Our differences make us just that — different. But different doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean bad or wrong. And last Saturday, at Show Your Shine, an adaptive runway event at The Sands Atlantic Beach, differences were celebrated and applauded by hundreds as those with limb loss or other differences took to the stage. Some 27 models, each with a story of adversity and resilience, showed that everyone deserves kindness and respect.
Brother-and-sister duo Robert Schulman and Jill Smith work together at the Limb Kind Foundation, which was founded in Oceanside and is now headquartered in Ozone Park. Schulman, a prosthetist, is the founder and executive director of the organization, and Smith, an occupational therapist, is a coordinator, and the founder of the Show Your Shine event, which is now in its third year. “I love helping people to regain their independence,” Smith said, “despite tragedy, illness or setback.”
Working with people in the limb-loss and limb-difference community inspired Smith to create an event that would allow variations to shine in a supportive space and challenge conventional beauty standards. The goal of the evening was for people to stare at the models, not because they were different, but because they were glamorous.
“I will never forget the first time someone from this community confided in me that they felt ugly, worthless and alone in this world,” Smith told the audience at The Sands. “I have witnessed it myself. Seeing people stare at others for their physical looks or their physical difference. And I can’t imagine what it feels like to the person being stared at. One of my favorite parts about working on Show Your Shine is that it makes me realize that kindness truly is contagious. In the end, people want to do good.
“I want them to have an evening where they don’t feel stared at for their differences,” Smith added. “Rather, they’re covered in love, support and applause for their incredible strength, tenacity and will to live fully despite the adversity they have faced.”
Schulman, who travels to third-world countries to make prosthetics for children, shared a story with the audience about an 11-year-old named Joseph, from Tanzania. Born missing both arms and one leg, Joseph couldn’t fill the traditional men’s roles in his community — hunting, herding cattle, protecting the family — so his parents abandoned him in the desert one night, leaving him to fend for himself against the wild animals. An orphanage came to Joseph’s rescue, and contacted Schulman about bringing him to New York to get the prostheses he needed.
“I spent one month with him, making him the two prosthetic arms and the one prosthetic leg,” Schuman recounted. “And in those four weeks, I watched him transform from a quiet, reserved, timid young boy into a confident, happy and determined young man.”
When Schulman found the boy’s father and asked him why he had left his son to die among the hyenas, the man said it was because the boy was useless. “The term ‘useless’ has resonated with me from that day on,” Schulman said. But his hope was that people would leave Show Your Shine with a sense of empathy and understanding for others with differences — and, most important, view those in their daily life with more kindness.
Daycnee Vanderveer, of Rockville Centre, one of the models at the event, is a newer member of the limb loss community. In November, she was searching her truck for a spare tire after getting a flat on the Sagtikos Parkway when a vehicle driven by a drunk driver traveling 70 mph struck her and her legs were severed. Vanderveer was saved by an off-duty Suffolk County police officer on his way home from a wedding. He used his tie as a tourniquet to control the bleeding. The driver was later charged with a driving while intoxicated, but the damage was done.
“This is all brand new to me,” Vanderveer said. “I’m about three months old, I’ll say, but being here with everyone is so inspiring — everyone here is inspiring to be around. I’m blessed and happy just to be here. I got a second chance. I get to see (my son); I get to raise him. I’m alive.”
Like everyone, she has her ups and downs. “You get your sadness — you can’t do some of the things you used to be able to do,” Vanderveer said. “I loved dancing, a lot of that having to do with my legs and stuff. Unfortunately, I need to relearn how to do that, but I’m looking forward to making all those challenges, because I have to live. I got a second lease on life. I’m not going to waste it,”
Evan, Daycnee’s son, said his mother is still the same, despite everything that’s happened. “I love my mom,” he said. “I’m happy she’s here. If she wasn’t here, I’d be completely lost, so the fact that it was either her dying or lose her legs, I’d take lose her legs. My mom has helped me through so much,” he said.
A number of people in the audience were from Oceanside. Students from Schools No. 3 and 5 helped raise over $1,000 to sponsor six of the models. Because they were sponsored, each of them had a day of pampering to prepare for the event.
School No. 5 teacher Kristin Stea said it was amazing to see the students’ eyes light up, and the smiles on their faces, each time one of their sponsored models appeared, knowing they helped behind the scenes to get them there.
“It’s truly inspiring,” Stea said. “Anything is possible. You never know what people are going through, and doing something good for others makes you feel better about yourself.”