Carla's Blog: Launching Dreams

The tractor roars in the background. Clouds of smoke appear before my eyes. Mountains of mud are piled in my backyard. It smells of rain, of humid soil. These are the smells of nature. A ray of sunlight shines through my window through the thick foliage. A jazz tune plays in the background. The phone rings suddenly and I instinctively get up to answer it. It is my aunt Carmen asking me if I wanted to go for coffee with her tomorrow. When I return to my desk, the sun has hid behind the clouds and the tractor has gone silent. Nature has once again regained its sovereignty as I write on…


It’s a cloudy day today. I bet it’s going to rain today. That’s O.k. We need rain. Rain is good for the planet. Big drops, small drops, medium drops; all fall from the sky. The pink flowers in my garden are still as I peek through my window; a mild wind blows, and a backhoe imposes its presence in our otherwise barren landscape.

Looking down, a book rests on my table, with no urgency to be read, apparently. Beside it, 1000 colones, spare change from this morning’s visit to “La Feria del Agricultor.” I shall put the colones in my car to use as tips for “Los Cuida Carros.” Sweet people they are, always asking me about my wheelchair and my adapted van. These topics make for good conversation.

A piece of very animated music startles me. The song speaks of two lovers that fight to keep their love affair alive, despite of many obstacles, rules, expectations. Society is indeed a strange creature. (I never thought I would say that.) Love possesses mysterious tints as well, perhaps that is why it is so magical.

Ting! Yet, another interruption. Whats App claims its place in my universe. The message is nothing important, it can wait. So many fronts to pay attention to in today’s world… and nothing one can do about it. Except wait for all the stimuli to go silent. SILENCE.

