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Paralympian Shares the True Spirit of Christmas

Blue Katt Gallery presents author Sharon Moore Myers conducting a reading and book signing in Fincastle, VA.

“Sometimes life holds special gifts when you least expect them,” says Sharon Myers the author of her first book, Paco’s Gift/El Regalo De Paco.

When Sharon met an unforgettable shoeshine boy in Cusco, Peru she never imagined the gifts she would receive from this magical encounter. Her search for the answer to providing opportunities for the people she had met in Peru who had disabilities and for the street children came to her in a vision during a sleepless night in her Troutville, Virginia home.

Sharon, a wheelchair globetrotter, shares a glimpse of her adventures into ancient, sacred sites of Peru and of the vision she has for her friends there with disabilities. Paco’s Gift/El Regalo De Paco, is written in English and Spanish. “Both of my brothers have Macular Degeneration. Jerry can still read the larger text and see the vivid colors in the illustrations. Amon will be able to hear the story on audio tapes available to people who have visual impairments.”

This heartwarming true story, for people of all ages, is about an inspirational encounter between a southern American woman, paralyzed at the age of three, and a bedraggled shoeshine boy in Peru. The young boy’s simple act of kindness renews the true spirit and rekindles for Sharon the childlike wonder of Christmas. The illustrations are painted with watercolors and pencils Sharon brought back from Peru, to insure the colors were authentic for her long-time friend and professional illustrator Dell Slier, who because of a disability paints with a brush held between his teeth.

Paco’s Gift/El Regalo De Paco, for people of all ages, was blessed by Pope John Paul II in a letter received by Sharon two days prior to his death.

Multi-talented Grace Kim Kanoy joined the Paco Team after meeting Sharon at a travel Congress. Grace, owner of Core Expeditions, and Sharon are collaborating on developing a tour for people with disabilities to the Galapagos Islands. Grace designed the book cover layout.

“What’s next for Myers? Autobiography, a series of children’s books, and a book about her Border Collie, Speck.”

Roanoke Times Article

‘There’s always something to do’

Though she lost the use of her legs at age 3, Sharon Myers has competed in sports, traveled extensively and, with the help of her husband, Billy, and dog, Speck, tends her carefully-manicured property.

By Neil Harvey, neil.harvey@roanoke.com

The dog, a dark-haired border collie named Speck, watches everything Sharon Myers does.He’s calm but attentive, and always somewhere nearby: He’s in the kitchen of her Troutville home, in the living room, on the back porch or out in the yard – wherever she goes, the dog is right there with her. And Myers, who is paraplegic, is all over the place during the day.

When she drops something – a pair of garden clippers or a tissue – he’s on it, retrieves it and offers it back to her.

If it’s something Myers wants, she takes it. If it’s something she’s finished with, she asks, “You want to help with the housework?” and, cued by the word “housework,” the dog carries it off to a wastebasket.

In many ways, Speck, though not a trained service dog, is like a third hand. When Speck was 3 months old, Myers was gardening and looked up to see her new puppy carrying a flowerpot up the sidewalk.”That’s when I knew he was going to be my gardening dog,” she said. “I can take a shovel and put it under a weed and he’ll pull it out, shuck the dirt off it and come back like, ‘What’s next?’”

When she and her husband, Billy, who is also paraplegic, are working in the garden, “Speck runs himself to death going from one to the other to see what he can do,” she said. “And there’s always something to do.” Sharon Myers’ life seems driven by the notion that “there’s always something to do.”

In 1950, at the age of 3, she lost the use of her legs after a bout with polio, but has stayed active all her life. She competed in wheelchair sports – swimming, basketball, shot put, archery, javelin throws, table tennis and dashes, among other contests – for more than 25 years and won more than 125 medals in regional, national and international competitions such as the Pan-American Games and the Paralympics, an athletic event for people with physical disabilities. She set national and Pan-American records, and in her travels had meetings with Muhammad Ali, Julius Erving, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Popes Paul and John Paul.

