Tag Archives: cerebral palsy

Review: Living Beyond My Circumstances, by Deb Willows & Steph Beth Nickel

Living Beyond My Circumstances, by Deb Willows and Steph Beth NickelLiving Beyond My Circumstances, by Deborah L. Willows with Steph Beth Nickel (Castle Quay Books, 2014)

Deb Willows is a Canadian athlete who has competed internationally in swimming, slalom, wheelchair soccer and boccia. She’s a Paralympic medal-holder and record-setting swimmer, and a woman of courage and faith.

Her memoir gives readers an inside look at life in a wheelchair (as a child and an adult), at representing Canada on the international sports stage, and at how faith, determination and family support enabled Deb to indeed live beyond her circumstances.

This is a short book, engaging and conversational in style, and well worth reading. It’s organized into sections instead of a straight chronology, to better highlight facets of Deb’s life and experiences.

Because Deb is most famous for her sporting achievements, that’s where the book starts. Then it peeks into her childhood and growing-up years, including the challenges of school, prom and travel with a disability. Deb credits her parents and siblings for not making things easy for her. Her supportive parents made sure she had the necessary tools to do things herself—some built by her father—instead of doing everything for her.

Deb writes:

“I’m so thankful for family, friends, teachers and others who stood behind me. They didn’t try to curb my enthusiasm—even when they had no idea how I could reach my goals.” (p. 63)

Because of that, she reached many of her goals, becoming a Paralympian, a business-owner, taking a Hawaiian cruise, and living on her own. Independent living for Deb requires personal care staff and a service dog.

Reading this book felt like getting to know this amazing woman, and I appreciated the insights into the different facets of her life experience. My favourite part was learning about service dogs, but what I will take from this book is a truth Deb learned after a disappointing Paralympics event in Seoul, and which applies to us all:

“In the process of realizing I wasn’t going to win any medals or set any records, I made some important discoveries. I was still Debbie Willows. God could still use me to do many things. I still had value. And I was still in His care.” p. 72

Deborah L. Willows and her co-writer, Steph Beth Nickel, have given us an interesting and encouraging true-life story that can change how we see people in wheelchairs and those with other disabilities. To learn more about the authors, visit their websites (links at the beginning of the paragraph). And check out my interview with them.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Interview: Co-authors Deb Willows & Steph Beth Nickel

Living Beyond My Circumstances is a story “of hope and inspiration for everyone who has a dream they want to achieve and obstacles to overcome.” I’m excited to have former Paralympian Deb Willows and her co-writer, Steph Beth Nickel, visiting today.

Deb Willows and Steph Beth Nickel

Steph, Deb and Sugar

A little bit about our two guests:

Deb Willows has represented Canada numerous times on the world stage in swimming, slalom, wheelchair soccer and boccia, winning medals and setting world records. She has written several articles and spoken in many venues. Deb’s work has appeared in the books Heal Our Land and Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracles.

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance writer and editor. She is a member of The Word Guild and part of the InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship and Christian Editing Services team. She blogs about her various interests at Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests and guest posts on several other blogs.

Janet: Welcome, Deb and Steph, and thanks for taking time to join us. Congratulations on the release of your new book! All releases are special to the authors, but what’s it like, Deb, when it’s your personal story?

Deb: Thank you. It has been very surreal. I still get up in the morning and check for the boxes of books in case it was a dream. I’ve wanted to write my story since I was 10.

Janet: Such an exciting dream come true! Not your first, either, Deb… your book shares many accomplishments. And Steph, what’s it like bringing a true story to life when you first had to learn the story?

Steph: Deb made the learning part easy: from recording events she wanted included in the book to inviting me to the Cerebral Palsy Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony (wow! were my eyes opened to the world of Paralympic athletes; and make no mistake, they are athletes in every sense of the word). We also spent a significant amount of time together at her home in Huntsville. It was wonderful getting to know Deb and her family in that environment. Believe me; my life is much richer because of this whole experience. I am humbled and honoured to have been allowed to help Deb fulfill yet another of her dreams.

Janet: Tell us a bit about Living Beyond My Circumstances—just a teaser, because readers will see the full summary after we chat.

Deb: It’s about life and living it despite what the world said. It’s about hopes, dreams, challenges, going for gold, and learning to depend on a faithful God.

Steph: Runaway wheelchairs. A mischievous poodle. World travel. Trails blazed. A woman who saw every obstacle as something to be conquered. The family and friends who encouraged her. And so very much more.

Janet: Deb, it sounds like your whole life has been marked by courageous choices. Did sharing your experiences in book form call on a different type of courage?

Deb: Yes, many of these stories were hard to write because I had to re-live the pain and the excitement. But if this book gives courage and hope to others, it was worth it.