The Pearls Concealed in the Mystical Forest

The Pearls Concealed in the Mystical Forest

This year, for our annual science field trip we went to Monteverde and stayed at San Luis Biological Station. Friday morning a feeling of anticipation swept over me. I was excited and curious as to what was awaiting for me this weekend. As usual, I arrived at school at 8 am. We did not leave until 8:45. I climbed on the bus and took my seat next to Yesenia. Within a few minutes we were on our way to the station. Now, exactly what was our bus trip like? I looked out the window and observed nature as we departed the urban area and entered the countryside. Besides seeing mountains, diverse rich vegetation, and feeling the flaming sun on my skin, I could hear my classmates’ endless chatter and laughter. But, what was most dominant was Mrs. Chmelyk’s positive remarks and her ringing laughter. Next, I saw Mr. Bauer in deep conversation with Mr. Chmelyk. As usual, probably about chemistry and biology. Finally, as I looked towards the front of the bus, I saw the driver’s concentrated look on the road. After a while, however, the road became tedious and hot. I started to sweat and move from side to side in my seat. Despite Yesenia’s strong efforts to calm me down, I could not bring myself to because it was too warm. After 5 hours of riding this certainly was a difficult task.
Believe it or not, we did make it to the lodge. As is probably evident, we were all starving so the first thing we did was eat lunch. The food there was mostly typical, and I have to admit it could have been a little more paleable. Mr. Bauer was not about to waste a minute of his precious time, therefore, we went right to work. I was not able to go on the first activity my group was assigned to do, so I went to my room and got settled. I thought that my room was not at all uncomfortable, even though it was not exactly what I expected. While Yesenia put my stuff away, I looked around and got accustomed to what would be my room for the rest of the weekend. After we got comfortable, Mrs. Chmelyk and Mr. Bauer took me to the laboratory where we saw different species of butterflies, insects, and tarantulas. Each butterfly was more colorful than the previous. Some of them were multicolored, some had stripes, some were bigger than others. The insects, in contrast seemed pretty much the same size, and even though Pete seemed to be fascinated with them, I wasn’t. They were boring and plain. When I saw the tarantulas they scared me because they were huge harry creatures with legs. What I liked the most, though, was how they had named each of the animals, and written the date that they were found on a small piece of paper. The part of the hike that I missed was what they called The Sensory Trail. They were supposed to be blindfolded, and the main objective was to be able to feel things and hear things without using the sense of sight. Shannon told me that their group saw grasshoppers and many other small life forms. I enjoyed looking at the many species of insects in their collection and I was amazed at how diverse the population can be. I also was impressed at how much they take care of their findings, and of their organization.
My second activity was going on the one accessible road. There is no particular objective to this, except to observe nature at its’ fullest and to be at peace and harmony with it. I can still remember the wind blowing furiously at my face and my hair flying right at me. I remember especially the sensation of the galloping wheelchair as it tried to pass over the small boulders on the road and myself struggling to keep my balance, moving rapidly from side to side. The first thing I saw was the horse stable. The horses seemed to be so calm and friendly and tranquil that I just wished I could reach out and pet them. As we walked on, I got dust in my eyes, but it was worth it because the dense canopy embraced me with welcoming arms and made me feel like I was in a totally different world completely disconnected from civilization. Along the trail, there were small and big plants, pink and red flowers, huge trees full of foliage that looked like they were the kings of the forest. Eventually we turned back, and again, I observed in silence how perfect nature was constituted and enjoyed the feeling of well-being that came over me.
Luckily, I was able to participate in the leaf diversity activity, also called plantarama. In this activity, we looked at special characteristics of leaves, such as whether they were dicot or monocot, complex or simple and we also looked at the different textures of the leaves. Finally, we looked at what typed of leaves they were, or what fruit they produced. After we had separated them into groups, we discussed special features about them and their importance. It was very hard for me to concentrate because my group was very loud and disruptive. Nevertheless, it was a very knowledgeable experience.
The night hike was definitely both mysterious and creepy. Shadows were cast on the surface of the road and on the top of the trees. Nature seemed to be reclaiming her right to peace because it was strangely quiet. I dare to say that every creature was peacefully sleeping at this time and the only disruption they had was us. It looked as if they were saying that we were invading their territory. This might account for the fact that we hardly saw anything except for a couple of insects, ants and a toucanet. To make things even better, a full moon was out, making flashlights unnecessary and a disturbance rather than a benefit. The moon itself looked majestic, like a round cheeseball. It appeared as if she were looking down at us and making sure that nobody harmed her dear friends. I can say that it was a rather relaxing and once in a lifetime experience. I had rarely felt this close to mother nature.
As an optional activity, I watched a slide show which was not at all related to nature. Instead, Oscar, the manager, gave us a 20 minute presentation on the Costa Rican gold mines and explained to us how gold had first been discovered there. Thanks to the discovery of gold, Avangares became one of the most revolutionary towns of its time, almost 100 years ago. Overwhelmed by the discovery of gold, many immigrants went there, and thus, beautified the town. Today we can see many of the architectural projects that they left behind. However, not everything at this time was glorious and appeasing. Many of the Jamaican guards taking care of the mines were often rude to the workers who were very ambitious and thus tried to steal the gold. To make this clear, he told us an anecdote about a Jamaican guard who was excessively harsh with a worker to the point where he physically abused the person. From that day on, there starts in Costa Rica a movement called “Exile to the Jamaicans.” This is a period in history which marked our country’s reputation greatly and it is a time that will always be remembered both for its good side and bad side.
The last day we were at the station, I did what was for me, the most entertaining activity of all - horseback riding. Yesse and I went with two guides on a trail and as we went I was perplexed at how beautiful the area really is. I saw cain fields, and coffee plantations that unfortunately had been lost this year. In addition, I became friends with the guides and they told me of their extraordinary working experiences at the lodge. One of the things I will always remember about it is not what I saw at that moment, but the lessons I learned. They weren’t necessarily biology lessons; instead they were lessons on life like always looking beyond what you see and enjoying life to the fullest. Moreover, always trying to look at everything that comes in your life positively. I was telling the guides about how I will go into journalism some day. I also told them that one of the things that made me feel saddest was that almost unintentionally my writing style was tragic and depressing. They advised me to start writing about positive things in life, and if I did that my life would take a major turn. In conclusion I can say that I have never felt more free in my nest than at this time. Through this horseback riding experience, I not only gained more knowledge about the sport itself, but I realized that I had to take a huge turn in my life through what they said to me.
This is definitely an experience I will never forget and I am infinitely thankful to the teachers, chaperones, and most of all, the staff at the biological station. Thank you for all your help because this was a weekend that deeply affected my point of view on life and in addition, greatly altered it.

Una Cena a Ciegas que Activa los Sentidos

Todo está a oscuras cuando entro al comedor del Centro Gastronómico adonde me habían invitado a degustar una deliciosa cena. Cuando entré al lugar yo sólo sabía que era una cena en beneficio de la Fundación Helen Keller y que cada invitado debía apagar cualquier aparato electrónico que emitiera luz o brillara en la oscuridad. Acatando estas instrucciones, yo rápidamente me estacioné en mi puesto en la mesa (según me lo indicaron a puros comandos de voz) y apagué mi silla de ruedas.

