Leanna Bouma likes to take on a challenge. It doesn’t matter the outcome. This talented 21-year-old skier, born with spina bifida, is a risk-taker with a lifetime of practice. She has found fertile ground in creatively meeting one challenge after another by adapting, in order to fully participate in life.
Leanna is a true Alaskan girl, having grown up in Anchorage. “I really enjoyed growing up here,” she says. “We have really beautiful scenery, and I enjoy hiking and a lot of different activities.” She is in her third year of an undergraduate program at the University of Alaska, but has taken some time off to focus on downhill skiing, which is her biggest passion.
Leanna lights up when asked about skiing, and mentions how much she enjoys it. “It helps me stay healthy,” she adds, “and meet new people and learn new things. I think a perfect day for me would be spending time with friends and skiing in early spring.” Skiing has always been a big part of Leanna’s life. She likes to go out with her mom, who she credits as being her main source of inspiration. Leanna learned to ski when she was eight years old, and has been a member of the Challenge Alaska Ski Team since 2010. Her favourite sport is alpine skiing with her sit ski, and has dreams of representing the United States in the Winter Paralympics. Most recently, Leanna has been living in Winter Park, Colorado, where she’s been training with Paralympic athletes at the National Training Center for the Disabled Competition Center. Attending this training camp is an endeavour she’s proud of herself for pursuing, and says that she feels most powerful when she’s skiing. In a way, her world is just starting to open up in new and exciting ways, which is wonderful to see. Realizing what you desire most is like coming home.
Leanna sees a challenge as an opportunity to build confidence and stretch her boundaries. Despite all the obstacles that come with living with a mobility challenge, she is thankful for all of life’s adventures. “I think living with a mobility challenge has helped me be more confident, and learn to accomplish what I want to accomplish even when it’s difficult.” She enjoys defying convention by doing things that other people might not think she’s capable of doing, and finds that she likes to prove naysayers wrong.
When asked how she stays motivated, she replied very thoughtfully: “I try to picture what I want to accomplish, and how I’ll feel if I’m able to accomplish it.” She also says she makes sure to take breaks, because she knows that sometimes trying to push through can actually set you back. Many new opportunities can open up when you’re willing to pursue what you desire most and recruit support. In the end, what you learn from insights of failure or success is what enriches you.
Leanna uses a combination of different mobility aids to get around, including SideStix, which she’s used since she was about 4 years old. In fact, she may be the only person we’ve spoken to who has grown up on SideStix! To other crutch users, or new SideStix users, Leanna’s best advice is to “keep with it”, even if it takes getting used to. Her favourite thing about her SideStix is how comfortable they are, and where they can take her. “They enable me to go pretty much wherever I want to go,” she says. “I enjoy hiking on difficult terrain, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to go all the places I want to.”
Taking on a challenge and sticking with it shouldn’t be feared. There is nothing to lose. It starts with desire, envisioning the possibilities, and then working hard to make it a reality. No one does it alone. Those moments when you are living the life you envisioned are powerful. You can see and feel all the beauty life has to offer. It is certainly worth the risk.