Athlete to Advocate: Lindsay's Story

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July marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights legislation that has positively impacted the lives of millions of people with disabilities in the United States. It’s always a good time to hear the perspectives of others, and this time presents a unique opportunity to learn more about the experiences of folks with disabilities.

There are many types of disabilities, including physical disabilities, intellectual or learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, neurological disabilities and visual or hearing impairments. Some disabilities are permanent, others are temporary. In the US, 1 in 4 adults have a disability that impacts a major part of their lives.

At SAS, we have a multidimensional culture that blends our different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives from employees all over the world. We’re committed to being a great place to work for all, and we value the unique skills that individuals of all abilities bring to our teams and company.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the ADA, our own Lindsay Whitfield is sharing her journey as an individual with a disability. Read on to hear Lindsay’s story, what she’s learned along the way and why she loves working at SAS!

Lindsay’s Story

“You never know what life is going to throw at you.” I grew up hearing it, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I had it all – my family, happiness, my career and my health. Growing up, I was a USA competitive swimmer, with daily practices before and after school. After retiring from swimming, I ran nearly 10 miles a day as a student at NC State. I was fit and healthy, and always had been.

Everything seemed perfect, until it wasn’t. Following a divorce, I started all over again on my own. I returned to North Carolina for my dream job – launching a campus outreach program at SAS! I hit the ground running, visiting colleges and universities across the United States to recruit top students for our internship and early career opportunities. Jumping from plane to plane and living out of hotel rooms was exhausting, but I loved every minute of it. Then, in 2016 in my early thirties, my life took a turn I couldn’t have expected.

Lindsay and her surgeon, Dr. Richard Mather.

An Unexpected Turn

After a stint of back-to-back campus visits, I experienced excruciating pain in my lower back and knee. I started feeling achy all the time and standing for hours at events and career fairs began taking a toll on my body. It became unbearable, and after seeing several specialists, I was diagnosed with a torn labrum and capsular defect in my hip, with extensive cartilage damage from (genetic) hyper-mobility and overuse throughout my life. I also found out that I’d need surgery to repair it.

After my first surgery, complications continued to arise. Permanent nerve damage. Reconstructive repairs. Reinjury. A second surgery was scheduled, and then a third. I recently had my fourth hip surgery. Over the last four years, I’ve spent 120+ days on crutches and many more in hip braces.

Supported by SAS

Throughout this trial, I wasn’t alone. I had a tremendous support system of friends, family, an amazing trainer and physical therapist, and SAS colleagues who cheered me on and lifted me up when it became unbearable.

SAS has been much more than an employer to me – it’s been the place where I met some of my greatest friends and cheerleaders. When it became clear that my previous lifestyle just wouldn’t be possible with my hip issues, I was devastated. My manager was empathetic and supported my development into a new role that I love, with less travel and more internal engagement.

Before her first surgery, Lindsay's team threw her a surprise "going away" party, complete with thoughtful gifts for her recovery!

I was also able to flex my hours to accommodate for a slew of doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions, many of which were scheduled during typical working hours.

  • Our ergonomics team outfitted me with a seat cushion, a sit-to-stand desk, and helped me modify my office to work more comfortably and minimize pain.
  • Our benefits team helped me set up my medical leave and alleviated confusion.
  • Our onsite Healthcare Center allowed for easy access and timely medical advice. They went above and beyond to check on me after my surgeries, and the accessibility of the on-campus services alleviated a lot of stress, time and cost savings.
  • Our travel department above and beyond to make sure I was able to get an aisle seat and needed travel accommodations after each of my surgeries.
  • Our lovely café chefs would prepare meals-to-go so I could stock my freezer while I was out

While these benefits are wonderful, my experience has gone far beyond HR and benefits. Throughout this journey, my SAS family has rallied around me, checking in on me after surgeries and sending flowers, DVDs, books and TV show recommendations. Some co-workers even drove me to appointments and visited and delivered meals to my house when my mobility was limited.

What I Want People to Know

Disabilities can happen to anyone, at any time, at any age. 62% of employees with disabilities have “invisible disabilities” – you can’t tell by looking at them. Over the last four years, I’ve experienced firsthand the stigma and bias that too often come with having a (sometimes invisible) disability. After taking an elevator one floor up, I’ve noticed the stares and snarky comments of those who don’t “see” my disability. Don’t make assumptions.