Una vez todos estuvimos sentados en la mesa, Hannia Soto se presentó como la líder de nuestra mesa. Ella, junto con Janet, nuestra mesera, sería la encargada de guiarnos a través de está maravillosa aventura- esta cena a ciegas. Lo que el lector todavía no sabe es que tanto Hannia como Janet son invidentes, más nos atienden a nosotros, los invitados con una precisión y un amor incondicional.

Janet empieza por traernos las bebidas. Minutos después , cuando nos coloca los frescos en la mesa, nos dice indicaciones como “su copa está a las 12:00 ” (como el reloj, justo al frente del plato.) Ella sabía que era la única manera de que nosotros, los comensales, supiéramos la ubicación exacta de las cosas. Esta experiencia apenas comenzaba, de hecho, faltaba la parte más interesante y divertida.

Pronto, llegó la hora de que trajeran la comida. Todos los platos eran españoles puesto que el chef que donó toda la comida para el evento, el Sr. Vicente Aguilar, es español. Es importante destacar que todo la comida fue preparada por un grupo de los muchachos de la fundación (todos tenían alguna deficiencia visual.) Vicente lideró al equipo de cocineros.

A la hora de servir la comida, la dinámica es bastante particular. Primero, la mesera nos pide que por favor removamos nuestras manos de la mesa para así poder colocar el plato sin problema.

Sirvieron primero las bocas, aunque yo no supe que bocas eran hasta que las palpé y las probé. (Sí, no se equivocó en lo que leyó, literalmente palpé la comida para darme una idea de que era.) El tacto se convirtió en mi mejor aliado, bueno el tacto y el paladar. A la hora de comernos el plato fuerte, que era paella, y que dicho sea de paso, estaba deliciosa, a pesar de Hannia nos había advertido de comer de los bordes hacía el centro para evitar los regueros, mi arroz terminó por todo el mantel y yo, por supuesto, que me dí unas cuantas punzadas con el tenedor.

Posteriormente, Hannia nos explica que en el mundo de ella y sus compañeros la comunicación entre sí y con el resto de la gente es fundamental para así poder facilitar sus dinámicas de vida.

Llegados a este punto, mis lectores se preguntaran sobre que temas hablamos durante toda la cena. Con certeza, puedo afirmar que fue una conversación muy amena. Hannia nos relató sus múltiples experiencias como una persona que padece retinitis pigmentaria. Está condición es degenerativa y hoy, por hoy, Hannia ve muy poco de día y nada de noche. Por eso, aprovecha cada instante y trata de disfruta todo lo que aún puede contemplar. Dice que lo que más extrañara son los amaneceres.

Mas esta mujer, es una luchadora incansable. Es una ferviente defensora de las personas con discapacidad. Destaca la importancia que tienen los medios de comunicación en la labor de promover la inclusión y los derechos de las personas con discapacidad. Según ella, en Costa Rica aún falta mucho camino por recorrer en este ámbito, aunque reconoce que se hacen algunos esfuerzos a nivel gubernamental e individual. Quizás el sueño de Hannia y de muchos de nosotros. se resume mejor en las palabras de mi amiga y escritora , Brenda Drake, {Este camino} “debe de ser un camino compartido.”

Link: Video sobre la actividad/


Revisting Shake A Leg Miami

After leaving UMH, JC and I went to see our friends at Shake A Leg Miami, a not for profit water sports center for people with disabilities, as well as the general community. I had done an internship at the organization and helped out in the PR department and the truth was that I wanted to say hi to my former coworkers as well as my boss.

As I walked into Shake A Leg, I felt at home. As always, the building was buzzing with activity. A fishing tournament had just taken place and Harry Horgan, the CEO of the organization, was sitting in the hanger surveying the pickup duty after the activity. Harry was pleased to see us both and we chatted briefly with him and Susi, his wife about how the organization was doing and ways in which I could maybe help improve their marketing strategy.

Its interesting to me how I grow so attached to an organization that even though I have moved on to new professional horizons, I always want to find the time to volunteer at SALM because it is an organization that changed my life forever. With that thought in mind, I headed up stairs to speak with SALM’s marketing manager, Colin and Kerry, Chairman at Shake A Leg Miami and we have promised to chat and analyze how we can revamp SALM’s social media strategy. Hopefully, I can lend a helping hand in that department and see SALM integrate itself in the social media world more effectively.

