Her Story: Elizabeth Baker

Motivating Stories from Local Women

Every woman has a story to tell, and no two stories are alike. Meet the women who have persevered through challenges and tribulations and come out the other side stronger than ever. These unique individuals have seen their fair share of adversity but continue to inspire those around them with the lessons they have learned and their love of life. Read on for four truly motivating stories by the women who experienced them firsthand.

Photography by Emily Long / Photos taken on location at Miller Park

 

 

In elementary school, I never passed vision screenings. Doctors labeled me a behavioral problem and said I was not cooperating with the tests. I participated in eye therapy, which proved exhausting and left me grumpy and with headaches. Finally, when I was 15, a doctor found a small spot on my retina. I was referred to a specialist and diagnosed with Stargardt disease – a disease that causes scarring on the retina and progressive loss of central vision. 

At the age of 15, the news probably affected my parents more than it did me. I had to make some adjustments, but I had a typical life. I got my driver’s license, played sports, went to school, and hung out with friends. 

During my freshman year at college, my vision quickly declined. I had to make a very conscious choice: Do I sink or swim? I chose to swim. If this was my challenge in life, bring it on! Since I couldn’t change my vision, I decided to take control of how I reacted to and handled the challenges and changes that came with this rapid vision loss. 

Was it easy? No. I had lots of bad eye days. I made a pact with myself to only allow 30 minutes of self-pity, anger, or tears before moving forward and letting go of the negative thoughts. I spent endless hours in college figuring out how to work around my vision loss. It took a lot of hard work, but I learned to rely more on my hearing, and I graduated from the honors program at the University of Georgia with a biology degree and went on to get a master’s degree in physical therapy.

As an adult, I’ve had to continually make adjustments as my life changes. I struggle with things most people take for granted: finding the shampoo versus the conditioner in the shower, what buttons to push on appliances, reading to my kids, or grocery shopping. But the biggest impact is not recognizing people. I can’t clearly see my children’s faces or pick them out on the soccer field. I would love to acknowledge friends who are steps away before they call my name to alert me of their presence. 

New challenges constantly arise, but I’ve met them head on. I finished the 2014 Chattanooga Ironman at age 40. As a member of Team USA, I’ve competed in paratriathlon races around the world and represented the United States in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where I finished fourth. 

I’ve never let my disability stand in the way of accomplishing a goal or serving as a positive role model for others who suffer from visual impairments. Not only has this disease made me into the person that I am today, but it is also amazing to observe how it continues to shape the empathy and perseverance I observe in my children.  

Elizabeth Baker
Signal Mountain