Updated: Jun 24, 2021
By Kendra Gottsleben
On November 3, 1984, an excited and anxious set of parents in South Dakota finally experienced the moment they had anticipated for nine months: the birth of their daughter. I, Kendra Gottsleben, was born healthy and strong, weighing nine pounds and measuring twenty-one and a half inches long and with no signs of future health challenges. Like any new parents, they saw my endless potential from the first day they met me. It was only a few months later that my family began a lifetime journey of great obstacles and challenges. However, there would also be many blessing to come with them.
When I was four, I was diagnosed with a rare enzyme disorder called Mucopolysaccararidosis Type VI (MPS VI), also known as Maroteaux-Lamy. One in 215,000 people are diagnosed with this condition. My body is missing the enzyme that is needed to cleanse my cells, which causes a buildup of a gluey-like substance that affects my connective tissue and other vital organs.
Receiving the diagnosis from a geneticist was unimaginable and heartbreaking for my mother and father as they were unable to really comprehend what it meant for my future. No parent ever imagines having to hear those words. But, despite the diagnosis my parents raised me to keep moving forward and to never give in to what others say or think of me.
Fast-forward twenty-four years later, I successfully graduated from Augustana College in 2010. I obtained a double-major in Sociology and Psychology with the hopes to help others. I always have tried to define my life by my positive outlook and success in overcoming obstacles! But truth be told, I have had my share of moments when I had to search long and hard for the silver lining in a frustrating situation. Sometimes I do not end up seeing the positive immediately or even days after the incident.
A perfect example is when one of my college professors told me she thought I took the easy way out, and that I was not graduate school material. It wasn’t until a week later that I realized how to make this a positive situation – she created a fire within me to prove her wrong. The professor’s comments also made me take some time to reflect on myself and my ambitions in life, after which I concluded that I have accomplished a lot and I will not stop anytime soon. Someday I know that should I choose to go on to graduate school I will be able to face that challenge confidently, no matter what my professor may think.
I have always been passionate about helping others whether they have or don’t have a disability or medical condition in realizing that who we are or what we look like should not stop us from reaching our dreams and goals. My MPS has given me many obstacles such as poor vision, constrictive airway, and an inability to walk long distances, only to name a few. However, I have always been determined to not let others limit me in what I can or cannot do. I have continuously taken every experience, no matter good or bad, as a lesson learned and I press forward into my future.
As I keep constantly looking to learn from my experiences, I recall the first time an adult in my life told me that I have a lot to share with the world (besides my parents). This person was one of my high school guidance counselors. One day, as I sat in his office unsure of myself, he told me, “Kendra, you have the potential to impact others in great ways.” I respected his comment at the time, but as a high school student, I was unable to see how my life experiences would benefit others. Little did I know that the simple lesson my parents taught me when I was growing up would be my message to share with others: even though I cannot choose my obstacles, I choose my attitude which determines if my goals and dreams will be achieved.
Some people in this world adhere to a motto and I am no exception. The quote I adhere to is, “When Life Hands You Lemons…Make Lemonade.” This quote reminds me to turn obstacles in my life into positives. I have even put my own special twist on this common phrase, “When Life Hands You Lemons…Turn Right Around and Squeeze Those Lemons to Make the BEST Lemonade Possible.” My belief in this motto encouraged me to accomplish one of my biggest dreams: writing an autobiography Live Laugh Lemonade: A Journey of Choosing to Beat the Odds. The book’s theme is about how I have overcome the obstacles in my life to accomplish my goals.
I frequently emphasize with others that we all have our own hurdles to overcome. It doesn’t matter how different each of our lives are; life is difficult for all of us. But without our challenges or lemons, we would not be the people we are today. I know I certainly would not be! The truth is that we all have to work hard to achieve our dreams. The key to success in life is to never give up and never stop dreaming. The greatest successes are worth the painstaking work.
The lemons in my life have gotten me to where I am today: a college graduate, author, business owner, and a Social Media Coordinator. I have chosen to make lemonade every day, no matter what. As I end, I ask you to reflect on this question, “If the obstacles or lemons had never occurred in your life, where would you be today?”
Kendra Gottsleben is an author, motivational speaker, disability and Mucopolysaccharidosis advocate, and enjoys making others smile by being positive.