But since Grace has been diagnosed with INAD, I find myself inspired by those who fight so hard for inclusivity for all and those who find a way to make a difference even in the toughest of circumstances.
This month, I would like to tell you about my friend, Alexis Wernsing, and even though she lost her earthly battle in 2015, she continues to provide hope for so many.
|Two of the strongest people I know, Alexis Wernsing and Grace Herschelman
I first met Alexis through the newspaper. Let's face it, that's how I meet most people. But I was doing a story on accessibility in Litchfield, particularly at the downtown post office. And Alexis, who spent her life in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, was always a champion for better accessibility issues.
I enjoyed an extremely positive interview with Alexis, who would certainly have had reason to complain about poor accessibility, but never did.
In fact, I never heard Alexis complain about anything during the time I knew her. She took the toughest of life's challenges and found a way to not only be successful in her endeavors, but also to be happy.
Despite her physical limitations, Alexis earned her associate's degree at Lincoln Land Community College and attended college to study art at the University of Illinois in Champaign. She was eventually awarded a degree posthumously for all of her hard work. You can even see some of her graphic design work proudly hanging up in her dad's store in downtown Litchfield.
One of my favorite stories we ran in the paper was about a voice amplification project at the University of Illinois that a group of students were developing. Alexis sent me the article for the paper, but also specifically asked me to contact the members of the development team to learn about their work first hand.
Alexis has always been an inspiration because of her passion for life and her determination to meet every challenge head on.
But it was after Grace was diagnosed with INAD that Alexis became even more of an inspiration. She began following our story and our blog. For one of her birthdays, she asked her friends to donate to INAD research instead of giving gifts to Grace.
Throughout that year, she routinely did things for Grace. An avid St. Louis Blues fan, she brought a game-used puck home from a game for Grace (and it still sits on Grace's dresser). She picked out a ladybug bank for Grace, and one of Alexis's friends got Grace an Illini stuffed animal so we would know they were praying for Grace too.
Even though it started very early in the morning, Alexis and a friend came to a 5K fundraiser for Grace in Raymond. They brought Grace an Illini hat, which she promptly took off her head (mostly because she didn't care for hats, and not because her mommy is a big Mizzou fan).
Before she went back to school that fall, Alexis and her mom, joined us for a special ice cream date at Dairy Queen. It was so much fun to chat together about her goals and her dreams, and she just loved being with Grace.
Unfortunately, that was the only time we would get to share ice cream, as Alexis passed away that fall. And although her earthly battle is over, her passion and love for life continue to live on through a scholarship in her name at Lincoln Land Community College.
As for me, I keep a string of text messages on my phone that we shared. There's one where she thanked Kyle for an article he wrote in the paper. One wishes us a happy 4th of July. And then there's several messages where we planned an ice cream date. The messages are full of emojis, which make me smile, because they just remind me of Alexis and her spirit for life. Even when some health complications sent her back home from school, Alexis didn't complain. She texted me that God had a plan and he would see her through.
That's such an inspiration to me and a great reminder that no matter what life's challenges I encounter, God always has a plan. My wish for everyone is that we would all embrace life just like Alexis did and live it to the fullest, meeting every challenge head on and always keeping a positive attitude.
I know that would certainly make Alexis proud.