Carolina Tanaka Meneghel, 32, was born without arms, but she doesn’t let that stop her.
Here, Carolina, tells the story in her own words.
I￼’d just started high school when I passed a boy and his friends and heard giggling.
Turning to look, I noticed that he’d slipped his arms under his T-shirt to imitate me. Humiliated, I dropped my head and quickly walked away.
Although I was born without arms, I wasn’t used to being ridiculed. But as a teenager that all changed.
‘What’s wrong, Carolina?’ my mum, Dina, asked when I got home.
‘Other kids are making fun of me,’ I said.
Rubbing the back of her hands over my cheeks, Mum told me something special.
‘Don’t let anyone bring you down,’ she said. ‘Follow your dreams, whatever they are.’
Pulling out a photo album, she showed me childhood photos where I was smiling, dressed as an angel, a ballerina or a pirate.
‘I didn’t know you’d be born without arms,’ she told me. ‘When you were born, your father and I cried and cried, thinking how difficult your life would be.
‘Then we decided not to make a big fuss about it. We wanted you to know that you were loved and that you could do anything.’
Doctors had told Mum that my deformity may have been caused by chicken pox during her first trimester of pregnancy, but they couldn’t be sure.
‘One day, when you were about 16 or 18 months old, you surprised me beyond belief,’ Mum told me. ‘After dinner, you picked up two plates with your feet, held them over your head and managed to get to the sink. That day was unforgettable. It showed us how determined you were.’
Aged two, they’d enrolled me in a swimming class. The instructor tied his hands to his back and devised a technique for me to copy. I went on to win four gold medals in local contests!
As I grew, I also went to a gym to build up my leg muscles and agility.
Then, at 13, I met a boy there called Jonas. Two years older than me, he was so supportive.
Especially when I moved schools. As the sleeves of my blouse flapped in the wind, accentuating my missing limbs, the boys would poke fun at me. ‘I wouldn’t change a thing about you,’ Jonas said. I refuse to stay home and cry, I thought. Besides, I lived a perfectly normal life. I could unlock a door by lifting my left leg and twisting the key with my toes. To eat, I held a spoon between my two biggest toes of my right foot. I could even write with a pen held in my toes.
In the shower, I’d sit down to bathe myself and wash my hair and then I’d put on make-up with my right foot.
My parents didn’t let me off washing the dishes either! Sitting down, I’d hold the plate over the sink with my toes on my right foot and use a sponge to wipe it with my left.
Then one day, when I was 14, Jonas and I were talking at the gym.
As usual, he was helping me put on my swimming cap. It seemed he was always nearby, doing things if I couldn’t.
When he finished tucking my hair under the cap, we were standing face to face.
‘I love you Caro, you know that,’ he said. Kissing him on the cheek, I felt the same way and I knew we’d be together forever.
In November 2011, after dating for 12 years, we married. I knew our guests were wondering how I’d put a wedding band on Jonas’ finger. Of course, I took off my left shoe and used my toes! Then he placed my ring on a chain around my neck.
Three years on, I became a physical education teacher.But driving has been my biggest achievement. I got a car fitted with a steering wheel and a blinker switch on the floor.
Opening the car door with my left foot, I take off my shoes and socks. I pull the seatbelt out with my right foot and grab it with my left to click it in place. I’ve also mastered getting dressed!
There are two small hooks a few feet from the floor on my bathroom wall – one facing up and the other down –so I can pull my underwear on and off. I type on a computer, use a mobile phone and can even take a selfie!
At Christmas, I make our festive feast with my feet, then Jonas puts it in the oven.
He’s is the most supportive person I’ve ever met and he is my hands when I need them.
Every day, he ties my hair in a ponytail and out shopping, he takes the items off the supermarket shelf.
‘There was a void in my heart that only you could fill,’ he tells me.
I’ve always wanted to be a mum, so recently we saw a specialist to find out if a child could inherit my condition, but they just didn’t know. We’re still going to try and if we don’t fall pregnant, we’d like to adopt.
I’m also raising money for sensory prosthetic arms and hands. Each one costs around $130,000 and artificial nerves mean I would control them with my brain.
I would love the feeling of holding hands with my husband. But most of all, I want to embrace people and take care of a child. I want to hug my baby. These are small things, but to me they would make a big difference.
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