SheLift Part 1

Each year girls and women with various abilities and limb differences from all over the States meet at SheLift - a camp founded by Sarah Herron to build confidence and self-esteem through recreation.

Empowering young women with physical disabilities is a passion that led Sarah Herron to create SheLift; an organisation that encourages women to be the best they can be as they connect through shared experiences. 

Twenty-five-year-old wedding photographer, Natalie Colapietro, and twelve-year-old Ava Garnett are two of the young ladies making the most of the opportunities at SheLift. 

Natalie was born without her lower left arm, and Ava endures chronic pain, the result of a gene mutation called nail-patella syndrome (NPS) that affects her limbs, kidneys, eyes, nails, and patella. Having never met before, they’re buddied up and support each other through new experiences.

Ava, from New York, lives on Staten Island and because of her NPS, she has to do things a bit differently.

Ava speaking with her Mum in her bedroom.
Ava is going to the SheLift retreat for the first time.

“It affects my pointer and thumb fingers which are shaped differently; eyes, tendons, kidneys and joints,” says Ava, but perhaps most noticeably, her arms can only extend to 90 degrees.

The lower range of extension means her parents, Heather and John, had to adapt the house to make life easier, installing lower drawers and touch-activated faucets. But apart from those differences, Ava is treated just the same as her siblings, and she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“They don’t want me to think that I have a disability and I have to be treated special,” she says.

Ava and her Brother walking their dog down the street.
SheLift aims to build confidence in young women with physical differences.

Mum, Heather, believes when people first see her arms they think she only has a physical difference, but NPS impacts much more.

“It affects eyes, kidneys, nervous system, joints, and tendons. She is smaller in stature, we have to always assess her body to make sure she’s okay because kidney failure can happen really quickly.”

Dad, John, believes his daughter is even more determined to be treated the same as everyone else.

“She loves her sports, it’s originally difficult for her because she tries to do it like anyone else. Sometimes I think she is trying to prove something, just because [Ava] has a slight disability doesn’t mean she can’t do what you can do.”

Joint pain is another symptom that Ava must endure. The way it affects her kidneys, she can’t take regular medication but she remains confident in herself and while she wouldn’t change the way she is, she admits she hasn’t always had the same self-belief.

“I would always doubt myself, I would be shy and not talk about my disability.”

“I would always doubt myself, I would be shy and not talk about my disability.”

And this is why being paired up for SheLift with Natalie means so much to Ava; she’s another young woman who knows exactly what Ava has been through. 

Born with amniotic band syndrome, the growth of Natalie’s left arm was stunted below the elbow. Natalie has one hand but has always found her own way to do things.

Natalie and her dog sitting on the grass.
Natalie has found different ways to adapt, which she can share with Ava

“As I kid I only struggled with very little things, I couldn’t climb through a whole set of monkey bars by myself. Riding a bike and tying my shoes I learned how to do it in my own way.”

Now a successful wedding photographer, Natalie has learned to accept her arm for the way it is. 

“I technically consider myself having a disability but I don't feel unable.”

Natalie taking a photograph.
Natalie now has much more confidence surrounding her disability.

Up until a couple of years ago, she had never posted a picture of herself online that showed her arm. This changed when she came across a photo of SheLift founder, Sarah Herron. She too was missing a hand.

“I was like what? This girl looks like me and it was incredible. I’ve never seen a young woman that has ever looked like me.”

Inspired, Natalie found Shelift and a world full of other women who look just like her. The confidence she gained from seeing them was instant and now being given the opportunity to connect with and mentor other young women, they both know they’re in for a life-changing ride.

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