Fifteen-year-old Caswell County native and Bartlett Yancey sophomore K’Leigh Toler received some special recognition this past Saturday.
Toler, who suffers from multiple epiphyseal dysplasia — a disorder of cartilage and bone development affecting the ends of the long bones in the arms and legs — was inducted into a special group during Saturday’s 9th Annual Masonic Homecoming Festival held in Oxford.
This past Saturday, Toler was inducted into The International Order of the Rainbow Girls — a Masonic youth organization which teaches leadership training through community service — which is a select group.
“Generally, they have to have a parent that’s in the Masons because of the different levels of Masonry, but because she’s a Shriner, she’ll be inducted,” said Mandy Crawford, K’Leigh’s mother. “She’ll do community service projects with them and learn things and she got to wear a really pretty dress.”
While most Toler’s age would’ve been brimming excitement, K’Leigh looked at the festival with a bit more of a reserved approach.
“I was kind of scared because of all I had to do,” said Toler, laughing. “I didn’t want to screw anything up.”
K’Leigh isn’t the only Toler being honored. Her younger brother, 12-year-old Ethan, who suffers from osteochondrodysplasia — a group of developmental disorders of the skeletal system — will be honored Dec. 21 at the 83rd Annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas held at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“I think it’s going to be really fun,” Ethan said. “I’m going to get on TV and get to see different players from colleges along with coaches. I get to go onto the field and I’m excited about that because I’ve never been on a real football field before and I’ve always wanted to do that.”
However, don’t think for one second the two haven’t earned the honors bestowed or that will be bestowed on them. It’s been a struggle for the two every step of the way and their grace under fire is why both were honored/are being honored by the Shriners.
Ethan and K’Leigh have endured their fair share of picking over the years. Their conditions have effected their bone growth, which effects their movement, and the two have been called short or slow quite a few time in their lives. However, the two have taken the teasing in perfect stride.
“I really don’t care. I mean it upsets me sometimes, but I’ve gotten older and I’ve learned how to just block it out,” K’Leigh said.
Ethan added, “Most of the time, I just ignore it or I’ll come back with something myself. I don’t fight but I will stand up for myself if it gets too bad.”
K’Leigh has even used some of the hardship to help hone her sense of humor.
Her condition led her to wearing leg braces for six months during her eighth grade year. In class one day, K’Leigh dropped her pencil and when she bent down to pick it up, disaster struck:
“Funny story, I actually went to grab the pencil and my braces were so heavy that when I leaned forward, the whole desk came with me,” K’Leigh said, smiling. “I fall on my back and everybody starts laughing and I just went ‘Yay!’ It was really embarrassing and it hurt my back, but I learned not to take it too seriously.”
Iron sharpens iron, and the struggles the three have endured together has helped them form an innate bond few will every experience. Even though there might be a little back-and-forth teasing every now and then.
“No matter how much they disagree or fuss, at the end of the day, they count on each other,” Crawford said. “If ones having surgery, the other one is asking, ‘Where’s my sister? Where’s my brother?’ Or they will really cry for each other.”
Crawford suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the bones and make them easy to break. Once again, cementing their already strong bond.
“You get a really big respect for each other when you know what the other one is going through,” Crawford said. “I’ve seen it in both of them. When I was injured, they helped me do housework. Anything that needed to be done, they were there to help out. Then, if they see another handicapped child being picked on or bullied, they step in. They don’t allow others to disrespect a handicapped child.”
Added Ethan, “It’s like you have the same feeling as them. You want to help them. You know how they feel.”
K’Leigh concluded, saying, “When you’re down, you want to help them. You know how they feel.”