People I admire: Katy Fetters
Note from me
Stories are a powerful tool for building connection and community. Many of us living with a disability grow up feeling alone because only later in life do we meet other people like us, be it in person or through stories we read or hear. As I continue to grow the Expedition Empower community, I will be sharing stories from within this community in a section of the blog called ‘People I admire’. My hope is these unique stories will highlight our common experiences in which we can find connection in. Stories are also a great source of inspiration and I hope in addition to connection these stories will provide you with inspiration.
It is only fitting that my first community highlight be someone who has built a strong and vibrant community for people with cerebral palsy. Katy Fetters, the founder of CPStrong is someone I really admire. I’ve been following her journey for a couple of years and been amazed by the impact she has made with her efforts, something that has been a big source of inspiration for me. Katy was kind enough to share her story with me and answer questions on why she started CPstrong, the importance of community, and provide some rad advice for people living with cerebral palsy. I hope you all enjoy Katy’s story as much as I have.
Hi Katy -tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started CPstrong:
My name is Katy and I have cerebral palsy on the left side of my body. To enable me to stay active and get around more easily, I wear a mobility device (aka a really rad leg brace) called the ExoSym, made by Hanger Clinic. I grew up in Southern California along the coast in a big family and have lived mountainside in Boulder, CO for the past few years with my fiance and our new puppy. I currently work at an advertising agency as a brand strategist where I perform research on luxury automotive and apparel. I love to explore new places, try new things, and experience different cultures mostly through food & drink. A few years ago, we traveled the length of South America by car for six months which was both one of the coolest and most challenging things I’ve ever done.
I began CPstrong first as a blog, and later as a social media platform in 2017 to give voice to our growing community and to create a place for young adults with CP to connect, learn, and support one another. But this has been a decade-long effort and evolution of what began in 2009 as TeenCP, a blog about my life with CP. Over the years, I realized how important this work was for my own personal fulfillment, but also for others. I didn’t find a sense of belonging or friendship until I began connecting with others like me, who also lived with a disability. CPstrong works to showcase stories in our community so that others may feel represented, seen, heard, and understood. Disability can be very isolating so my hope is that these honest, real, and raw stories work to bring people together in a space where we all feel like we belong and can take ownership of.
What is the importance of community and the connections built within?
[Perhaps answered in the above, but to add:]
Community helps build people up when they feel down. Community helps individuals recognize and embrace collective power, when they feel like they have none. Community can provide someone with a sense of pride and agency in finding or establishing community with likeminded others.
I believe community is essential for people who have felt marginalized in some way by their experiences with disability. Community not only allows disabled people a safe space to express themselves, but also fosters connection, belonging, and a sense of camaraderie. I think people who have felt alone will always see the value in finding and building community — whether in their own lives, for their own personal benefit or for those who will come after them. The authenticity of the connections I’ve made and the things I’ve learned by being a part of our community has profoundly impacted my life for the better.
If you can give one piece of advice to someone with cerebral palsy, what would it be?
At this point in my life (and in these strange times) I’d say:
Listen to your heart, trust yourself, be true to yourself, follow your dreams — however you want to frame it, do that. And I don’t mean to be trivial here. I mean this sincerely. People like us don’t often have the luxury of ‘hiding’ who we are. We must learn to love and understand ourselves from a young age with intensity and we learn how to trust ourselves when doubt has been placed upon us since birth.
I am learning more each passing day how important it is to be honest with ourselves; to discover our own happiness, to let the mind wander and process. We are told what we cannot do or will never do from the moment we are born. But there are so many things we can do. I urge you to value your life, your capabilities and your strengths so much that you surprise yourself. And when it feels like your dreams are far from reach, remind yourself that you are good at adapting and evolving. So whatever “it” is, it it may take time, it may try your patience, and bring out your greatest fears or even failures — but just trust that you’ll get there.
What are your 2020 goals for @cerebralpalsystrong?
My goals for CPstrong have been a bit more simplified since the global pandemic hit. I have to say, I felt a bit deflated when I realized what this meant for 2020 — our next CP Social mini-meet ups, fundraising to make this all happen, etc. It all feels very far away now, right? Until social distancing becomes more of a memory than a reality, it looks like our in-person community building efforts will have to be on pause. The best thing we can do is to keep sharing stories, keep building up our community so that when we feel ready to step back out into the world, we will be so excited to meet up with each other at the next CP Social. This almost brings me to the idea of hosting a virtual meet-up…. but I’ll have to think on that one for a little bit. :)
To Learn More:
You can learn more about Katy and the CPStrong community by going to www.cerebralpalsystrong.com.