I’ve had a few other life takeaways from this journey, too:

'Tis the season! Lindsay decorated her crutches for the holidays following her 4th surgery.

  • Life gets hard. It can happen at any time. The people you surround yourself with (including your employer) make the journey worthwhile.
  • It’s OK to grieve and feel the pain you're experiencing – it makes you stronger.
  • Take time out of your day to check in on the people around you.
  • If you need a handicap parking pass, use it. Your body will thank you later!

My disability has changed my outlook on life. My life’s purpose has changed over time to be more empathetic, and I want to help those around me benefit from what I’ve learned. I’ve already been able to give back to my SAS family by sharing my experience with a new employee facing a similar journey, which has been so rewarding. I’m thankful to work for a company that values everything I bring to the table – crutches included!

Thanks, Lindsay, for sharing your story! We’re proud to be a great place to work for all abilities and look forward to continuing the conversation on ability inclusion.

Curious about what we’re doing to embrace all abilities at SAS? Check out our webpage.

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About Author

Alyssa Grube

Associate Communications Specialist

Alyssa Grube is an Associate Communications Specialist focused on employee programs, culture, and employer branding. She’s passionate about the intersection of people + brand, and loves sharing the SAS story with the world. Seriously, ask her about why she loves SAS – just grab a coffee first.

8 Comments

  1. Angela M Hall on

    How inspiring Lindsay! Thank you for sharing with everyone. Definitely appreciate the 'don't judge' comment, its too easy to make assumptions so we all need the reminder to avoid that trap.

  2. Kristen Garbarino on

    Thank you for sharing your story Lindsay! You are one of the most hard-working and loyal co-workers I've ever had, and it's been a pleasure working with you the past 5 years! You always keep a positive attitude, and I have learned many things from you through your journey of surgeries and pain. We are so fortunate to have you on the University Recruiting team.

  3. John Buyarski on

    Hey Lindsay, that’s quite a story. God bless you & give you continued strength to cope with whatever comes your way & you have had
    more then your share ! You & your parents are always in our thoughts as we remember the good times @ Brier Creek CC.
    Stay well, stay the course, and what a wonderful place to work,SAS.

  4. Danielle Pavliv on

    So proud of my dear friend and SAS colleague, Lindsay Whitfield for sharing her story! You are such a light in my life and the lives of so many people at work, in the community, and beyond. I'm so proud of all you have overcome from the very first surgery all the way to the 4th and hopefully last! You are a fierce lady with so much drive, perseverance, and courage. You have been through so much in such a short amount of time, and at such a young age, but you are an inspiration to everyone to never give up. I'll always be your cheerleader! I'm grateful to know you, work with you, and call you one of my closest friends! 🙂 #invisibledisabilities #myhero

  5. Kayla Woitkowski on

    Proud is an understatement. It took so much courage to put your story out there, Linds! I'm so glad you did because your strength and perseverance is inspiring to so many. What's even more inspiring is the way you continue to pour out for others and make others feel so special, even while you overcome so much yourself. It's a true privilege to have watched all of the ways you've grown over these past 5 years together. SAS is so lucky to have you!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Lindsay! You are always such a joy to work with, and I so appreciate your grace and ever positive outlook!

  7. Lindsay, I'm in awe of your journey and your ability to overcome so many obstacles. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Your journey is one that needed to be shared Lindsay. I have seen you 'tough' it out and you are my hero! I/we are so proud of you for your courage and I am blown away by your consistent 'sunny disposition'; always genuine, always positive. How you do that with all of the pain and hardship you have endured physically, mentally, and emotionally, is beyond me.

    Thank you for your mention of the 'invisible disability'. I believe that I have three, although two of them are no longer invisible. But it's far too easy for a person with any kind of disability (temporary, permanent, progressive, invisible) to get frustrated, depressed, insecure or withdrawn when you are dealing with physical pain day after day, or the fact that people are constantly judging you and you see the "happy that I am not you" look in their eye, or having to adjust the way that you carry out a so-called routine task several times each day. I think for these reasons your story is so important to share. Your story is for those with a disability to know that they are not alone (your reporting that 62% of the employee population has an invisible disability blew me away). And your story is a great reminder for people to understand that they might want to withhold their judgment and practice more discretion and empathy before they know a person's journey.

    Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for being a huge part of the incredible morale that we have in HR/TA. We are all so proud of you for the good works that you do inside and outside of SAS. I agree with our colleagues that SAS is lucky to have you and some of us are even lucky to call you a friend!

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