Karni Liddell was born in 1979 in Rockhampton, Queensland and when she was one she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Her parents were told by doctors that she would never be able to walk and that she would not live past her teens. They were wrong.
Despite being advised that exercise would only make Karni’s condition worse, they embarked on a “crazy” physiotherapy program with their first born child. Not only did Karni go on to walk but she also established herself as one of the best swimmers in the world.
She was 14 when she broke her first world record and went into the Sydney Paralympic Games as the fastest woman in the world for all her events.
At 39 she is a sought-after speaker, a diversity educator, a disability specialist, an NDIS Qld Ambassador, a Council member of the Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council, a journalist and a mum.
Speaking at a Griffith University Conference on the Gold Coast in late November Liddell recounted they day she told her parents she was destined to be a great swimmer.
She was eight years old and earlier that day she had swum 25 metres in 4 minutes & 57 seconds flat at the school carnival when she sat her parents down.
“It’s obvious,” she began. “I’m very good and I’m going to go to the Olympics,” she said in all sincerity.
Her parents listened, they nodded and she went on to become a Paralympian. That conversation informed a lesson she wants to impart widely: “Find a head nodder & you can change your life.”
Liddell’s words, and her parents, sprang to my mind earlier this week when I considered another high profile beneficiary of head-nodders: Malala Yousafzai.
After watching her speak in conversation with Annabel Crabb in Sydney earlier this week, a friend messaged me the next morning. The part of her story he found so compelling was how her parents had created a framework for their children that ran counter to their entire culture.
Her father broke with tradition and celebrated the birth of a daughter in 1997. He insisted that daughter, Malala, be included on their family tree: the first female documented in 300 years. He insisted she deserved an education.
The price she was forced to pay because of that determination was obviously horrific but ultimately the belief by her parents that Malala deserved the same opportunities as their sons is what led to a young woman who is genuinely changing the world.
It is remarkable to fathom.
Karni Liddell and Malala Yousafzai are both proof of the incredible power of having a head nodder in your corner. For anyone in need of an uplifting lesson as 2018 draws to a close this is worth remembering.