An Interview with Leigh Brill

Leigh Brill is an author and a motivational speaker, she was born in North Carolina with congenital cerebral palsy. Leigh and I are yet to meet face to face and yet we have found a meeting point across the vast ranges of Blue Mountains on two continents. Here is the first part of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue with Leigh looking at the compassionate action of her much loved Labradors and the world Leigh is now sharing with us all.

Jan.s: Leigh, we’ve yet to meet but it seems we’ve something in common!! I live in the Blue Mountains, Australia and you grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia USA. Can you tell us a little about growing up there and also why the mountains are blue?

Leigh: The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range in the eastern United States. As I understand it, trees put the "blue" in Blue Ridge, from the natural chemicals they release into the atmosphere; they contribute to the characteristic haze on the mountains and the distinctive color. That’s why these mountains appear blue when seen from a distance. The Blue Ridge was so much a part of my life growing up. I thought all mountains everywhere must be blue. I’ve always felt attached to these mountains — they offer a sense of peace and belonging. I remember appreciating that as a child. I still do. Nature reminds me to be still, to breathe, and to feel the joy of creation.

Jan.s: Leigh, can you recall the first books that you loved as a child?

Leigh: As a child, I loved every book I could get my hands on. One of my favorites was Where the Wild Things Are (I liked the other Maurice Sendak stories, too). I adored Dr. Seuss, as well—the creativity and the wisdom of his work always appealed to me. When I was little, I spent many long and lonely hours in the hospital—playing with words, rhyming, and creating stories helped me cope and gain a sense of control during those hard times. Sometimes, I would share my stories with other children in the hospital. That seemed to help all of us get through painful and scary things.

Jan.s: When did you begin writing?

Leigh: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. That’s part of who I am. I published my first story at fifteen. The first poem I ever wrote (I think I was six years old at the time) was called Ode to a Brussels Sprout. I remember sitting at the dinner table composing the little verse while I stared at a pile of those dreaded, bitter little vegetables on my plate: Oh little Brussels sprout sitting on my plate, you Nasty little Brussels spout, I really, really hate you. Gee, little Brussels sprout, I wish I already ate you! As I recall, that little goofy composition was quite a hit (given that I was just a kid at the time)…but I still had to eat my vegetables.

Jan.s: To quote : ‘And because of my service dogs, I have learned to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to become’.

Leigh: Slugger and Kenda have offered nothing short of a transformation in my life. As a child and young adult, my days were marked by physical pain, frightening operations, difficult therapy, and the frustrating realization that no matter how hard I tried, there were some things I just could not do.

I used to watch other children walk smoothly across a room, but when I tried to do the same, my muscles refused to cooperate. My body behaved like a complicated toy that never worked the way I wanted it to. I tried so hard to keep up with people around me —I was taught that keeping up, looking ‘normal’ was the only way I could be as good as everyone else. So for years, that’s what I did—or at least that’s what I tried to do. I thought my own worth was measured not by the way that I lived, but by the way that I moved. A Labrador—a dog named Slugger—taught me otherwise.

Slugger’s eager assistance turned challenges into possibilities. With my service dog by my side, I could walk—even in crowded places—without falling. I could depend on my dog to retrieve things I dropped and carry my belongings. Slugger brought me a sense of confidence, self-worth, and completeness. Other people noticed him too. The stares and pitying whispers I’d known all through my childhood were quickly replaced by expressions like, “Wow, what a great dog!” That’s something Kenda and I hear a lot these days, too. Because of my service dogs, I know that the sweetest devotion can pass from one heart to another without a sound. I am grateful for such unconditional love. I’m inspired, too. Slugger and Kenda remind me that gifts are most beautiful when they are shared. I hope that my work will pass along some of the gifts they first shared with me.

That’s what it’s all about.


gleegirloz said…
A lovely interview.Congratulations Leigh and Jan for giving us a little insight into CB and also for showing us your magnificent aide dogs Leigh.Hope you keep the dialogue up,it really interests me,especially to get perspective on Cerebral Palsy from someone outside of Australia,as I have worked in this area within the school system here!
Russell said…
People with CP are very inspirational, and remind us to strive harder in everything we do. I enjoy your interviews.
jan.s said…

Thank you both! I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read my interviews and to leave a comment which I can pass onto our lovely Leigh Brill! Do read her book Slugger if you haven't already & she has a new one underway! Cheers! jan.s

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