Most of us begin life as dreamers.
Some of us have a single dream that keeps us focused. Others of us dream as many dreams as our hearts can hold; all of us hoping that just one will come true.
Jen Bricker spent the first few years of her life in a Romanian orphanage. Those years were spent fighting to survive more than dreaming.
She had been placed there by parents who didn’t want her simply because she wasn’t perfect. That would be a pretty big dream killer for anyone.
Some people’s imperfections aren’t obvious and they can slide by without a lot of attention. Jen wasn’t that lucky.
As soon as the doctor had told Jen’s father that their baby had been born without legs, he told them to take her away. They never wanted to see her again.
Her mother never held her, never smelled the scent of her fresh washed hair. She didn’t see her first smile or hear her first gurgling laugh. Her husband had said “the baby must go” and so it was gone.
When a couple from a small town in Illinois (a spot on the map so small that they say the population is 50…if you count the dogs and cats) were told about Jen’s plight they immediately said, “we want her.”
They made the arrangements and soon Jen came to live with Sharon and Harold Bricker and their three boys.
From the beginning the couple had decided that they wouldn’t make any sort of distinction between their kids because of Jen’s difference.
Jen never knew the meaning of the word can’t and from the time she met the Brickers she was told there was nothing she couldn’t do.
If you are never given limits, you never know where they are. Jen soon realized she could do anything her brothers could do.
She could do some things even better.
Being born without legs means you develop a lot of other muscles to be able to get around.
Jen quickly learned that those muscles could do things for her that most “normal” people couldn’t do. She had never spoken her dream aloud but one day she told her parents:
“I want to be a gymnast.“
Some people might have rushed to remind their daughter of all of the ways she could be disappointed by that dream. Not the Brickers. They told her, “If you think you can, you can.”
And Jen thought she could. She started at age 7 on the family’s trampoline. Soon she was competing seriously in tumbling and gymnastics. Always against kids who had no physical abnormalities.
It didn’t take Jen long before she had become a force to become reckoned with, and a household name to anyone who knew anything about gymnastics.
Being good wasn’t good enough for Jen though. She wanted to be the best.
It’s a little hard to believe, even for Jen, she admits, but while she was in high school she became the tumbling champion of the State of Illinois!
Can you believe it? The photo above may be a bit fuzzy, but it’s easy to see that it’s Jen in the forefront.
Jen didn’t stop at learning how to tumble. She played Little League softball with her brothers. She played basketball with her school team. She excelled at every sport she tried. Even volleyball.
She hadn’t ever learned to say “I can’t” so she had no problem “just doing it.”
When we all are beginning to dream, we can usually always remember the person or the event that sparked that desire in us. Jen always knew exactly who her inspiration was.
She used to sit glued to her TV set watching the U.S. women’s gymnastics team compete.
Dominique Moceanu, the 1996 Gold Medal winner, was her hero, the person who gave her the inspiration to start dreaming what sounded at first like an impossible dream.
Many years later Jen finally asked her parents about how she had come to be with them. She asked if there were any facts about her history that they hadn’t shared with her.
There were. Jennifer’s birth surname had been…wait for it…Moceanu! Dominique Moceanu was in fact Jen’s biological sister.
Jen was floored. Her life had been focused on being like someone that, as it turns out, in a normal familial relationship would have been the big sister that was her idol no matter the situation.
Jen held that news close to her heart for four years before she finally got up the nerve to send a letter and documents proving their relationship to Dominique.
She says she will never forget the date, December 10, 2007. It was a date that she says changed her world.
She told the New York Daily some of the words in that letter:
“I feel that I have one chance to show you and prove to you that I’m not some crazy person, but I’m sure after seeing all of the papers, you’ll see that I’m serious.”
Dominique was stunned when she received the letter. She immediately went to her mother and demanded to know the truth. And the truth was exactly what Jen had stated.
So Dominique wrote back to Jen and told her she thought they should meet.
As it turns out, Dominique told Jen later, what had happened was probably the best thing that could have happened for her.
Her birth parents were not good role models and her life with them would have likely been as rocky as Dominique’s had been.
In fact, Dominique had legally emancipated herself from her parents at the age of 17. They were gymnasts and had forced Dominique to begin training at age 3.
Hence, she did not get to choose her dream. It was demanded of her.
Not only did they control her life but Dominique later presented paperwork to the court proving that her parents had squandered her hard-earned fortune.
At one time she even took out a restraining order against her father who was stalking her and she feared had killed two of her friends.
Yes, Jen was definitely better off growing up safe and happy among the Bricker clan! Even though they didn’t grow up together, Dominique and Jen have since developed a close bond and continue to marvel at their similarities.
“The tones in our voices, our handwriting, the way we laugh and chuckle. It’s mind-blowing,” Dominique told ABC.
Jen described her own feelings about her sister in an interview with The Mirror.
“Since then we’ve become close and I feel like a piece of the jigsaw of my life has fallen into place.”
Not only did Jen find out she had a sister, a year after meeting Dominique she was introduced to their younger sister Christina. Again she said, “it was like looking in a mirror.”
Jen never saw her lack of lower appendages as a handicap. When one of her friends mentioned her handicap in conversation Jen stopped her.
“I don’t have a handicap,” she protested.
The friend stuttered a bit. “B-b-but you have to use a wheelchair.”
Jen rolled her eyes.
“Not because I have to,” she said firmly. “It’s just to keep me from getting dirty.“
With that kind of attitude it’s no wonder that Jen Bricker has walked taller and prouder than most people born with working legs. And we know she will keep doing that throughout her life.
Thanks to her own strong will and good parents who proved that you can give a child wings just by saying to them “you can do it.” And believing it right along with them.
Keep flying high, Jen Bricker. You’re an inspiration to all of us.