Myers introduced and organized wheelchair basketball in Roanoke in 1973; she founded teams, competitions and leagues for people with disabilities and served as coach of the Star City Saints for more than 20 years. In 1988, she was inducted into the U.S. Wheelchair Sports Hall of Fame.

She has retired from her athletic endeavors over the past few years, but closed the books with a feeling of satisfaction. “I had accomplished a lot of my goals,” she said. “And it’s almost impossible, if you are a dedicated athlete, to do anything else.”
Beyond her athletic endeavors, though, there was still “always something to do.”

She founded the Roanoke Polio Support Group and spoke at schools and civic organization meetings; she counseled newly injured patients in hospitals and rehabilitation centers and conducted seminars on disability etiquette; and she served on numerous boards and committees, such as the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, the Virginia Committee on Medicare and Medicaid, the Botetourt County School Board’s Special Education Committee and the Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness.

In the mid-1990s, she began working as a travel specialist for Adventure Travel and Turtle Tours, giving people with disabilities information on how to handle obstacles while away from home.

Travel is something that occupies a lot of her time and she has stayed on the move; she has visited more than 17 countries and taken in sights that might seem inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair – from England’s Chelsea Flower Show, to a safari in South Africa, to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru.

As a travel specialist, she gained a growing concern about the suffering of the disabled in Third World countries, and noticed the disheartening effect of security concerns on disabled travelers. “Some of the doors that were opening for the disabled are closing because of terrorism,” she said. Her journeys, however, have also made her optimistic about home life.

In her carefully tended back yard, which is filled with plants and gardens and small burbling waterfalls, Myers may indeed be surrounded by paradise.Bunches of grapes dangle from an arbor shaded by thick pines. Healthy-sized squash and tomatoes squeeze out of the earth, and lettuce and beans and herbs grow in raised beds. Goldfish and frogs swim happily in man-made ponds. Myers is still experimenting with her rose garden – “It’s been hampered by excess rain,” she says – but is more proud of what she calls her “six pie” cherry tree.

“I call it my ‘six pie’ cherry tree because I got six pies from it this year,” she explained. “Last year, it was a ‘four pie’ tree.” Her paradise didn’t come easy, though. She and her husband, who lost the use of his legs at 18 in a motorcycle accident, did all the landscaping and gardening work themselves and maintain it on their own, with help from Speck.

In order to do the work from a seated position, they often have to improvise. Hoe handles have been shortened, clippers have been extended. Billy modified a Massey 245 farm tractor with hand controls so he could work their land himself. And the raised gardens offer advantages standard gardens don’t. “It’s cleaner (the vegetables) and easier to reach for everyone,” Myers said.

“Animals don’t mess with them as much,” she explained.

The inside of the Myerses’ home is filled with clever modifications as well. Shelves slide forward out of cabinets for easier access. Tabletops fold out to offer flat surfaces that can be moved out of the way. A sink with a drain set back from its center provides a basin with the necessary extra leg room underneath.

Sharon Myers calls the house, as she does the gardens, “a work in progress,” something the pair has been building upon for 30 years. It’s home to other works in progress as well. Sharon Myers is preparing an outline for her memoirs, she’s planning a book on gardening, and she’s conceiving a children’s book about the disabled, with Speck as the focus.

A friend recommended reading the works of Eudora Welty as a writing guide, and a bookmarked tower of the novelist’s books is stacked by her bed. She’s also considering more trips: to Africa, to London and, in October, back to Peru to deliver 22 donated wheelchairs.

It would be a busy agenda for anyone, even busier for someone who uses a wheelchair. But Myers feels that, if anything, her disability has helped her, not held her back. “The only obstacles you have are the limits in your own mind,” she said. “I have achieved not in spite of, but because of my disability. I think what motivated me is I had a passion to be equal – no more, no less – with the able-bodied.”

For more information, contact Sharon Myers.

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