A lifetime of obstacles: Lessons in perseverance
Andrew Dickerson’s mantra: ‘Don't. Ever. Stop.’
How do you decide what outfit to wear each day? Do you consider what matches or what’s clean? Probably. Do you plan your whole outfit around having someone home to help you put on your socks and shoes? I do. I was born with a rare disability that limits my range of motion. At 22, I am dependent on others to put on my socks and tie my shoes.
In different phases of my life, I have been an athlete, a musician, and a student pharmacist, and I have been an overcomer throughout. Now, I am fortunate enough to be President of the East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy APhA–ASP Chapter. So how does a 22-year-old who still can’t put on his own shoes end up leading an award-winning chapter? I have persevered and want to share three ways you can as well.
Adaptation is about thinking outside the box and trying things that may not work. At a glance, you wouldn’t know that me leaving the house is a difficult process. In addition to being unable to reach my feet, I can’t reach my head to wash my hair, so I use a foot-long brush instead. Adapting doesn’t always require a tool, though. To put on a sock, I must fold it inside out, pin it to the floor with one foot, and shimmy the other foot in. Solutions often involve finding a different approach: watch what others do, know what you can do, and combine the two.
Adaptation is key; just because something is a challenge doesn’t mean you have to do it the most difficult way.
It is important to realize that you don’t have to face things alone. Having a community to support me has been vital. Over the years, my support has come from family and faith. I have been a Christian since childhood and learned to rely on God’s strength instead of my own. My church family continues to inspire me to not give up, while my immediate family supports me in a different way. They always help me when I truly need it but, more importantly, they say no when I don’t. Their honest accountability supports me when necessary yet pushes me to grow.
While adaptation and support are helpful tools, one element remains: repetition. Once you overcome an obstacle, keep doing it. For me, this process started before I can even remember. My mom tells a story from when I was 4 and had to entertain myself during church choir practice. Instead of playing, I spent the whole time trying to learn to walk down steps. Because my ankles wouldn’t bend, I had always hopped down steps. This day, however, I would walk up a step, turn around, try to step down, fall, and repeat. My mom watched me fall on my face for 2 hours. Finally, I stepped down, stumbled several steps, and stayed on my feet. Early events like this set the tone for the rest of my life.
When I was older, I got into competitive swimming. As a disabled athlete racing against able-bodied athletes, I came in last every time, sometimes by several minutes. I was lapped daily in practice and races, but I never stopped. By 2013, after 6 years in last place, I found myself at the National Junior Disability Championship, where I won 5 gold medals and set 6 national records.
To answer my initial question, how did I wind up where I am now? I have adapted, I have surrounded myself with supportive people, and I won’t ever stop. I challenge you now. Don’t be discouraged by obstacles. Find what works for you, find the right community, strive to overcome, and then don’t stop. We are all capable of overcoming and persevering.
Don’t. Ever. Stop.
Andrew Dickerson is a third-year PharmD candidate at East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.