When you talk to her, it takes about five seconds to figure out that Kelsey Lindell isn’t so much a person, as much as she is a force of nature.
She’s 25, and has a boisterous laugh and an irrepressible smile. Unabatedly enthusiastic, she’s the perfect person to be in a room where motivating others is the name of the game. As a yoga instructor in Minneapolis, she does just that.
“I was born with stupid amounts of confidence,” Kelsey says. “There are times that it can get me into trouble, but I don’t know any other way to be.”
Her attitude is so affecting, she says that most people don’t notice at first. Kelsey was born with radial dysplasia. Her left arm is significantly shorter than her right. This means that when she’s instructing yoga—perhaps the most public of exercises—she’s essentially doing most of it, one-handed.
A Life of Energy, a Life of Force
Mantra: “Mind Instrument”
A sacred sound or phrase, that has a transformative effect on the mind of the individual reciting it.
Kelsey’s condition was a surprise when she was born, and for her parents, there was a lot to do. Kelsey was referred to Gillette Children’s, under the care of surgeon Ann Van Heest, MD. Kelsey went through more than 10 surgeries—all before she reached the age of 6.
"Even as a child, Kelsey could always seem to make the best of a situation that wasn't always ideal," Van Heest says. "She certainly faced barriers, but she wasn't the type of person that was going to let anything stand in her way."
Though the treatment and therapy that followed could be difficult, Kelsey says the constant refrain from her parents was always focused on positivity.
“They never let me feel ashamed, or sorry for myself,” Kelsey says. “I wasn’t allowed to use my arm as an excuse. My parents told me that I was going to be just like any other kid.”
With the support of her parents, Kelsey took on her rehabilitation, as well as the world. On her first day of kindergarten, she stood in front of her class and explained her arm to her classmates.
“I just kind of wanted to get it out of the way,” Kelsey recounts. “Kids make fun of what they don’t understand, and I wanted everyone to know that, yes, I am different. But my arm is just one part of me.”
Playing Hopscotch: Back and Forth Between Worlds
The absence of violence, but also conscious consideration and love for one’s self and others.
While Kelsey does have a disability, that was always a label she wanted to avoid while growing up.
“No one ever likes being labeled, especially when you’re a kid,” Kelsey says. “I tried to stay away from that. I considered myself lucky that I could do nearly everything else as those around me. I became a dancer, and my parents have videos of me basically throwing elbows so I could get closer to center-stage, so it’s not exactly like I was lacking in any way… or shy.”
However, when she turned 18, a journey to South Africa changed the way Kelsey saw some things.
“I lived, worked and went to school in South Africa for four years, and it really changed my perspective,” Kelsey says. “The kids I met there had so many questions. They had never seen anyone like me. They couldn’t understand why my arm was this way; they would make up stories about how I lost it. I would tell them, that’s just the way God made me. They could always understand that quite quickly, but it made me realize that it isn’t good enough to just talk about my own thing. Those who are lucky enough to have a voice need to speak up for everyone.”
“Vidya” means knowledge. “Avidya,” the absence of it, is essentially an ignorance of who we are. In yoga it is often referred to as the root cause of human suffering.
Upon her return to Minnesota, Kelsey founded Uphold Global, a nonprofit focused on raising funds and awareness to support children in under-developed countries who have disabilities. This fall, she will embark on an international campaign to raise awareness for the organization, and the children they are trying to help.
“More than 500 million kids who have disabilities live in under-developed countries, and 90 percent of them will never go to school,” Kelsey says. “Growing up, I never wanted to think of myself as being disabled, but when I was overseas, I realized how lucky I was in the sense that I was given every opportunity to succeed. Every child should receive such treatment, regardless of where they live.”
The final pose of any yoga class, and one of deep restoration.
Seeing that she’s the instructor, it seemed fitting to let Kelsey close things out.
Having a physically visible disability is challenging. But we all face challenges, right?
Being a kid is hard. It’s harder when you have one more thing to worry about. I had my thing, it was extra, but I got along just fine. I’m lucky for that.
The thing is, everyone is struggling with something, whether you can see it or not. What we as a society can do is try to create a space where people can own what their difference is.
I said earlier that I was, perhaps, overly confident. But I would be a profoundly different person had it not been for my parents, the staff at Gillette, as well as the countless other advocates who have supported me throughout my life.
I have a disability. It takes me a little bit longer to cut vegetables than some people, and I have to do some yoga poses differently, but you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to have two arms now. I’m proud of who I am.
My disability doesn’t define me, but it is a part of my identity, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The condition of utter joy.