Gabi Ury : What’s Wrong With Me? Absolutely Nothing!

Has anyone here ever done a plank before? And when I say plank, I don’t mean where you get on the ground, lie down on random things, and take pictures for Instagram. I mean that awful exercise they probably made you do in gym class.

My name is Gabi Ury, I’m 16 years old and if anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be on the stage giving a speech about how I broke the female Guinness World Record for longest abdominal plank, I would have thought they were completely crazy. You see, because by most people’s standards, there’s quite a lot wrong with me, but I see it differently, and that makes all the difference.

Up until the day I was born, my parents were expecting a perfectly normal baby girl, then I popped out. You see, no one, not even the doctors, realized that I was one of the 1 in 40,000 babies born with VATER syndrome every year. For me individually, it affects my spine, spinal cord, legs, feet, and a number of my organs. That’s a lot of problems for a tiny baby. The doctors weren’t sure if I’d ever walk or even live, and, well, here I am.

In order fix all of those problems, I had to undergo about 15 major surgeries, casts on both my legs and my back for 11 years, physical therapy every single day for years, and literally hundreds and hundreds of doctor’s appointments. People always ask me how hard it was for me, but to be honest, I don’t remember most of it and, as weird as it may sound, I never knew anything different, so it was kind of normal.

For my parents, on the other hand, it was hell. As I got older I still had to do things every day to ensure I stayed healthy and go to a few doctor’s appointments every year, but my day-to-day life was pretty normal. I would go to school, play with my friends, go to PE. I didn’t let the fact that things were harder for me get in my way.

My philosophy ever since I was little was basically: complaining about my situation wasn’t going to help, so what was the point? I didn’t care that I was smaller, or couldn’t run as fast as any of my friends, and neither did anyone else. The way I saw it, the only thing wrong was when people thought I couldn’t do something.

A little over a year ago — well, OK let’s start at the beginning. Ever since I was little, I’ve been very competitive and wanted to break a Guinness World Record. Yes, I’m an ambitious little girl. I started out with easier records, granted I didn’t make any of them but I started with longest hopscotch course in my driveway, with my friend Leah, when I was about ten.

Another one, was most socks on one foot. I think I got to like 70 or 80 socks on my left foot. This was always in the back of my mind, kind of turning the wheels, and a little over a year ago, I was trying out for my school’s volleyball team. When everyone else had to run the mile I explained to my coach that I couldn’t as I was born without calf muscles, and let’s be honest, running really isn’t my thing. So she told me to get on the ground and do the plank for as long as I could. When everyone else came back, it had been 12 minutes. When I saw everyone else’s surprise that I had held it that long I instantly thought: Guinness World Record.

That day I went home and applied for the record. I saw that the current record was 40 minutes, one second. In November, I underwent surgery and spent a few weeks recovering. But please, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

In January, I decided it was a good time to see how long I could actually plank for. The goal on the first day: 20 minutes, then 25, then 27, and so on. I decided that for my 16th birthday in April, I would try and break the record. As the day got closer, I got the idea to raise money for a cause along with the record. I chose Children’s Hospital in Denver where I had had most of my surgeries. I think without the doctors and nurses there, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do a plank, let alone break the world record.

I made a website, and with the initial stretch target of $5,000. Little did I know, that by the end of this all I would have raised more than ten times that amount. That’s insane to even think about.

Finally, the day of the event came, and I had my movie on my iPhone, and I was ready to go.

Then, something I hadn’t factored in, happened. Watching TV and Ellen YouTube videos was enough to keep me distracted when I was alone in my room with my puppy Mia, but it wasn’t cutting it with all my family and my friends and people all over the world watching via live Webcast. It had only been 30 minutes when I started to notice everything was hurting. My arms were killing me. My friends came over and tried to distract me. They told me funny stories, they sang songs, and basically did anything to get my mind off what was actually going on. My friend Leah’s inspirational quote of the day: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

Once I started to have fun time went by quickly. Soon, I had passed an hour. When I asked my timekeeper how long it had been, she said one hour and 16 minutes. I decided an hour and 20 would go down. I wanted to end on an even number. It was only after that, that I realized that was exactly double the record I have been going for. For the last five minutes my friends joined me and they supported me by planking. Little did I know that they were cheating every time I looked down.

Right after that, they came and attacked me with silly string. Then my brothers brought out my birthday cake and I spent the rest of the day actually celebrating my birthday in a fun way.

I hadn’t given much thought to what would happen after the whole plank thing, but you see, a lot did. I started getting interview requests to be on TV. Like I had never been on TV. That was so cool. I even got to be on The Ellen Show’s website. If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a really big fan of hers.

I remember I was in English class when I started getting very cryptic text messages from my brother, like: “What are you doing on Monday and Tuesday?”

I was like, “Nothing. I have school.”

He’s like: “Do you want to go to New York?”

And I was like, “Why?”

And finally, he said: “They want you to be on Good Morning America.” I was so excited. Me, my mom, and my brother, all got to fly out to New York, and I even got to meet Emma Stone. But the best part of it all was that Guinness surprised me on the show by presenting me with the official certificate saying that I had broken the record. It felt amazing, especially to know that all those people, including my family who had given me a funny look when I said I wanted to break the world record for planking — now knew I had done it. Whenever I get those kind of odd looks I would just think to myself: everything is impossible, until someone has done it.

One of the best parts after that was visiting KidStreet, the place where the money I had raised had gone. KidStreet’s basically a preschool for kids with special needs at Children’s Hospital. They have every kind of therapist possibly imaginable. My mom especially appreciated this as she knew the troubles of a high maintenance child. I really liked the kids, but even more I liked that my plank was helping them. Right after that, my dad received an e-mail from a doctor he had met on the day I was born. Now, this doctor had never really been my doctor, but he had always been there when my parents wanted help deciding something about my care. It turns out, his new job is directing KidStreet. He could have never thought that that tiny little baby, with all of those problems, could have one day helped the place where he now works. Life has a funny way of coming full circle.

But after that, something even cooler happened. I got approached by a Chinese TV station. Apparently, the plank is really popular in China. They flew all the way out to Colorado to interview me at my house. They did a seven minute feature that went out to millions of people. So, you never know where something you start on the floor of your bedroom will end up.

Reflecting back on it all, I think that the thing that truly made a difference was the way people treated me, and the way I looked at life. No one ever treated me like I was different, and my parents, they always let me try whatever I wanted. My mom even let me go to Thailand, alone, for two weeks. She researched every hospital within a 50 mile radius of where I was going but she still let me go.

As for my friends, well, they couldn’t care less about my special needs. In fact, I think they kind of enjoy it because when we go to amusement parks, we don’t have to wait in line. You see, no one ever pitied me, so I grew up thinking I could do anything. If that weren’t the case, I probably wouldn’t have tried out for volleyball, which, let’s be honest, is theoretically, a tall person sport. And without my special needs, I would have run the mile, not planked, not broken the record, and instead of being here today, I would probably be watching Ellen YouTube videos at my home.

And, well, I wouldn’t have taken my physical abilities, theoretically my greatest weakness, and turned it into my greatest strength. So basically, even though a lot of things in my life were no fun, I wouldn’t change anything because that made me who I am and led me to be here.

So, what’s wrong with me? Absolutely nothing. If you can take one thing away from this, is: don’t underestimate others, simply because they have some sort of disability, but most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself, because you may not try something that you’re like 99% sure you’re going be terrible at, which may turn into something amazing. As Audrey Hepburn once said: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, I’m possible.”

Thank you.