Isabella Blanchard would be happy to talk with you about why her left arm stops at her elbow, especially if you see her with her bow and arrow, or swimming, or on a climbing wall or playing cello.
“If you see me and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, that’s super-cool,’ just come up and say it,” she said. “It makes me feel better because it’s taken a lot of hard work for me to accomplish this.”
Blanchard — most call her Izzy — has what is termed a limb difference, the result of the umbilical cord wrapping her arm in the womb, halting its usual growth. “Some people also call it a nub, which I kind of like,” she said.
Blanchard’s hard work recently was rewarded when she was chosen as one of 22 patient ambassadors nationwide to represent Shriners Hospitals for Children at its annual PGA golf tournament in Las Vegas. She was a standard-bearer, carrying the scores of the golfers as they competed.
The 15-year-old is a sophomore at Anoka High School, where she’s on the swim team and in orchestra, playing the cello. She’s recently tackled archery and is just getting into rock climbing.
“I think these activities give me excitement and I just really like doing them,” she said. “I actually like challenging myself, finding obstacles and trying to overcome them.”
Watching “The Hunger Games” movies inspired her to try archery, which also proved a challenge for the physical and occupational therapists at Shriners Hospital “because they hadn’t done this before,” she said. They were able to modify a hunting trigger that Blanchard can release with her tongue.
“It’s super-cool because not many people do archery in the first place,” she said. Her new interest in rock climbing “is definitely more of a challenge because you have to be able to grab onto stuff.”
Blanchard has several prosthetic arms depending on the need — “I just got one for weightlifting” — but doesn’t wear one every day “so my limb difference is a lot more noticeable.” While stressing that “it’s different for every person,” she says she’s comfortable talking about her arm.
She’s not keen on the term “disabled” because “I don’t feel disabled. I feel like nothing’s in my path.” But she acknowledges that it’s the most commonly used term, and uses it herself.
“People with disabilities can really enrich your life, but you won’t know it until you talk to me or anyone else with a disability,” she said. “Just be kind, and if you do have a question, say it so we don’t feel like we’re something lower.”
In school, she’s active in theater and is interested in science and nature, especially the weather. Future careers are still in the dreaming stage, but broadcast journalism is intriguing.
Her physical achievements in sports and music draw the most attention, but she noted that some of her most meaningful achievements involve “the little things that people don’t really see or look past.”
For instance, when she was younger, “I always had a hard time putting my hair up in a ponytail or a bun. I had my best friend put my hair up every single day in school.”
Then in sixth grade, after days of practice, she finally achieved success in getting her hair into a ponytail. More days of work, and she was able to get it into a bun.
“Sometimes the little things mean the most.”
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185 • @Odewrites