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Oct18WedBorn without legs, Jen Bricker is proof that everything is possible with faith and determination. October 18, 2017 by Ken Ramstead
She's a professional aerialist, a champion gymnast and has travelled the world on tour with Britney Spears. She’s appeared as a headliner from Boston to Dublin, Dubai to Hong Kong, Sydney, Australia, to Las Vegas. There’s very little that Jen Bricker hasn’t done once she’s set her sights on it. Not bad for a farm girl from Illinois.
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What’s even more remarkable is that Jen was born without legs.
“Everything is possible,” says Jen. “That’s my favourite Bible quote from Mark 9:23: ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ See it, believe it, make it happen. Who would ever have thought it was that simple? Yet my life is proof.”
Jen’s biological parents abandoned her on the day she was born, and she was adopted by Sharon and Gerald Bricker, who lived in Hardinville, Illinois, with their three sons.
“Maybe from the outside looking in, it seems like I was dealt a bad hand,” she writes in her book Everything Is Possible. “But the way I see it, that was God protecting me. He had bigger plans. He knew He had to get me to the right place with the right people who could nurture my talents and gifts and teach me to embrace them.”
Early on, the doctors warned Jen’s parents that she might never be able to sit up, crawl or move from place to place without being carried. Jen’s parents did not agree with the prognosis, and a new set of doctors at the Shriners Hospital in St. Louis were more encouraging.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bricker,” they said, “this little girl is going to do things you never imagined would be possible.”
Taking a Tumble
And she did. Softball, swimming, roller-skating, Jen did everything a child with two legs could do, and more.
When Jen tried something and said in frustration, “I can’t do it!” her parents would respond, “ ‘Can’t’ is a bad word in our home, and you shouldn’t use it, Jennifer.”
“I grew up embracing the idea that I could do anything if I set my mind to it,” she says. “ ‘Can’t’ was never an option. Fear was never an option. I would rather fall flat on my face than regret not trying. And I’m blessed with parents who were courageous enough to let me try, let me fail, and let me find my way and my trust in God.”
Jen went on to gymnastics and mastered that with the same fierce determination she applied to any of her endeavours. She was the first disabled high school tumbling champion in Illinois and competed in power tumbling at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics, placing fourth.
But it was as an aerialist that Jen has achieved the pinnacle of her success, literally and figuratively. “I was totally enthralled by the flowing fabrics’ beauty and fluidity,” Jen says, “and also by the physical demands of working with them.”
And the demands were immense. “During the first month of learning this skill, my arms were purple, then black and blue from my elbows to my shoulders,” she says. But she persevered and soon became a much-sought-after performer.
“In performing, I found something that had been missing in my life: a sense of calmness and wholeness,” Jen says. “Tumbling gave me strength and confidence, while performing gave me peace and clarity. It lights me up from every space of my innermost being. I’ve been all over the world, and with each show, I know with greater certainty that this is what I was born to do.”
Through it all, Jen’s faith has been a key part of her being.
“My life without God would feel empty—like a huge hole in my heart and soul,” she says.
“I’ve had my own faith journey just like anyone else,” she continues, “and I’ve gotten closer and closer to God as a result. The more success I get in my career, the stronger my relationship to God is, because it has to be. I can’t do all this crazy stuff and travel all over the world and give interviews and speeches and performances without that. In the midst of all the travel, in the midst of all the interviews, in the midst of the performing, my faith sustains me. And that’s the only way I can function.
“This is what I was created for,” she concludes. “I’m grateful and blessed to be able to do what I love, and God is changing people’s lives through me. That’s pretty amazing!”
“I’m going to be an Olympic gymnast when I grow up,” six-year-old Jen Bricker announced to her parents. She was passionate about the sport and her idol was gymnast Dominique Moceanu. “She was tiny; I was tiny,” Jen says. “She was fiery; I was fiery. She was born to Romanian parents; I was born to Romanian parents. We even looked alike, with the same tan skin, huge dark eyes and thick jet-black hair. I was drawn to her but couldn’t say why.”
A decade later, through a clerical error, 16-year-old Jen found out that she and Dominique were indeed sisters, and that Dominique’s parents had given Jen up for adoption. She reached out to her four years later and now they—and a younger sister, Christina—have become close.
“We’re probably at the best place we’ve ever been as sisters as far as our comfort level goes,” says Dominique. “It’s been a great emotional journey that we’ve both grown from.”
“The sisters’ reunion makes for an inspiring story of family ties broken and restored,” notes Nancy L. Segal in Psychology Today. “But it also provides priceless material for research into the roles of nature and nurture in athletic prowess.”