When I finished my impromptu meeting with Colin and Kerry, night was falling on the majestic Miami landscape. Also, symbolically, the carpeting at Shake A Leg was being replaced because it had been severely damaged due to flooding. Perhaps, the replacing of the carpet and nightfall coming at the time of my departure from Shake A Leg that day, was an omen welcoming the change to come at Shake A Leg Miami. A change that I hope will happen with the help of the new and innovative staff and the help of cutting- edge technology. In fact, a change that I hope to help make happen, with the little professional expertise that I may be able to offer.

Medical Tratment in Miami and More Advevntures with JC: A Writer’s Perspective (Part 1)

My flight was practically empty, probably because of the recent Boston Marathon Bombing. I was headed to Miami for my quarterly Botox Injection to treat my spasticity that is so common for those of us that have Cerebral Palsy. It was a bright and sunny day when my family and I departed Costa Rica. The flight was smooth and we were able to land in Miami International Airport quickly and safely.

JC was waiting for me at the airport. After going through immigration and baggage claim, I met up with him in the ground transportation area. To me, the airport seemed desolate, as if doubt and fear were still lurking in the air after the terrorist attacks. After exchanging a few quick comments about my trip, we headed outside to wait for STS, our special transportation provider, which was contracted to take us wherever we needed to go during all of my stay in Miami because neither JC nor I drive. It was the first time that I personally used STS; overall the drivers were friendly and helpful, but like any state-run service, it isn’t perfect, and it is ultimately up to the user to learn the ins and out of the system in order to use it efficiently.

That first night, JC and I decided to stay in and have dinner at the hotel with my parents because we were all tired from our trip. After having an assortment of seafood dishes and delicious desserts, we retired to our respective rooms for a much deserved night’s reset.

The next morning we all headed to my Botox injection appointment at UMH. As usual, the busy outpatient clinics at UMH were filled with patients, so my family and I took a seat in the waiting room and patiently waited our turn. After an hour, Dr. Eduardo Ballestas, who was working with Dra. Diana Cardenas, came out to explain to my parents how the procedure was going to be carried out. Once all doubts were evacuated, we headed inside the hospital cubicles to start the procedure.

This Botox procedure is ambulatory and the patient is awake while its taking place. A numbing spray is used to numb the areas which will be injected. I got about 15 injections in specific muscles which are the ones that should be injected in my case to successfully reduce my spasticity. I can tell you that I was glad when the procedure was over. I must admit that I had some pain, but, frankly, it was not to bad. Now that the medical part of my trip was over, I could freely roam Miami with JC, and boy was I in for surprises!

To Be Continued…

Existing with Success: A Look Back

There were suitcases everywhere. In them, were all of my belongings. A year before, I had completed my Masters in Communication and graduated with honors from one of the most respected communication schools in South Florida; the School of International Communications at Lynn University. As a graduate student that had graduated with the highest honors from a very rigorous program, I often wondered what to do next. I knew I wanted to impact society with my writing and communication skills. I wanted to leave a mark, a contribution in the United States of America, a country that had given me access to first-class medical doctors and a stellar education.

With this purpose in mind, I began to apply to numerous sites to see if I could complete an internship in the U.S.A before coming back to my home country of Costa Rica to set up my own business. Months passed by and nothing came up. Then, Marcia Soto Pinari, a native Costa Rican, and a friend of Harry and Susie Horgan, mentioned to Harry that I was looking to do an internship with a US based foundation. Harry and Susie were kind enough to give an opportunity to enhance SALM’s public relations efforts through my blogs of the different events that took place at Shake A Leg Miami.

Now, a year later, I emerge a changed person. I am thrilled to have been able to impact so many Shake A Leg followers through my writing and to have met many passionate individuals that hold Shake A Leg’s mission close to their heart. It is time now to begin the next chapter.
It is to time to establish strategic alliances and sit back and observe as Shake A Leg transcends frontiers and enters the Hispanic market. Personally, I am committed to see that happen and I shall not rest until it comes to fruition.

Prologue: A Mesage from Carla

When I first visited Shake A Leg Miami in December 2011, it immediately became apparent to me that this organization would change my life; and that it did indeed. My internship at SALM opened up myriad doors for me. It showed me the infinite possibilities that exist out there for people with disabilities; from kayaking to sailing to diving and a host of other activities. It also taught me that people with disabilities can do a lot to impact the community. Through our stories, we can show able- bodied individuals that our disabilities do not stop us from accomplishing all of our goals and dreams, if anything, they make us fight harder to achieve them. We must be carriers of a message of hope, persistence and resilience.

