I am so excited that my new friend, Julia, and I will be riding tandem in the 2014 Rodman Ride for Kids. This past June, I moved to Boston to accept a first job as a physician: a residency in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities at Boston Children’s Hospital – and Julia is among my new friends here.
We were introduced through JBBBS’ Friend 2 Friend Program three months ago, and she has already influenced my life more than I expected she might. I was drawn to Friend 2 Friend right away. I went to college and medical school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I was active in the school’s Best Buddies chapter and where I was introduced to my Best Buddy (and now best friend), Christy. We changed a lot in those eight years and achieved a lot together. When I moved to Boston, I knew I wanted to have another friend with whom I could try new things, inspire/be inspired, and spread the word about how wonderful it is to live in an inclusive community. To me, friendship is the most meaningful way to truly include people with disabilities in the community.
With Julia, I’ve replicated that experience. She loves William Shakespeare, musicals, good food, and hanging out with friends. I love bike-riding, music, hiking, performing arts, and hanging out with friends. We enjoy some of these activities in common, and we love discovering new things.
Recently, we picnicked and watched a Shakespeare on the Common production of “Twelfth Night.” I was in awe of Julia’s complex understanding and appreciation of the arts; she understood the language and humor better than I, and her enthusiasm enriched the experience for me. In just the past three months, I have tried Russian food for the first time, Julia has been sailing and biking for the first time, we have listened to music, played music, enjoyed art galleries, attended cultural festivals, learned about each other’s families, and talked about our days at work over the phone. I know the friendship has meant a lot to Julia, as it has for me. Recently, we spent a full day together exploring Boston, giggling, bicycling around, and meeting new friends. “Jess, you’re spoiling me,” she said. Both of us truly appreciate the time we spend together; we’re always finding more in common and lots to learn from one another.
Julia had never ridden a bike before. I have been riding bikes since early childhood. In Nashville, I taught my Buddy, Christy, to ride a tandem bike, and we loved riding all around Tennessee. Through that program, I helped create a tandem bike “team” of pairs of friends with and without intellectual/developmental disabilities. But, Julia and her mother did not think there would be any way Julia would be able to ride a bike. She’d never tried. Because I am pretty small, they thought Julia and I would not be able to balance on a tandem together. In truth, it is not easy for anyone to bike on a tandem, especially when first learning to balance/focus together. As the name “tandem” implies, every movement must be made in tandem in order to ride without falling.
I reassured Julia and her mom that I knew Julia had it in her to ride. She is motivated to try new things, and I could sense that she would succeed. She did: We balanced on our first try and rode all the way around Jamaica Pond. Julia surprised herself and takes enormous pride in proving she can indeed achieve a goal her mother thought impossible. Her pride helps keep me going on the bike. Now Julia and I ride tandem at least once a week, and Julia trains on a stationary bike at the JCC. Together, we are training to support the Rodman Ride on September 20, to challenge ourselves to ride, to bond in the process through 25 miles of tandem pedaling. We hope to inspire other Friend 2 Friend pairs to challenge each other to pursue activities they may not have thought possible.
William Shakespeare said, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” Through the Friend 2 Friend Program, Julia and I have begun to grow together. I know our friendship will blossom and that we will have many more meaningful interactions and experiences together.