Teen with Cerebral Palsy Advocates for Children Around the World: 'I Just Don't Think About My Disability'
"They say I'm a handicapped disabled kid who can't walk and I say I've been walking for 15 years," Lucy Meyer tells PEOPLE
Sixteen-year-old Lucy Meyer was born with cerebral palsy, but that has never once stopped her from pursuing – and achieving – her dreams
The Los Angeles, California, native won two gold medals for swimming in the Special Olympics and served as vice president of her 8th grade class.
And last week, Meyer was named the first official spokesperson for a partnership between the Special Olympics and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF which aims to help children with disabilities around the world. In this role, she will travel across the country spreading awareness and raising funds for the two organizations’ projects with children with disabilities.
It’s a new title but a familiar role for Meyer, who has been speaking in front of world leaders – from the United Nations to President Barack Obama – on behalf of UNICEF’s fund for children with disabilities since 2013.
“It’s a lot of fun and I like telling people the message and how important it is,” Meyer tells PEOPLE, adding that she’s never had a fear of public speaking.
“I think that when she gets up to speak, the average person who has not experienced Lucy doesn t expect her to be the force to be reckoned with that she is,” says Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
“She truly believes that she can make a difference for children who have disabilities around the world. It’s almost as if she puts her disability on the side and says, ‘Okay, I’m just going to get out there and fight the good fight.’ ”
To date, Meyer has raised over $250,000 for UNICEF’s programs that benefit children with disabilities around the world.
Meyer’s goal is to spread a message of inclusion so that all children with disabilities can feel as loved and capable as she does. She says that if she could teach the world one thing about children with disabilities, it would be that “you have to accept and include people with disabilities and you have to help and be their friends.”
In addition to her advocacy with world leaders, the teen is extremely active in her own community. This year, she toured 20 L.A.-area schools to share her experiences and answer students’ questions – and the response from students was overwhelming.
“One school had a huge sports day and they had me come and speak and play with them,” Meyer says. “It was just incredible and after, everybody was like, ‘Don’t leave, don’t leave.’ But I told them I had to go back to school.”
The girls of Marlborough School were so impressed by Meyer that they invited her to join in one of their swim meets. The whole team paused their meet to join her in a 50-meter swim as the crowd cheered her on.
For Meyer, each new accomplishment represents an opportunity to change harmful perceptions about people with disabilities.
“They say I’m a handicapped disabled kid who can’t walk, and I say, ‘I’ve been walking for 15 years,’ ” she says with a smile. “I just don’t think about my disability at all. Whenever my hand doesn t want to work, I just say, ‘My hand doesn t want to work today.’ And I walk on my toes, but I can’t even tell. I’m used to the way I walk.”
For those who work with her, Meyer’s joy and determination are infectious.
“Lucy doesn t see the obstacles, she sees the challenges,” Stern says. “I always say a day with Lucy reminds me of why I do what I do and how lucky and how blessed I am to do it.”
Donations to Meyer’s fund for UNICEF can be made through the Crowdwise website.