September 23, 2021—Students in Classes I-III walked into the Wildcat room to the sounds of “We Will Rock You” by Queen, an intentional choice by motivational speaker Kelsey Tainsh. Back by popular demand, this is her second visit to campus to speak with Winsor students.
Tainsh has been through more in her 31 years than most will endure in a lifetime. Successfully overcoming a brain tumor at only five years of age, she went on to be a happy, healthy kid and a champion athlete. Ten years later, at age 15, it all came crashing down when the tumor returned followed by a crippling stroke. Her friends had disappeared, her right side didn’t function, and she became paralyzed with fear and self-doubt. This is where Tainsh’s presentation begins.
To warm up the crowd, Tainsh played a “finish that song” game with students. She began by blasting a song and encouraging the students to sing along. When the music stopped, students kept singing. As students lifted their voices in song, they became more animated and engaged in the presentation. “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction was a favorite, other songs were “Can't Feel My Face” by The Weekend, and “Love Yourself” by Justin Beiber.
Tainsh spoke a lot about challenges and about differences. Today, her right arm remains paralyzed, sticking out at a jaunty angle. “My challenges show on the outside, but we all have differences that show on the outside or on the inside,” she shared.
Despite her significant physical challenges, she worked hard to pull herself up and charged back into life graduating magna cum laude from the University of Florida and going on to work for some of the most recognized companies in the world such as Coca-Cola and HubSpot. “Be fearless and change your attitude,” she told the assembled students.
Using call-and-response, she kept the students chanting affirmations like “fearless” and “different.” At one point she asked the crowd, “What happens when we fail?” They answered in unison, “Try again!”
At the end of the presentation, Tainsh shared a particular moment from her stroke recovery journey. She desperately wanted to be able to put her own hair up in a bun—a challenge with only one hand. Her occupational therapist said, “I’ve never seen anyone do that before, I don’t think you can.” That was the wrong thing to say to Tainsh who diligently practiced for one hour until she mastered the move.
“Remember,” she told students, “there’s more than one way to try.” With her paralyzed arm braced on the podium, she twisted her hair with her good arm, and leaned over until her head was below the podium, and successfully put her hair in a bun. The students erupted into applause.
In closing Tainsh shared, “I hope all of you will be fearless as you walk out this door. Take action when you believe in something. And realize that your differences are the best thing about you. I hope you express yourself. I hope you leave this campus better than the day you walked on to it. Rise yourself and others up, just like I did.”