Carve Out Courage

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

| This is the 508th story of Our Life Logs |

Courage is in smiles. It’s in bear hugs. It can be found when your mom holds your hand while the doctor gives you the bad news. Courage can be found when a new friend tells you to ignore that bully because you are stronger and more powerful than they’d ever even realize. Courage is found in kindness. It’s everywhere and it’s ready to take hold of your heart as soon as you give it enough room. 

My name is Molly and I’m 10 years old. My birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so it’s easy to remember. I have a mom and a dad and a big brother who is like my best friend in the world. Everyone in my family is a little…different, as some say. See, my brother Haven is on the autism spectrum, my mom used to have a cleft lip and palate (like me!), and my dad…well, he tells bad jokes sometimes.  

This is my whole family in 2010! I’m the little baby on the right, obviously!

I was born in Minnesota in 2010, and from the time I was born, I had surgery after surgery after surgery. I came into this world different because I had a unilateral lip and bilateral cleft palate. It had to be fixed as much as possible after I was born so that I could eat and talk normally and be healthy. My mom always said that besides the mouthpiece I had to wear as a newborn, I didn’t cry a lot. In fact, I was almost always smiling. I like to smile. 

It was easy to smile before I began school. I always had my brother to play with and he is so funny. It just got a whole lot harder to smile when I started preschool.  

This is me and my big brother (2013). Did I mention that we are BEST friends???

Preschool is supposed to be about naps and snacks and learning about the alphabet, right? Well, at mine, I just got called a lot of names. They saw the way I looked and called me things like “snake face.” The other kids didn’t like the way I smiled or laughed, so, eventually, I just stopped. I didn’t tell my mom or my dad about the other kids. I was too little. There was even one time I came home with sand in my hair–and let me tell you, I had a LOT of hair, so the little specks added up. On the way home, as my little beach shore fell to my parents’ car seats, my mom wondered at what-exactly-I-was-doing-in-the-sandbox-silly-girl. It seemed like she thought I had been playing with friends. I wasn’t. The other kids splashed it all over me and I just let it happen. I guess I started to think that that’s the way life was going to be from then on.  

Okay, so this is when the alopecia started. There’s a few things you should know…

  1. Alopecia is when you lose your hair in little spots. Sometimes, that’s it and it goes away. Sometimes, a few spots becomes a bunch of spots, and other times, the hair loss is everywhere.

  2. My hair loss started when I was five. I didn’t really know what was happening because my mom always braided my hair in cool ways and my parents made sure I ate enough vegetables and took my vitamins and anything else that would keep my hair as healthy as it could be.

After the worst of the bulling in preschool and first grade, my life went on as normal as it could. The other kids might leave me alone at the lunch table, or say mean things behind my back, but I could handle myself. I could fight back tears and go back to class like nothing ever happened. I just kept it all to myself and continued pretending like nothing bothered me. Pretending was like a band-aid, sure. But I could rip the band-aid off once the school year was over, I could laugh again during summer break. 

When third grade began in 2018, I really didn’t want to go back to my school. I think I was tired of pretending I was happy at school when I really wasn’t. That’s when I started to beg my mom and dad to let me stay home. They didn’t really understand why, and I didn’t tell. I knew what the other kids would say to me, but I kept those feelings stuffed all the way down. Life isn’t fun when you hide, but it’s safe. That is, until you are found out.

Happy on the outside, right? But what about the inside??

Remember how I didn’t really notice at first? Well, I found a few small clumps of hair in my brush, but I thought it was totally normal. Everyone loses some hair! But then, my mom started braiding my hair more than usual. Every morning, I sat on a stool or between her legs while she gently folded my hair while I was getting ready for school. But then…she would scrunch her face so that her eyebrows got closer together. THAT wasn’t normal!  

See how my mom did my hair up with a headband? I couldn’t tell anything weird was happening either (also, look how cool I am in that leather jacket 😊).

During this time, I met a new doctor who talked to my mom and dad with big words that I was NOT interested in! I was used to doctors, what with my cleft palate, so I didn’t think anything of it.  

Then I saw it.  

One evening after school, my mom asked me to wash up after I finished my homework. Totally normal. I set my pencil down, hopped in the shower, and let the water and bubbles do their job. All of a sudden.  I watched my hair swim to the shower drain and clump together in a group hug that was the size of a softball. I touched my hair and it felt different. I screamed for my mom. Then for my dad. That’s the moment I knew that my life had changed. 

It was only weeks before some hair loss turned into a lot of hair loss. Mom couldn’t hide the spot with her braiding any longer, and we’d tried every diet, hair product, and wish that we could think of. I tried to be happy and pretend that everything was okay, but finally, my secret was out. I had alopecia and everyone was gonna know.

Yep. That’s me.

I was really scared at first. And I could tell that my mom and dad were scared too. But that’s the thing about courage. Once everyone is “in-this-together,” it feels much easier to be positive. It was a good feeling to be positive again. 

When enough hair fell out of my head, I told my dad to shave it all off. He did. 

Before it was time to go back to school, my mom asked me if it would be okay if she talked to my class. I liked the idea. I was afraid of what the other kids would say and I wanted someone to be there with me. A couple days later, my mom came to my school and I stood with her. In front of everybody. I held her hand, and she held mine and she started talking and I squeezed the palm of my hand into hers. I should probably mention that it was my decision to be up there with my mom, but I faced the other way. I didn’t want them to see me cry.

