Challenge Accepted!

Meet Faith-Christina Duncan, our Tuesday morning keynote speaker, who laughs in the face of challenges

When Faith-Christina Duncan stands before the Presentation Summit audience on Tuesday morning, Sep 28, a number of firsts will take place:

  • At 21 years and four months, she is the youngest person to ever speak at the conference.
  • At 4′ 8″, she is also the shortest. We might have to erect a riser or a stage for the first time ever.
  • Last, and perhaps least, she was born with Down Syndrome. While most people have two of the 21st chromosome, she has three.

Not to minimize her condition in any way; it’s just that she refuses to allow it to stop her, and friends and new acquaintances are so taken by her can-do attitude, they describe her condition as the last thing they pay attention to.

And can-do is an understatement — more like can do, must do, shall do. At the top of her list is the quilting that she performs for newborns similarly diagnosed with the congenital disorder. “I come from a long line of crafters,” says Faith-Christina, who also comes from a long line of women with long names. Her first name is not Faith with a middle name of Christina. Like her mother, Nancy-Carole, all the women in the Duncan family employ compound names. “My mom tried to teach me every kind of craft imaginable, knitting, crocheting, embroidering. But individuals with DS have issues with fine motor skills. I was 11 before I could master tying my own shoes. Thank goodness for Velcro.”

Faith-Christina kept at it, though, and with the help of her sister, the Saint Cloud resident (about two hours from Clearwater Beach) launched www.ImperfectCreations.net. She reached out to the local chapter of the Down Syndrome Association with her vision for helping families with DS babies, and that was the beginning of a wonderful partnership. “When I pull out that baby blanket and let them know a teenager with Down syndrome made it, parents take immediate comfort,” says Janet Carmello, Executive Director of the Central Florida branch. “It helps them know what life can be like for their baby. You can immediately see the change in their faces from fear to hope.”

Faith-Christina faces down challenges on a daily basis, ever since six months of age when three holes in her heart required open-heart surgery. Now she is mainstream everything, having graduated from regular high school with honors and having carried a 4.0 GPA through her first few semesters at college. She also insisted on getting a driver license at age 15 and has since bought a car with her own money, earned at a local restaurant. “I’m sure that was when my mother got her gray hair,” she insists. Challenge accepted: At 4-8, she could not reach the pedals of most cars or see over the dashboard. Challenge triumphed over: She kept looking and found a used car with proper dimensions.

Challenge. Hardship. Struggle — these are concepts as natural to Faith-Christina as breathing is to the rest of us. “I often stop and think about who I would be if I didn’t have DS. Life would be easier, for sure, but maybe not better. I know a lot of people without disabilities who struggle more than I do. This is who I am and I just embrace it and use it as incentive to keep accomplishing things that I didn’t think I could.”

Faith-Christina Duncan talks about challenges accepted Tuesday morning, 9:00am ET, Sep 28. Of all the firsts that will take place that day, perhaps the most enabling is the amount of passion that will be on that floor that morning. That is likely to supersede all other conditions.

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