By Niki Glanz, Ed.D.
For Sherry, it took both a lot and not much. Let me explain that contradiction by sharing some startling episodes from her life story – one of 70 stories I collected from a diverse group of people on 5 tours of North America. I was investigating how youthful memories impact adult life for my forthcoming, now-published book, Memories to Momentum. Sherry graciously agreed to an interview. As a newcomer to the city I happened to be visiting and a recent retiree, Sherry was open to meeting people. A friend I had known from years earlier introduced us. Little did my friend, who had chatted with Sherry a few days earlier as they waited in a café line, realize that Sherry had experienced a serious disability, much less made history.
Sherry’s success in dealing with her disability, childhood polio – plus some other, more minor experiences – is the “lot” that her ultimate victory apparently required. From 5 to 13 she underwent a series of surgeries, losing an entire school year at one point. Remedies, like the brace she wore from 8-10 that clanked with her every step may have enabled her legs to strengthen but didn’t help her mindset. Ever since she has walked with a limp. Her parents, meanwhile, were little help: “At home, I didn’t have the support of my parents in discussing polio, which I think was wrong,” Sherry acknowledges.
How, then, did she meet these challenges? She drew on deep reservoirs of personal courage, sociability, and talent. Perhaps #1 was music; Sherry learned to play piano by ear and also played saxophone and bassoon. At 14 she created an all-boy band of 3 boys, including a trumpet player she was dating, and joined them for performances at various schools.
Believe it or not, #2 was sports. Following hours of practice in her backyard perfecting her badminton serve and shooting hoops, she made her high school badminton team and played guard on the basketball team, “running my way,” as she puts it. Her father taught her how to pitch a fast ball, curve ball, and slow ball, so she also pitched for the school’s baseball team, although the coach substituted base runners for her. Admittedly, Sherry found this “embarrassing,” but adds, “I hit so well, so why not?” Following high school, with only one year of finishing school and one month’s free rent, she remembers saying to herself on landing in Manhattan, “New York City, I will master you!”
That she did through a variety of jobs, especially excelling as a free-lance photographer. When she applied for a position with one of the wire services, AP or UPI, however, she was told point-blank: “We do not hire women.” She waited until 1972, when she decided to switch to the television industry and was hired. Yes, this is the “not much” that Sherry benefitted from: a complete change to the country’s legal landscape she credits to “women’s lib.” She sued and won; a long-standing glass ceiling quickly broke into shards.
Sherry’s story confirms research on resilience by Dr. Mark Seery and colleagues published in 2010 that prior but not too much adversity – at least 1 and usually 2-4 instances – appear to promote coping with a subsequent, major adversity. People inexperienced in meeting adversities are typically unable to do so. They also tend to have lower emotional stability scores, suggesting that they lack the “toughness” of people who have experienced some adversity. People who experience more than 4 adversities, though, tend to be overwhelmed by yet more instances due to negative effects on their mental health and well-being.
The secret to Sherry’s history-making, successful legal suit may be the unusual mashup of her life story: a terrible struggle with polio juxtaposed with extraordinary musical and athletic accomplishments. While she rose to the challenge of polio, she also gained confidence from her successes. As she explained, “I had a sense that I had to show everyone that I was as good as they are because of my polio, “They’re going to know me!” Sherry stands as a hero and model for us all. Her astonishing legal victory is the “icing on the cake.” May we salute and congratulate her on her incredible efforts and outstanding success!
Memories matter. You’ll find more about Sherry and additional people who experience adversity, plus other types of memories, in the 59 incredibly diverse stories featured in Memories to Momentum by Niki Glanz.
Available from Amazon in Paperback or eBook. Enjoy!