In many ways Bryanna Copeland is a typical, active Long Island teenager. The 17-year-old senior at Floral Park High School plays basketball and is getting ready for her freshman year at college.
What makes Bryanna different from her peers is that she is a bi-lateral above-the-knee amputee. She lost both her legs when she was just 2 years old due to various congenital conditions.
Every day, Bryanna faces challenges that most of us can’t begin to imagine. From as far back as she can remember, Bryanna didn’t want to be treated differently. She was first sent to a preschool for handicapped children but even at a young age insisted on going to regular school. “I don’t ever remember being teased or taunted. Everyone has always been kind to me,” Bryanna says with a smile. On the loss of her legs, she says, “I don’t know anything else.”
This is a young woman with an indomitable spirit who, with her strong network of family and friends, has already achieved many milestones in her life, ironically not for being handicapped herself but for helping others overcome theirs.
When Bryanna was in the ninth grade, she discovered her high school had a program for autistic students. She began visiting the autistic class and now, she says, they can’t keep her out of the room. Bryanna has forged a special bond with these students and it has changed the path of her life.
“I just think they’re regular kids,” she says. “Everyone has their flaws and not everyone is perfect. I go in there like they’re anybody else. Sometimes I have to catch myself because I talk too fast, but they love me. They always want to talk to me. It seems like I am here for them.”
Bryanna gives up her lunch and other free periods to work with the children two hours during the school day and continues to work with them after school. “It’s easy for me to connect with these kids,” she says. “I fit right in.” Bryanna just began volunteering every Saturday at Life’s WORC in Garden City in their creative arts and music therapy program for children with autism. Jessie Miller, volunteer coordinator at Life’s WORC says, “Bryanna is so full of joy and enthusiasm. We look forward to working with her.”
Bryanna already spends a lot of time doing research about autism at the library and online, and is busy mentoring and preparing the younger students who will be taking her place helping in the autistic class while she’s away at college.
This August, along with thousands of other Long Island teens, Bryanna will be attending college out of state. She is enrolled at Edinboro College in Pennsylvania and will be studying to be a special education teacher and she is especially excited about being a member of their wheelchair basketball team.
Most people take for granted that they can walk down the street or play sports. Bryanna does all of that and more. Her outlook on life is just tremendously refreshing: “I live my life to do my best. I don’t look down at my legs and say, ‘I don’t have legs so I can’t do this.’ I try it. My mom has always pushed me to continue. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself until I see it and I think, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”
Bryanna’s prostheses are fitted by A Step Ahead, located in Hicksville, which specializes in customized prostheses. She works with the Junior Team Step Ahead as a mentor for other children who lost their limbs. “She helps out with the newbies,” says Erik Schaffer, owner of A Step Ahead and board certified prosthetist. “Bryanna is an unbelievable girl.”
Erik explains that Bryanna’s prostheses are the newest technology available and now that her knees are “fluent” it takes some getting used to. “It’s a long process, but I’m learning how to use these new legs,” she says confidently.
Before Bryanna leaves for college she plans to go to the Amputee Coalition of America’s annual youth camp in Ohio where she will have the opportunity to learn even more new things. “I thought I could do rock climbing,” Bryanna says. Nothing stops her.
“I’ve learned that whatever your disability is or whatever the barrier, you just have to go on and try your best,” she says. “If you fail, you fail. If you make it, hey, it’s an accomplishment.”
Email Bryanna at Copeland0014@aol.com
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