By Magdalena Klodnicka & Carole Conklin
Are you satisfied with your life as it is today? What is your dream? No, don’t say it will never happen because… Just sit down and ask yourself a question: what is this one thing I always wanted to do? Don’t think how, or even when. Just name it. And then do it! Easier said than done? Exactly!! You may need to be a little creative, you may need to learn a few things and fail a few times. But start doing something. Remember, A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. And then another, and another. Just don’t give up! So now, if you don’t mind, we would like to share with you our journeys to reach our dreams.
My name is Magdalena, and I am originally from Poland. When I was still a student in my country, I had a dream that one day, I would go around America and visit the Grand Canyon. I wanted to go down to the very bottom of the canyon and dip my toes in the great Colorado River. But how on earth could I ever do this?? I could barely afford a camping trip with my friends to the lake, let alone a transcontinental journey full of adventures. Yes, it seemed totally impossible but, I also remember that when I was 19 years old, I wrote in my Bible: “I will never, never, never, never, never give up”. This is my motto, and when the going gets tough, I read it and get new strength to do one more impossible thing.
In 1991, an opportunity came for me to visit the United States. It was mostly a working vacation, or so I thought. One day, I was perusing the classified section of the newspaper (that was before the era of computers), and I saw an ad that read: “Looking for companions to make a road trip around America”. This was my chance! I didn’t wait a minute, called the number in Connecticut, and the rest is history. With some cash (earned and borrowed), a tent, rented car and two other trekking enthusiasts I met on the day of the trip, I set out to meet my adventure. America is beautiful, and it cannot be described in words or pictures. But to prove I really did it, here is me, 25 years ago, on the bottom of the Grand Canyon:
Magdalena standing, with a panorama of the Grand Canyon behind
And what about today, you may ask. Has she slowed down, settled into a day to day routine? No way! Just recently I spent two hours on the Hudson in a kayak, with powerful current against me. I was rowing like crazy with all my strength, only to see that I was barely making any progress. When I came home, I was in pain! It was quite intense, and I couldn’t sleep. But guess what; I plan to go back to the river for more. Why? Because at the beginning of 2017, I declared it would be an exciting year. It started in a lousy way, as a matter of fact. I spent the whole month of January sick with pneumonia, and then another couple of months gaining my strength back. I even spent my Birthday in bed, and I felt like an old person. But while I was in the house, barely able to walk from my bedroom to the kitchen, I looked at my Vision Board that said: “Year of Adventure”. And how can you have an adventure if you don’t go out there and fight a little? So when I recovered, I started doing things I planned to do this year. And when I was out there on the water, my muscles hurting like hell, I said to myself: I cannot stop now because I will lose everything I have gained so far. The water will take me right back to where I started. So I paddled even stronger. And stronger. Giving up was not an option.
Now it is my turn. My name is Carole, and my story begins when I was eleven-years-old when I walked into a florist down the street from where I lived. In the refrigerator, I saw displayed a variety of colorful flowers in buckets as well as beautiful arrangements. I knew then that I wanted to be a floral designer. I began working at that florist and through the years, I helped customers with purchasing flowers, took their flower orders, put the shipments that came into buckets of water and made bouquets and bows, which was my specialty. I even created my own designs. By the way, I had only partial vision in one eye and no vision in the other since birth. Many people found it amazing that I was able to do that kind of work but for me, it was simply living my dream. I certainly didn’t imagine that by the age of 30, my vision would deteriorate to the point where I would be totally blind. That was difficult to accept because I saw my dream coming to an end. How could I possibly design flower arrangements if I couldn’t see what I was doing?
The only thing I could do was accept what happened and find a new dream. Fortunately, there were agencies out there to help, like New York Commission for the Blind http://ocfs.ny.gov/main/cb/and Lighthouse International, now known as Lighthouse Guild http://www.lighthouseguild.org/programs-services/our-services/. Thanks to their services, I learned how to be independent by traveling with a cane, as well as techniques for cleaning and cooking. Of course, I could have gotten a seeing eye dog, but as I was more of a cat lover, I preferred to find a seeing eye man! I’m still looking!! I also learned to operate a computer using keyboard commands and adaptive speech software, Jaws for Windows http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/JAWS. Yes, it was difficult at times adjusting to this reality. Even today it still can be frustrating like when I’m trying to find an object on a table and keep missing it by an inch. I would swear the object was alive purposely moving away and laughing at me. But I couldn’t let my frustrations stop me from accomplishing what I needed to do.
After the initial period of adjustments passed and when I thought I was settled into my new reality, I realized that my desire to design flowers was still in my heart! So I challenged myself to continue to work in the floral industry. I discovered that I was still able to design arrangements and most of the other things I used to do before my vision loss. Here is a picture of one of my creations
Carole’s Floral Arrangement
By not giving up on myself or my dream, not only did I continue to be a floral designer, but I found myself working at Westchester Disabled On the Move as well as being a member of the Yonkers Mayor’s Disability Advisory Board! Through all of this, I learned multiple new skills and had become one of the voices advocating and empowering people with disabilities to be independent so they can have a better quality of life.
Now, it is your turn. What is your dream? It may not be a crazy adventure or making beautiful flower arrangements. It is something unique to you, something that you have always wanted to do. Yes, you have to fight for it, and it will probably not come easy. But don’t you dare give up on it, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Modify it or ask for help if you must, but do something! You will regret it if you don’t. See you out there!