by Ashley Meneely
Heather Ewing, 19, is in her third semester at Glendale Community College. She is majoring in music, and plans to use it to write and sing her own songs. She is learning to play the piano and is in GCC’s Concert Choir.
Ewing was born with a physical disability called Spina Bifida. This is a condition when the lower spine does not develop correctly, and can cause paralysis from the damaged region of the spine down.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition occurs when the developing baby’s spinal cord does not develop or close properly while the baby is in the womb. It is a rare condition that is estimated to affect 20,000 to 200,000 people every year in the United States.
There is no cure, but treatment can help. “Physical activity is more challenging for me, even if it is just walking,” Ewing said. “I get tired much easier, and sometimes I don’t know if I can keep going. But I wake up every day and I keep going,” Ewing said. She doesn’t have it too severely, but she has little to no feeling in her legs and feet. “That’s why I wear braces. I also wear them because my feet are not straight. Braces provide the ankle support I don’t have.”
Ewing said sometimes people treat her differently, but that it has not happened since she started college.
She said that she has been picked on as well, but that it has not happened in a long time and she has moved on. She said in elementary school she was always picked last for sports in P.E. and little kids often ask her what is wrong with her legs.
“People who don’t have what I have don’t understand what it’s like for me, and that’s alright,” Ewing said.
For people overcoming obstacles like Ewing, she suggests following advice her mother gave her that she still uses to this day. She said her mom told her to look in a mirror any time she feels bad about herself or feels like giving up and find something she likes about herself. “It doesn’t have to be a physical trait like hair or eyes,” Ewing said, “It can be other things. For example, I always remind myself that singing is something I’m capable of, and I have been singing since eighth grade. I never gave up on it.” She starts with one thing the first day and adds new things each day, starting out small and building up.
Elizabeth Ewing, Heather Ewing’s fraternal twin, said, “[Heather is] amazing and I’m always impressed by her accomplishments and how far she has come.”
At the moment, Ewing is learning to play the piano. “I really love playing the piano!” She said. “It’s one of my favorite instruments,” she said the hardest part for her was learning bass clef, because she played violin in middle school, which uses the treble clef. During the week Heather goes to school from the morning to early afternoon, then stays after class and uses the computers. On the weekends she likes to go shopping with her mother, who moved here from England about 30 years ago.
Ewing hopes to write music to inspire people. She found her passion for music and song writing in her senior year of high school. She said songs that inspire her are ones that speak to her personally about overcoming obstacles, such as “Superheroes” by The Script, “Fight Song” by Rachael Platin, and “Roar” and “Fireworks” by Katy Perry. “What I want to do,” she said, “is send the message…that things are difficult, but you are strong, and you can overcome.”