The author of this essay was a winner of a 2022 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay that was included with their application.
Grasping the runner barrel with all 93 pounds of myself, my body launched towards the cockpit. The boat was nearing the crest of a 10-foot wave. With a stomach-dropping crash that left the entire crew staggered, the boat submerged itself back into the water. I was under the misconception that a lake could not produce waves. There is a calmness in lakes, an order. But, like life, I was quick to learn that waves are inevitable.
If I were to paint the wave that blanketed the foredeck, I would use nearly every color in my pallet. This wave was far from the dreamy blue someone may associate with sailing. The wave, in its lightest spot, was a viridian green, and as it ran through the deck, the water bubbled in a violet hue. One of the first lessons I learned in oil painting was that for each color the eye can see, there exists an entire palette’s worth of colors.
I learned later in life that the same concept holds true for people. At ten years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. It wasn’t the diagnosis itself, rather the “Hollywood Version” of Tourette, that made informing people of my diagnosis feel like social-death. I have watched as countless people tilt their heads at me in confusion claiming, “I would have never known!”.
Finally, the wave settles onto the deck. Aft of the foredeck, the startled crew are gleaming up the mast. The head of the mainsail, no longer in its track, is waving through the air like a Tube Man outside of a car dealership. In a moment of crisis, one would assume that someone was to blame. However, this wasn’t the fault of one person; it was simply the fault of the sea. Sailing is the art of having little control- the art of efficient, safe, and fast reaction. In my diagnosis, this has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. I thrive in school by keeping tight control over nearly everything. During group projects, my peers nicknamed me, “Miss Delegator”. Through sailing, I have adapted my methods of control to methods of response.
I had no control over receiving the Tourette diagnosis, nor did I have control over the classroom comments I would receive: “But you don’t act like you have Tourettes?”. I couldn’t escape it, but I could help the next generation of students like me.
I went to several elementary schools advocating for the correct representation of Tourette’s Syndrome. I educated children on what Tourette Syndrome is, what it looks like, and how it feels. While this hasn’t stopped the ridiculous questions, such as, “Do you scream like a monster?”, I know the questions come from a different place. They come from curiosity and a willingness to learn more. After I finish my presentation, children wave their hands with questions that are far from, “politically correct”. The students don’t prance around the subject because they learn that there is nothing for me to be ashamed about.
The finished painting of my first Maxi-Racer is hung on top of my bed. The colors of the oil painting blend together in a chaotic excitement. I take a step back to inspect the entire painting as a whole and admire the way it flows. Like Tourette, I have learned to abandon my reins of control and ride the waves of uncertainty with confidence in my reaction. Directly next to the painting is a sun-faded piece of pink construction paper. On it, a butterfly and a message from a little girl whose school I spoke at: “Words can bring us down but we will always rise”.