Within the first minute of speaking to her, I know there's something special about Allison Lang.
Her infectious smile pops up on my laptop screen, and I immediately feel at ease. She ties her hair back, asks about my day, and apologizes for the clutter behind her (which I can assure you was no mess at all).
And while I'm grateful that technology that allows us to connect virtually, I have an overwhelming desire to meet her in person. To shake her hand and thank her for teaching women everywhere to love their authentic selves, no matter what you look like.
"I think that if we truly start to appreciate who we are authentically, we can learn to not judge ourselves so harshly."
In an interview with Yahoo Canada, the Montréal-based athlete and public speaker opened up about her hard-fought disability journey — a path that's been filled with trials, tribulations and stories so heartbreaking they almost don't seem real.
But if there's one thing Lang knows for sure, it's that her dark past has paved the way to an enlightened future — one of positivity, acceptance and unwavering confidence.
Yahoo Canada: Tell our readers a bit about your disability journey.
Allison Lang: "My disability journey has been a rough one. I was born missing the lower half of my left leg from birth, so I don't know anything different. When I was born the doctor told my parents that their newborn baby was missing one of her legs, but my parents were so wonderful and thought there was nothing wrong with me and raised me like any other child. They showed me that I am resilient and can do anything that I put my mind to. But having a supportive family doesn't mean that the rest of the world will be as kind."
"It was when I started elementary school where things got really rough for me. Between grades two to six I was bullied immensely both emotionally and physically...whenever I had revision surgery on my leg I would have to be on crutches or go to school in a wheelchair. I was called things like "Barbie" because my leg was plastic, or "peg leg," and I was always picked last for games or not at all, so I would sit outside alone. Sometimes kids would push me over and then take my crutches or wheelchair so I couldn't get up."
"I so badly wanted to be accepted through societal beauty norms that I didn't value my body and what I could still do."
"At that point, I questioned why people hated me, why I was born this way and why I was treated very differently than people who have all of their limbs...I would cry and wonder why this happened to me. I ended up changing schools and I took it upon myself to hide my prosthetic leg and hide who I was in order to try to fit in...I so badly wanted to be accepted through societal beauty norms that I didn't value my body and what I could still do."
"One day it dawned on me: who am I living this life for? Is it for me, or is it for the acceptance of others? And I developed this mentality in my early twenties of how I was going to change my narrative. As I opened up about my disability, I found people who thought my story was interesting. And I became advocating for myself and for other people with disabilities."
YC: Why is it important to share your story and how do you advocate for people with disabilities?
AL: "I am a guest speaker in schools and at conferences talking about bullying, disabilities and finding inner confidence. That is where my passion lies now. I want to teach about these important life lessons and remind people that we still live in an ableist society that really isn't catered to people with disabilities...it's important for me to try to open everyone's eyes to cater to all types of people, so everyone knows they have a place in this world."
"I want to share my story as a way to show people that we all need to be given an equal chance to thrive in this world."
"A big dream of mine is to actually move into a consulting role for businesses and clothing lines, as another form of advocacy. A lot of clothes or even the stores themselves aren't catered to people with disabilities, and I want to get more people with disabilities working behind-the-scenes. Maybe I will start my own accessible clothing line that can inspire others. Maybe I'll design clothes that people can playfully wear and be proud of. But until then, I want to share my story as a way to show people that we all need to be given an equal chance to thrive in this world."
YC: You're also a successful fashion model! How did your modelling career start, and what types of projects have you done?
AL: "I never originally set out to be a model. I started sharing photos of places I travelled to on social media and posted my authentic self. I don't know how people found me but people with disabilities started messaging me really positive and empowering things. I realized there was never anyone who looked like me in the media and it made me realize that maybe I can be that person for others."
"There was never anyone who looked like me in the media and it made me realize that maybe I can be that person for others."
"I moved to Montréal three years ago. A girl I worked with was connected with a modelling agency and she showed them a portfolio of my photos. I got a call back from the agency who wanted to represent me, and they actually sent me to a casting call that took place two hours later that same day. I showed up to the call and they took a couple headshots. The next day I got the role, which was to model for Ardene's Move campaign, their athletic line. It feels surreal to me because my whole goal is to reach women and help them love their bodies and to not focus on flaws. So for me to show up in a fashion campaign like this was a huge opportunity for me."
"Since then, I have also appeared in the Government of Canada'a COVID-19 commercial, I have modelled swimwear for Noize, I've modelled lingerie for Montelle Intimates, and I've also worked with Dove as an influencer."
YC: You recently represented Canada as a member of the Canadian Women's Sitting Volleyball Team. What was that experience like?
AL: "I got scouted around the age of 15-16 for Team Canada and started working with them during high school. I would fly across Canada to train with them and went to tournaments in the United States. I also competed in England and in Brazil for the Olympic 2012 qualifier. The experience was eye-opening and it allowed me to learn more about myself and the world through travel and teamwork."
"At the age of 21 I stepped away from sitting volleyball for a bit to focus on my education, but I returned about two years ago. I'm training with the team now full-force and I fly to Edmonton to be with them once a month. We travel all over the world and we just got confirmation that we are competing in the Worlds in Bosnia in November 2022, and that will be our Paralympic qualifier event to determine whether or not we will be on the roster for Paris 2024."
"Even though you may be disabled, you can still be a national athlete. You can still represent your country."
"It's been an amazing experience to work with this amazing group of women. We are so connected, we're fearless, we're fit, and we are working to get sitting volleyball on the map. Our sport has grown so much and I'm really proud of what we have accomplished, and what we will accomplish in the future. We're trying to show people that even though you may be disabled, you can still be a national athlete. You can still represent your country."
YC: What is your advice for women who are trying to love themselves and become more self-confident?
AL: "We all have insecurities, whether we can see them or not. And I think that if we truly start to appreciate who we are authentically, we can learn to not judge ourselves so harshly."
"My advice would be to connect with others who celebrate your differences instead of hiding them. Embrace change. Embrace the fact that there are people out there who love you for you, and no matter what you look like or what you're able to do, trust that you have it within you to be strong and to make a difference."