywhere I went and that blue puffer grew huge in my mind.

My dad was concerned about the changes in me. I didn’t see how worried he was for me at the time; I was too worried that every breath I took might be my last. My mom read over the sheets of warnings with me regularly and scolded me; she was the one who put the plastic on my mattress and took away my stuffed animals.

When my dad took me out for ice cream I was worried that he was going to tell me that they had found a home for my dog at last and that would be the end of her too. I was on the brink of tears as I ate my banana split but I was trying hard to be brave. He put a magazine on the table. It was open to a picture of a woman running so fast the camera had blurred the picture.

I looked up at him as he pointed at the picture with his calloused, working man’s finger. “Do you see her, sweetheart? She won a medal in the Olympics and you know what? She had asthma; she had it real bad.”

Suddenly the picture took on new meaning. This woman was a freak like me. She had to have her mattress wrapped up. She had clutched her blue puffer when she slept but she had run… she had run like the wind.

“Honey, you can worry about what the doctor said, or you can listen to me. You were living and running and playing with your puppy and all that ever happened was a little wheeze or two. You can do anything you want.”

My gaze darted back to his eyes from the picture. “Anything?”

He nodded earnestly, “Anything at all. You can run in the Olympics and you can win the gold; you can be an astronaut and go into space. You and I are the same that way. You put your mind to it and there is absolutely nothing too hard for you.”

The spell had been broken. I knew from his eyes that he was telling me the truth. I knew from the picture in front of me that he had sought out proof.

From that day onward, his words rang in my head. I have survived many hardships, accomplished many things and I have always set my sights higher. I didn’t want to run in the Olympics and I didn’t really want to go to the moon, but it was the knowledge that I could that made me strong in other ways. My dog lived to an old age and the plastic came off my bed. My stuffed animals were returned without comment and I didn’t die.

Over the years I had a few asthma attacks that were bad enough to put me in the hospital, but they didn’t scare me. I would overcome it. It wasn’t just being positive, it was also being certain and having someone believe in me, believe I could be an astronaut or an Olympian. My father’s positive attitude changed my life and it has propelled me ever since.

~Virginia Carraway Stark

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