With my blogs, it is my hope that I was able to paint a picture of the mission of Shake a Leg through the eyes of somebody that was a firm believer in what SALM represents to Miami and the world. Moving forward, as I get ready to move back to my home country of Costa Rica, I will continue to support SALM and its avant-guard initiatives that have changed the life of so many individuals over the years. All this, with the premise that today “the global world is flat” as organizations are able to transcend frontiers through the magic of communication.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the entire Board of Directors for the grand opportunity you have given me at Shake A Leg Miami. With you, I leave pieces of my existence; an existence that is forever changed.

Sailing: First Impressions

As I made my way to Shake a Leg Miami from my house in Boca I was expectant. Kerry Gruson had been kind enough to invite us sailing during my first day at Shake a Leg Miami. The waters were tranquil that day. Nothing moved. The waters were asleep. Despite the weather conditions, the experience was worth it. As I wheeled to the dock, with Kerri and her friends and the Freedom sailboat came into view, I wondered what would happen if the boat tips over J.C. rapidly informed me that the Freedoms don’t tip over. After leaving our wheelchairs on the dock, Mark Dacy helped me transfer onto the sailboat. Then, after properly strapping me in, we were ready to go. I sat at the helm at the stern of the vessel. J.C. was the skipper. I was impressed how being legally blind he could sail so well and so naturally. I learned that day that sailing for people in general, but especially for disabled people, is a liberating experience.

I think it allows us to forget about all the challenges that we go through everyday just to get around. Water eliminates mobility issues. It gives us freedom. If on top of the sensation of freedom we experience serene waters and a gorgeous sunset , we can’t ask for more.

Since the waters were so calm, we had ample time to take in the fresh air and look out at the Miami landscape. I was mesmerized contemplating the tall buildings that decorate Biscayne Bay. The buildings rise up majestically, but as I gaze down, the waters are as still as they could be this particular day. It is this sharp contrast that made my first experience sailing so unique. For experienced sailors, perhaps, this particular trip was not their idea of fun because sailors like to be on the go. They like action; to be in constant camaraderie with the vessel, so to speak. However, that day the waters wanted to give me a calm and warm welcome. Perhaps it was just the perfect environment to introduce me into the sailing world because, as we sailed back toward the dock, with an amazing sunset escorting us back, I knew that sailing opened up a whole new world for me which I would gladly experience more of in the coming weeks.

The Power of Giving

Being a native Costa Rican, I did not know the first thing there is to know about baseball. When Kerry invited me to go to the Miami Marlins game last Friday, April 13th at their brand new stadium (former Orange Bowl), I did not hesitate. You see, last Friday wasn’t just about baseball, it was also about giving back to the community.

The Miami Marlins have had a long-standing relationship with Shake A Leg Miami, and this year, they picked SALM as their charity of choice. SALM received a $50,000 donation from the Miami Marlins. All of the Shake A Leg members were asked to wait in the media room. While in the media room, several pictures were taken of board members and SALM ambassadors. While the rest of us waited, I studied my surroundings. There were comfortable chairs for us to sit in, and see everything that was happening. SALM friends and members greeted each other amicably, and quickly got up to date on the latest events occurring at SALM. I personally was glad to see Mark Dacy, who had just come back from vacation and Susie Horgan who I had not seen since February.

After about half an hour, they distributed our tickets. Staff from the Marlins escorted my friend Alex and me to the baseball field. We sat on the handicapped accessible seating and had a good view of all the other excited fans. I was impressed to see how many people Marlins Park could hold. There were so many spectators that they looked like ants seating in their chairs.
Before the game started, SALM proudly accepted the donation. Alex and I saw Harry and his team as they proudly held up the check amid clapping and cheers from the crowd. For SALM, this was a very important day because it isn’t every day that a nonprofit organization gets recognized the way SALM did. With that done, all of us could sit back and enjoy the game in which, ultimately, the Miami Marlins beat the Houston Astros.

For me, going to Marlins Park was a unique experience. It was a day in which Alex and I danced and cheered along with the cheerleaders, guessed correctly on the Marlins trivia, and even had time to enjoy good food while we watched the game. In short, it was a day where we all showed off our team spirit; the same team spirit that binds SALM together after twenty years of existence.