At 4 years old, Lexi Martin was playing on the back porch of her family’s home when she lost her footing and fell down the stairs and under the path of a lawn mower. She doesn’t remember much about the accident, but it led to the amputation of her left leg below the knee and altered the course of her life. Now she is in her senior year of high school in Turpin, Oklahoma, and has already learned some of life’s most important lessons.
In elementary school, Martin encountered bullies and people treating her like she was abnormal, but due to a positive, loving home environment and a core of inner strength, she grew up to have a positive self-image. “I was a little insecure about myself from the bullying, but as I’ve grown up I’ve realized that people are always going to stare,” she says. “People are always going to ask questions and have an opinion, but at the end of the day, it only matters what I think about myself. It doesn’t matter what others think about me. Also, being positive and happy about my life is so much better than sitting around and being upset about it.”
This attitude radiates from Martin because she sees that she is in control of her own happiness; it is not dependent on outside approval. “What happened to me was awful, but I have chosen to live with it rather than be sad about it,” she says. “I choose happiness.”
When Martin was contacted by the brother of one of her friends to participate in a body-positive photo shoot, she leaped at the opportunity. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a model for sportswear or trendy clothes,” she says. “I just love it.”
Although this photo shoot was for the photographer’s portfolio and not a big fashion spread, it gave Martin a chance to experience how much fun a photo shoot can be. “After I got the pictures back and I was looking at myself, I was just thinking ‘I can’t believe that’s me,’” she says. “It was just extraordinary the way he captured the way I feel all the time—breaking down the stereotype of disability.” Martin stresses that she doesn’t even like to call herself disabled because it’s not how she feels about herself.
While her positive orientation toward life was rooted in her upbringing, Martin can also point to two amputees whose stories have given her a huge dose of inspiration. First was Bethany Hamilton, whose shark encounter was the subject of the 2011 feature film Soul Surfer. “I remember after watching that movie I was completely in awe of how amazing she was,” Martin recalls. “At that time in my life I was going through middle school, and it was rough too, and she had taken what had happened to her and she was just going with life. She was a pro surfer. She got up and worked for it and is amazing. She is one of my biggest inspirations.” Martin would love to meet Hamilton if given the opportunity.
Martin isn’t just inspired by Hamilton; she can also relate. “As a pro surfer, she beats these people who have all their limbs,” Martin says. “In the same way, I kind of relate to her because I go to a very small school, and I’m the only one in my school who has a physical disability.”
Another figure who has been a source of inspiration to Martin is world-class snowboarder and Paralympic bronze medalist Amy Purdy, who is also the co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports. Martin learned about Purdy when a friend mentioned she should watch Purdy on the television show Dancing with the Stars. Purdy is a bilateral below-knee amputee, and Martin couldn’t believe that Purdy was dancing. “I can’t dance,” Martin says. “Watching her was just absolutely inspiring.”
Additionally, since Purdy is an athlete, she inspired Martin in her own pursuit of sprinting on her school’s track team. “It was about two years ago that I got my first running leg, and it was the first time I was able to run without it hurting me,” says Martin. “It was a freedom. These two women have inspired me to keep on with my dream because I’ve always wanted to run and I’ve always tried, but there was so much pain that I couldn’t. They’ve taught me to keep going.” Now Martin competes in the 100-meter dash and is going to try the 200-meter dash.
In addition to aspirations of being a body-positive model, Martin hopes to one day be a paramedic for EagleMed, an air medical transport service provider. For now, she is gaining leadership skills by serving as the president of her school’s student council and spreading her positive message through leadership. “I’ve gone to workshops and camps for leadership that have taught me how to be a better leader and a better person,” she says. “Student council has helped me learn how to grow into a better individual.”
— WORDS Elan Young