Ms. Wheelchair Florida USA finds purpose in disability

Speaker inspires others with her keys to resilience

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Sara Gaver has proven everybody wrong.

Born with a rare disability called arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, she has not had the use of her arms, hands, legs or feet.

From the start, naysayers predicted that there were many things she would never be able to do. But Gaver has not allowed those people to define her. Today, the young woman drives, lives independently in her own home, has earned a degree from the University of North Florida, has a fulltime job with a software company, cooks, paints and is the current reigning Ms. Wheelchair Florida USA.

“My favorite part is to turn back around to those people and say, ‘I proved you wrong. Thank you very much. Now, let’s not do this to the next person,’” she said.

Gaver shared the keys to her resilience Tuesday, May 17, during a program at the link in Nocatee titled “The Heart of Inspiration.” She shared the stage with licensed therapist Dr. Cheralyn Leeby. The women had met through a shared interest – both are writing books.

Leeby praised Gaver’s “grit and resilience.”

“The more I learn about everything that you do and all your struggles through social media and other avenues, I’m just like: Wow, you’re really educating us on how to be resilient,” Leeby said.

Gaver said pageants she’s been involved with helped her discover her confidence and hopes her success will inspire others.

“I just want the next little girl and next little boy to say, ‘You know what? She did it. I can do it,’” she said. “When I was a little girl, there was no role model for me.”

This ties in to one of six steps she has followed to becoming self-resilient: finding a sense of purpose.

“I’m a very faith-based woman,” she explained. “I love my church. And I absolutely believe that God made us the way that we’re supposed to be. I don’t ever pray to be healed, because it’s how I’m supposed to be. If I wasn’t who I am, I can’t give you the message I’m giving you today because I wouldn’t live the same life.”

That Gaver embraces her condition as a gift to be used for good resonated with Leeby, who called that “a really big key to resilience.”

Other steps in Gaver’s process include: surrounding yourself with people who support you, believing in your abilities, nurturing yourself, embracing change and establishing goals. In this final step, she recommended establishing small goals on the way to bigger goals; this allows a person to see the progress.

Gaver’s children’s book, yet to be published, is about a princess who shares her disability, her mother’s guidance and how she deals with a community that tells her what she can’t do. Gaver hopes it will inspire Disney to introduce its first princess in a wheelchair.

She will compete for Ms. Wheelchair USA on July 10-18 at the pageant in Stow, Ohio.

Also Tuesday, Leeby discussed three books to which she has contributed, “The Courageous Heart,” “The Grateful Soul” and “Everyday Hope.” She and Amy Maughan also lead a regular program at the link called A Writer’s Journey. They are currently collaborating on a book titled “Artichoke Alchemy: A Journey to the Heart,” which focuses on self-discovery and therapy.

Gaver can be found @wheellifeconnections on Instagram and Facebook and on YouTube.

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