She told my classmates things like, “Alopecia is when a person’s hair falls out,” “It isn’t contagious,” “This is not her fault and she did not choose this,” and that, “The best way to help Molly through this is to be kind and have her back.” I liked what she was saying, but that didn’t stop all the tears that fell down my face. 

That’s when something really cool happened. 

It was finally time for questions and comments. The scary part. But all of a sudden, I heard one of the boys say, “You’re like Kevin Bull from American Ninja Warrior!” 

Wait a second. I knew that name. I really did! Kevin Bull was on the TV show that my family watched! The Ninjas who competed on American Ninja Warrior were really strong, and had been chosen from a TON of people to compete. Kevin Bull was really fast and could do anything. Most of all, he had alopecia, like me. I turned around to my class and looked at all their faces. 

I won’t say that everything was perfect when the boy in my class said I was like Kevin Bull. It wasn’t. But I smiled again and I wanted to be brave. I think that counts for something. The other kids knew I was different, but now they knew I was powerful too. 

Sometime after that day, I decided to ask my teacher if it was okay if I talked to the other kids in the third grade. My class seemed to understand me better and I wanted all the other kids to learn about me. My teacher said OK, and that’s what started “Molly Talks.” 

After the first talk with my mom, she went home and learned more about Kevin Bull. She learned more about American Ninja Warrior and decided to submit an application. She wanted to be strong for me, I think. Then, a couple days later, she asked me if I wanted to go to a spring camp in California for kids who were like me and–guess what–Kevin Bull was going to be there! That May, my whole family went, and I remember sitting in the bleachers during the first gathering where we were going to get our mentor assignments. I just kept telling my mom and dad, “I’m going to get Kevin Bull, I know it.” They smiled and tried to tell me that there wasn’t a big chance that it would work out that way. There were tons of other kids there. I looked around and I saw them all. They didn’t have to tell me how many names were in that hat! I could see! But I just knew. And guess what again; Kevin drew my name. I knew it! 

This picture of me and Kevin means that I actually met him and it was NOT all just a dream!

I had so much fun that week. We hiked and climbed and I got to meet so many other kids who knew what it was like to go to school every day with no hair and a million eyes staring at you. It’s much easier to be yourself with people who get you. I didn’t have to try to explain anything. And when I got to talk to Kevin, I realized that I could be kind and cool and strong, just like him. 

So, I bet you’re thinking that maybe that’s the end of this story. It’d be a great ending for me, honestly. But things got even better. Here’s how. 

After meeting Kevin, in 2019, another something cool happened. My mom got a call to tryout for American Ninja Warrior! That is a long story, but to make it short, I’ll just say this. We got to go to Tacoma, Washington, and watch my mom compete, and while she didn’t make it on the show, my whole family was really proud of her. 

Look at those muscles!

While we were there, the producers interviewed my mom, and then me, about why we were there and stuff. That’s when I opened up about all the bullying that happened in my life. I finally wanted to share my story so other kids like me could feel understood. Like they weren’t alone. The producers were really nice and really liked me. They said I was inspiring because of my story.  

Remember what I said earlier? About having courage? Well, I started owning mine. Sure, I still had alopecia and a cleft lip. That wasn’t going anywhere. And sure, people still stared and little kids still pointed at me and called me a boy. Whatever. But, there were so many good things happening in my life and instead of letting it all pass through me, I chose to store it up inside myself. I could look to my friends and my family when someone else made me doubt my strength. I had a lot of people and experiences that told me that my story was a good story. And with that in the back of my mind, I could take on any challenge. 

From there, the producers asked me to be one of Kevin Bull’s VIPs while he competed on the American Ninja Warrior course. It was AWESOME! I got to stand on the sidelines! No longer was I the little girl who couldn’t face my classmates, I was facing a whole crowd! I’m talking like…MILLIONS! 

Look! I’m on TV!!!!

My story isn’t over–I’m only ten! But I’m proud of the journey I’ve lived so far. If it weren’t for kindness, then I wouldn’t know courage, and courage to be myself has been the most important lesson of all. I hope you get to learn it too 🙂 

Happy 10th birthday to MEEE!!!

This is the story of Molly Steffl

Molly, 10, was born with a cleft lip and palate and was bullied in preschool because of it. The stress and anxiety caused an early onset of alopecia. After all of Molly’s hair fell out, she had to explain to her classmates what was going on, which sparked one boy to compare Molly to American Ninja Warrior Kevin Bull who, like Molly, has alopecia. Thus began her journey. Molly was featured on the TV show, American Ninja Warrior, as one of Kevin Bull’s VIP guests. She has continued to spread awareness against bullying through her foundation, Carve Out Courage. Molly has also continued her “Molly Talks.” She did a Molly talk for the 4th grade after the show on American Ninja Warriors aired in the fall of 2019. Now, Molly Talks have evolved into not only sharing about her background, but also inspirational speaking. Molly loves hiking, climbing (anything outside, really), and has an amazing collection of stuffed animals and Beanie Babies.

Molly and her two favorites 😊

All photos were provided by Abbey Steffl (Molly’s mother, photographer, and founder of Project Molly’s Eyes).

Project Molly’s Eyes, 2020.

This story first touched our hearts on January 9, 2020.

| Writer: Colleen Walker | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

#overcoming #courage #childhood #hairloss #AmericanNinjaWarrior #bullying #CarveOutCourage #cleftlip #alopecia #cleftpalate

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