American Dream Comes True For Disabled Mother

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Christine Garcia said she was "delirious" when she learned that she had been selected to be the recipient homeowner of Payson Area Habitat for Humanity's House No. 7.

She told the messenger a total stranger who'd been banging on her screen door that she loved him.

Meanwhile, Garcia's mother became so excited she hyperventilated.

"We were all so happy," Garcia said.

Even so, that was not the happiest moment of her life.

She reserves that distinction for another treasured memory that happened last year while she was attending a self-empowerment seminar.

"Christopher Reeve was there, and I just went crazy. I went up to the stage and yelled, 'I love you!' He's a man who has gone through all the challenges and still holds his head up."

Much like Garcia herself.

This 30-year-old Payson woman was born with a rare genetic disease called arthrogryposis, which caused the joints in her knees and wrists to fuse into masses of unbendable bone.

"The cause is still unknown," she said, "but I've done a little bit of my own research. The only thing I've been able to come up with is that it was caused by a lack of amniotic fluid in the (lining of my mother's) uterus."

Garcia was only 9 months old when she underwent her first surgery; the tendons of her legs were "drawn out" so that she would be able to walk. "Otherwise, I'd be in a wheelchair today," she said.

She also had surgeries to straighten out her wrists, "But then they decided to leave them alone, because I've adapted so well to how they are. They thought physical therapy and exercise would be of greater benefit."

With all those operations well behind her, Garcia walks just fine now with the help of two metal leg braces and a pair of crutches. And now she can administer her own therapy: "I just get a lot of exercise to maintain movement of my legs."

Today, she's the single mother of two very normal, healthy and typically rambunctious children Cody, 7, and Aria, 2, whom she calls "my ducklings."

Not only that, Garcia is still pursuing her education.

A graduate of Paradise Valley High School, she attended Paradise Valley Community College while thinking of preparing for a career in psychology. She moved to Payson two years ago, and is now a part-time student at Eastern Arizona College, majoring in nutritional psychology.

Hearing Garcia recount her life story, one does not get the impression that there were any challenges involved.

"My childhood wasn't really that difficult, because I just adapted," Garcia said. "And I know nothing else other than being physically disabled. So I just managed to get through it. It's been fine."

Garcia said she also never doubted that she would someday own her own home. However, if Habitat for Humanity hadn't come along, she said, "it would have happened a lot further down the road."

It was just nine months ago that Garcia's mother, Anita Adams, suggested that her daughter apply for PAHH's home program.

"I spent the whole time praying a lot," Garcia said. "It seemed like such a shot in the dark."

As it turned out, she beat out 30 other applicants for the house, which is scheduled for completion in 2000.

Among the criteria Garcia met was her willingness to complete 300 hours of "sweat equity." While that normally involves physical labor, considerations have been made in this case.

"Maybe I'll bring a lot of meals to the construction workers," she said. "I'm a microwave queen. I could hammer nails, too. I'll do as much as I can. And I have friends and relatives who will come it to help."

Her selection, Garcia said, means a lot to her.

"It means that now I will be a part of it, I will be involved, I will do fund-raisers. It means meeting a lot of nice and incredibly efficient people."

Still, Garcia has her priorities too straight to put this victory at the top of her list of Greatest Personal Achievements a position which will always remain occupied by her success as a single parent.

"Talk about challenges," Garcia said. "But it's been a really positive challenge. There are times when I'm in the supermarket and women will come up and say to me, 'I have no reason to complain any more.' That type of statement helps me get through the day."

But now that Garcia has met the challenges of parenthood and home-finding, she said the last thing she's going to do is rest on her laurels.

"My goal now is to become economically self-sufficient. I want to do everything by myself. And I hope to be a part of (motivational speaker) Anthony Robbins' foundation which just awarded me a scholarship to a four-day 'Unlimited Power' seminar. It's all about fulfilling your destiny and your dreams, and how we are capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to."

Garcia hopes to use that point of view to become a national spokesperson for the physically challenged.

"It's so important to continue working toward a barrier-free society," she said. "I feel like it's our time now. And when I can make other people feel like, 'If she can do it, I can do it,' well, that's a good feeling for me."

For information about Payson Area Habitat for Humanity, call 474-0330, or visit the organization's offices at 1013 South Goodfellow Road on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays from 9 a.m. until noon.

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