Signing copies of the book.

Signing copies of the book.

Janet: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

Deb:  That God is faithful and trusting in Him is the only way to have joy. I also hope people will learn that people with a disability are people first and start seeing the person not the disability.

Janet: Steph, what are your thoughts?

Steph: By God’s grace and in His strength, we can face whatever challenges life presents. Deb refers to CP as “a slight setback.” I believe we can learn to view the challenges we face in the same way.

Janet: How did the two of you connect for this project?

Deb: A family friend introduced us over email. I’ve known Ruth Waring most of my life.

Steph: Through our mutual friend and fellow author, Ruth Waring.

Janet: I know Ruth too! Small world! Probably every team has a different approach, but what worked best for you in terms of collaborating?

Deb: I started by putting info on tapes. Steph took those tapes and typed it on the computer; then we worked on stories one at a time. Steph knows a lot about me. I’m glad we’ve become good friends! I type with a pen in my mouth, so I’m slow. It was so cool to see the pages unfold as we worked over email and some days, by phone. Steph stayed with me a few times and we accomplished much during her visits. It was good for Steph to see how I live because it helped her write more authentically.

Steph: Deb’s incredible patience and hospitality. Plus her enthusiasm when we got a scene “just right.” That fired me up and inspired me to keep writing. Deb is so much more than my co-author; she has become my friend. And that is one of the greatest treasures I’ve gained from our partnership.

Janet: What’s something that you look back and laugh over?

Deb: Steph suggested we have raspberries on the orange sherbet and I thought it was strange, but let me tell you, it is good!

Steph: It’s just a little thing, but I remember visiting Deb – and her wide supply of hot drinks for the Keurig. When I was ready to leave, she asked if I’d miss Tate, her service dog, or the coffeemaker more. Um . . .

Janet: Memoirs are often difficult to market. What are some of your plans to help readers discover this book?

Deb: I believe God is the greatest choreographer and His timing is perfect. Yes, it’s been a long process and at times, I was tired of waiting, but He has a reason for this time. Being an Olympic year, I believe will be a benefit. I hope to get some books into the hands of some of the Paralympians.

Steph: Deb has connections all over the world. That will help. (grin) Also, Deb’s willingness to organize book launches and attend speaking engagements; our social media presence; and the diligent support of the online community and our publishers, Larry and Marina Willard of Castle Quay Books, will help a lot.

Janet: What would you say to someone considering writing their memoir?

Deb: Just do it. Keep Kleenex® close.

Steph: Never underestimate the value of your story. Instead of (or as well as) writing a book, you may want to start a blog and build an online following (if you don’t already have friends all around the globe like someone I know). If you are not a writer, you may want to partner with someone who is. And if you are a writer but don’t know much about creative non-fiction, I would encourage you to do some research . . . and read Living Beyond My Circumstances. (another grin)

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Deb: Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and the song “Because He Lives.”

Steph: When NJ Lindquist introduced the attendees at the Write Canada conference to Johnny Reid’s “Today I’m Gonna Try and Change the World,” it made me cry. I have claimed it as my theme song.

Janet: And my random questions of the day: Cake or Pie? What’s your favourite season?

Deb: Pie, blueberry or raspberry. Autumn: the colours, the smells, no bugs, no snow!

Steph: Just about any flavour of cream pie. Coconut. Raspberry. Chocolate. I love the autumn – always have. The colours. The smells. The crunch of leaves underfoot. And now I want to go for a walk in the leaves and come home to a big slice of pie.

Janet: See how well the two of you match! And I’d love to join you for pie and an autumn outing. Ladies, thank you both for taking time to chat with me today, and congratulations again. I hope your book inspires many. I’ll be posting my (positive) review next week.


Living Beyond My Circumstances, by Deb Willows and Steph Beth Nickel

Living Beyond My Circumstances, by Deborah L. Willows with Steph Beth Nickel, foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada

When Deb Willows was diagnosed with cerebral palsy 50 years ago, her parents were advised to “put her in an institution and get on with your lives.” Experts believed parents were incapable of raising disabled children. But God had other plans.

Deb’s parents challenged her to see her severe limitations as opportunities, to dream big dreams and to work hard to accomplish them. Overcoming many challenges, Deb has blazed the trail for other disabled people, representing Canada around the world as a Paralympian and the first disabled boccia ball referee.

Her story is one of hope and inspiration for everyone who has a dream they want to achieve and obstacles to overcome.

Deb Willows has truly lived beyond her circumstances and demonstrates that with God’s help we can all accomplish great things!

Living Beyond My Circumstances is available through your local bookstore or at www.castlequay.com or other online retailers. To learn more about the writers, please visit Deb Willows and Steph Beth Nickel.