At a very young age, my life took an irreversible turn. As a result of a car accident at ten years old, I lost the use of my legs and control of my bladder. Facing incontinence and losing the use of my legs wasn't an easy task and still remains difficult today. However, upon finally gaining the courage to share the truth about my condition, I have been able to grow the confidence necessary to take control of my symptoms and make a difference for myself and others bound by their disabilities.
Living In Fear
As a child in elementary school, I was terrified of wetting my pants, but a lack of bladder control didn't really work in my favor. I was trapped behind a wall of shame that kept growing taller, brick by brick, as the fear of my classmates and friends teasing me grew stronger.
Their eyes were already on me as the little girl who went from doing flips on the monkey bars to being stuck to her wheelchair. I shyly smiled to help my classmates feel comfortable around me, despite the discomfort I felt inside.
I would have frequent accidents forcing me to leave school and go home to change clothes and get more supplies. My mom, who was my rock throughout the entirety of this readjustment phase, would always take time off work to come to pick me up even though she could hardly afford to take that time off.
Honestly, incontinence felt like a curse that was much worse than the loss of my ability to move my legs. It created anxiety, and I let it control my life. Incontinence chose where I would and wouldn't go. It stopped me from going to friends' houses and from participating in fun events countless times.
This fear lasted into my twenties and even throughout college. I wouldn't even tell people I dated about my incontinence concerns. If an incident occurred during a date, it was much easier to cover it up by making up stories like spilling a drink on my dress and needing to change.
Though my journey has been long, finally opening up about the struggles I've faced with incontinence has helped me bust through the wall of shame that had bound me for years.
One accident, in particular, changed the way I thought about my life.
During one of my physical therapy sessions, I had an accident on a treadmill in front of multiple people. I couldn't breathe—the embarrassment was overwhelming. But then someone said, "It's just pee." And that comment made something click. What was the big deal? It is only pee.
To my surprise, once I started to talk openly about incontinence, people were extremely understanding, even my boyfriend! People even shared their own amazing stories that showed me how much our own perceptions shape our lives, even when they aren't true.
Because I'm no longer trapped or bound by my wall of shame created by incontinence, I feel free. I'm learning to leave my comfort zone with new experiences every day.
With help from Aeroflow Healthcare, I was able to easily acquire incontinence supplies through insurance such as pullups, chux, wet wipes, and more. This has enabled me to take leaps I never thought possible such as studying abroad, going rock climbing, jumping out of an airplane (yes, skydiving!), competing in wheelchair pageants, and much more.
On that note, I'm extremely excited to be competing for Miss North Carolina USA on November 8th and 9th, where I'll have the opportunity to display my ability while communicating my goals and ambitions. I'm thrilled to use this platform to educate and spread awareness about living with disabilities.
Helping People Live Boundless
Upon gaining more self-confidence, I discovered that my true passion in life is helping and inspiring others to help them live boundlessly and regain control of their lives.
That's why I launched my nonprofit organization, Live Boundless. Through education, empowerment, and equipping others with the tools needed to thrive, they can be released from fear.
Currently, the Live Boundless goal is to help distribute wheelchairs across the world to those in need. Around 90% of people who need wheelchairs in developing countries do not have access to one.
The sorrow upon hearing this statistic helped me realize that providing mobility equipment had to be the first goal of the organization. We actually just returned from the Philippines, where we had our largest distribution so far. We were able to deliver almost 300 wheelchairs to people who previously hadn't been able to move around freely due to their disabilities.
There is a visible change in a person once they receive the wheelchair that they so desperately need. Their eyes light up with the endless amount of possibilities in front of them as soon as they recognize the opportunity to now live their life without holding back.
By traveling from coast to coast to participate in activities that represent "fear-chasers," I hope to inspire others by proving that it's possible to live a bold, joyful, and fearless life even with the challenges or disabilities life throws at us.
It's my hope that Live Boundless will help people access activities that would typically be seen as unattainable, like surfing or even skydiving, and will serve as a challenge for others to reach a higher potential for their lives. Which, in turn, will help challenge them to live free of their incontinence issues or other disabilities.
I've been there, at rock bottom, as a shy girl almost too nervous to smile for my friends. I never imagined becoming Miss Wheelchair USA with a passion for public speaking and helping others.
I want others to know that your disability, fear, or anxiety don't control you. You can achieve goals you've never imagined. Maybe your mantra is a little better than "it's just pee," but whatever it is, remember to always live boundlessly.
How many times have you looked at something and thought: I wish this did more? And how many times have you thought long and hard about what else you could make it do, if you had the resources, time, and a factory-load of people working for you?
