E onipa’a a kulia i ka nu’u, a Hawaiian proverb that translates to, steadfast, strive for the summit. Onipa’a, the motto of Queen Lili’uokalani, which empowers people to take a stand and have the integrity to always do what’s right, strive for excellence, and never settle for less. These words have a cultural rooting in my heart but also are words that have echoed in my mind for as long as I can remember.
When I was young, my parents had me tested for a variety of mental disabilities. The results came back diagnosing me with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is a form of high functioning autism.
Asperger’s syndrome comes with a variety of challenges, the most difficult being the inability to read emotions, or possess any sympathy or empathy for others. This made for a very lonely and introverted environment. I did not have many friends and most times I was the outcast. In high school I stepped out of my comfort zone. I ran for class office, homecoming, danced at rallies the whole shabang. I attempted many positions of leadership and superficial popularity positions and did not get them. But that’s one thing I have learned about myself having this “disability”, I learned that I can separate my goals from my emotions, making it easier for me to make decisions. Of course I wished I would have won, but the act of losing didn’t stop me from attempting again. My resilience is a product of my syndrome defeat does not represent a moment of failure, but rather a moment of triumph.
Learning can be a rather difficult task. Memorizing and retaining information, is not difficult but being able to apply that information takes me more time to understand. Teachers are also sometimes reluctant to adapt their teaching style to help me. This was one of the more difficult challenges I have had to overcome. This not only motivated me to try to prove myself, but also opened my eyes to the fact that the world did not care that I had this disability. For the first time in my life I recognized my syndrome for what it was, a challenge, but nothing that could not be overcome.
The one place that was home to me, the one place I felt normal, was in the water. I have been swimming since I was 2 years old. The water is the only place that I feel any sense of peace. Outside of the pool I am anxious, and nervous about everything, paranoid about how to go about my next social interaction. But the water silences all of that noise, it puts my mind at ease. With every dive, stroke, kick, turn, there’s so much adrenaline and I'm genuinely happy. Every aspect of myself, the quirky attitude, obsession with routine, inability to read emotions, I embraced every characteristic once my feet hit that deck. The relationship that I have with the water is not something that can be explained but must be felt. My connection with the water would be impossible to achieve without my Asperger’s syndrome.
Society has made us develop this insatiable desire to be just like everyone else. When in truth it is our differences that create a diverse, creative and inclusive environment for everyone. Martin Luther King, Bill Gates, Clara Barton, Isaac Newton, Harriet Tubman, these are just a few influential people who changed the course of history. History recognizes them for their ability to embrace their individuality and inspiring others to do the same. I have autism, yes it is a challenge every single day for me to live with. But I will not let Asperger’s and the challenges it presents to me be the excuse of why I cannot accomplish my goals. I will continue to onipa’a and kulia i ka nu’u until I have reached my full potential. Until i have reached my summit.