Kimberly Ortiz, a 16 year old from Washington, D.C., has always held herself to a high standard when facing challenges. It’s one reason the high school sophomore, who has cerebral palsy, has always felt drawn to veterans, particularly those who are disabled as a result of their service. She has met a number of vets at Adaptive Adventure Day, a sporting event during which the vets help children with disabilities play different sports. That event is where Kimberly first truly noticed that some of the volunteers are themselves disabled. Their strength and perseverance help her, she says, not to get discouraged as she faces her own obstacles due to her cerebral palsy.
Now, Kimberly’s interest in our nation’s veterans is dovetailing with her passion for American history in a life-changing trip. Recently she applied to a program through the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute that gives student/teacher teams the chance to retrace the steps of soldiers who fought on the beaches on D-Day during the Second World War. Each student chosen for the program is first assigned the profile of a soldier from his or her hometown to follow on the journey, and then an immersive crash course in history begins, starting in Washington and ending on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, where students will actually walk the same land where these soldiers struggled, fought, and died during the war.
Kimberly is thrilled to be among those students selected to go abroad for this experience. “I want to make that connection” with the soldiers of the past, she says. Although she realizes that the amount of walking and standing required on the trip may prove difficult for her, Kimberly is ready to tackle the challenge so that she can feel the impact of history and try to better understand the sacrifices these vets made to protect their country.