We've all certainly been there. Whether we were 5 and inventing a flying Barbie, or futuristic football, or 35 and looking at the kitchen imagining a self-taught robot that would help with the nightly dinners. We've all come up with what we thought were million dollar ideas - but almost none of us follow through because we're already too busy, and somebody else has probably invented it already.
For one woman, this very sequence of events took place when she was just a teenager. Unimpressed with her dog's collar, she created a new one with florescent sides (making them more visible to cars at night) that would fit more comfortably on a dog or cat's neck. But because of her relative youth, the collar was never produced, and a year later was released and patented by another company.
The girl, Joy Mangano, vowed this would never happen again.
Fast forward to 1990. Single mother-of-three, Mangano has a bigger, bolder idea. This time, the Miracle Mop is born, launching her career as an entrepreneur and setting her up for a life in the spotlight with her product launch on QVC. Between then and now, Mangano has accrued 100 patents (for products like the Huggable Hanger and My Little Steamer) and her company, Ingenious Designs is worth over $50million.
This story was told in Hollywood by David O.Russell in 2015 with his Golden Globe winning movie, Joy. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Mangano served to highlight the difficulty of entrepreneurship and instruct on the minefield of patent disputes.
Mangano's latest product is one she says she's been working on for her entire life: a journal, a manual and a self-help for entrepreneurs wrapped up in her book, Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life.
SWAAY spoke with Mangano about the necessity for this kind of book in this age of entrepreneurship, and how it will resonate with aspiring female inventors and change-makers.
Drawing on her success and the pains it took to get there, Mangano has penned a book that will no doubt be a bible for those looking to take their flying Barbies or futuristic footballs to market. "I️ believe it will be a resource for people they can keep coming back to," she remarks. "This book truly is a lesson for anybody - in their careers, no matter what age."
Her family have been crucial to the whole process of building her brand and expanding Ingenious Designs, for the last 17 years, and have informed many of the chapters in the book. "I️ am fortunate enough to work with my children, family and friends and they were completely integral (to the books production)," says Mangano. Her daughter Christie serves as SVP Brand Development, Merchandising & Marketing Strategy having worked with her mom for thirteen years. “She's my left brain," laughs Mangano. Both her son Bobby and other daughter Jackie have worked elsewhere before also coming under their mother's umbrella. Bobby currently serves as Executive Vice President of the company and Jackie is involved with the fashion side of the business, which is certainly no mean feat, as she is also involved in styling for the upcoming reboot of The Murder on the Orient Express.
"When you can do things in life - work and follow your passion with people you love - it makes it all that much more meaningful and pure happiness."
The launch of her book signals new territory for the serial inventor, who has her first opportunity to tour the country and speak to those whose homes she has appeared in for the past 15 years on QVC and HSN.
"This is really one of my dreams," she comments. "I️'ve always wanted to go around the country and meet all of my customers and this is one way to do that. It couldn't be better."
"95% of my customers are women so I️ can't help but be an advocate always."
While on tour, Mangano is destined to meet a host of people that will tell her of their inventions or start-up ideas, but none more so than the millennials, who are completely reinventing the notion of entrepreneurship. Mangano hopes that through the book aspiring female entrepreneurs will be able to take solace in the fact they don't have to do it all. "I️ truly believe - this is a generation I️ watch, a lot of them work for me and with me - today, more than ever, they think they have to do it all."
"Dressed beautifully and in a meeting, they'll say 'I've been up since 5. Dressed the kids. Fed the kids.' And then (after work) they'll come home, have quality time, bath time. And I️ say - you can miss a game." If there's one thing she would invent for millennial women, it's this very advice, she says.
Rather than a product, or an item, it's this advice that, contrary to the millennial mindset, you don't have to be five places at one time or working 20-hour days to get where you want to be. Instead, Mangano has sections of the book that will inform on how better to manage your time and your ideas - to employ her methods - so you can become successful with (a little) less stress.
When asked how social media and the digital age has influenced her real-world inventions (like mops, hangers, steamers and pillows), Mangano chuckles. Technology, rather than impairing the invention of real world application actually opens up a 'wider range' tells the inventor. “It opens up a direct - to - consumer feedback and enhances your platform."
"With Instagram and Facebook my customers communicate with me. That's critical for looking at what you do and for the future of what you do."
Out of the dozens of things she's invented, Mangano won't say what her favorite is. "What am I️ most proud of? That's hard to say - that's like asking what child do you love the most and I️ don't think I️ could be prouder of any of them."