Don’t Make your Disability your Identity
Jen Bricker on defying expectations
Born without legs and adopted into an American family from Romania, Jen Bricker hasn’t let her life become defined by a disability. Instead, she defied expectations to become a world-renowned aerialist and motivational speaker.
Jen grew up in a strong Midwest family who taught her to be herself and not let any barrier get in her way. She pursued a passion for gymnastics early in life and became a state champion in power tumbling.
After high school, Jen planned to go to college for fashion, but decided to take a risk and pursue an acrobatic tour with her partner, Nate, instead. Many producers were hesitant about the act at first, and even her partner’s friends discouraged him.
“I knew it would take awhile for people to warm up to the idea, because it was something they had never seen before,” said Jen. Many people hiring would say, ‘Well we kind of like the thought of an aerialist without legs, but we don’t know how people are going to react,’ so I had a lot of doors shut in my face because no one understood it.”
Jen and Nate booked their first performance in Orlando after the original performer fell through, and that opened doors for them to perform worldwide with many other acts, including the Britney Spears tour across North America and Australia.
Growing up, Jen’s idol was Olympic gold-medalist Dominique Moceanu. In a twist of fate, Jen later discovered that Moceanu was her biological sister and reconnected with her. Jen is the author of a book released in 2016 about her life, Everything is Possible.
Jen on Disability
Above all, Jen encourages others with visible disabilities not to let their disability define them. “I want people to see the whole package of me,” she says. “I’m an aerialist, an acrobat, a woman, a performer, an animal-lover, I’m adopted. All of these things make up who I am. I would say that I just want people to perceive me as me. That is a big reason why I chose to write my book, because people only knew about my life from what they saw in the media.”
“Perceptions of me are all over the map,” she says about meeting people for the first time. “Literally from one end of the spectrum to another. I have some people that think I am amazing and perfect and that I never have a bad day, which is so not true! Then, I have other people that pity me and think I can’t do anything. There is praise and sympathy; I can get those reactions all in five minutes!”
Jen also encourages those with disabilities to passionately lead by example to change perceptions of disability: “With people that have physical disabilities, just because our struggle is on the outside does not mean you cannot control the situation. You are in control of much more than you realize. If you are confident, happy, joyful, and real, people aren’t going to see your differences as much.”
Hear Jen in Indianapolis
Jen Bricker is the keynote speaker for Celebrate Ability, Easterseals Crossroads’ 56th Annual Ability Event taking place April 8, 2017, at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station.