Girl’s Face Lights Up When She Sees New Teacher With Same Limb Difference.

Leah Kaplan understands what it feels like to look a little different from everyone else.

Leah has a birth difference that affects her left arm. Instead of a hand, she has what she refers to as a “nubbin” at the end of her forearm. She was adopted from China at age six and brought to live in the U.S., and she grew up never seeing anyone who looked quite like she did.

“I know what it’s like as a kid to just suffer in silence, to feel so alone, and look at so many beautiful people online and just not feeling good enough … You don’t have to look the part,” said Leah. “You can still achieve whatever you want.”

As an adult, Leah overcame many insecurities about her limb difference. She became a special education teacher at an elementary school in Spokane, Washington. In her free time, she is a paratriathlete who hopes to compete at the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.

It’s still rare that Leah sees anyone with a limb difference just like hers, so when she bumped into 8-year-old Raegan Justesen in the hallway at school, they were both floored.

“She saw that I had a little arm before I even got the chance to see her and she pulled out her little arm in the hallway and she literally was like, ‘(Gasp) Oh my gosh!’ and she’s like ‘Look!’” Leah recalled.

Raegan’s mother and grandmother later told Leah that the little girl couldn’t stop gushing over meeting her at school that day. Leah says she feels “like a celebrity” whenever she runs into Raegan at school now!

The teacher was so excited to represent limb differences at school that she shared a picture of herself with Raegan on Instagram.

“On my first day, I met [Raegan],” she wrote. “She saw my arm before I saw hers. She had a surprised face look and took her arm out to wave to me. Little did she know, I would be a teacher at her school! Every time we see each other, we do the nub wave. I love seeing how proud she is of her arm.”

After getting to know Raegan, Leah asked the child if she was interested in learning to ride an adaptive bicycle. When the second grader eagerly agreed, Leah passed down her old adaptive bike, which has all of the gears and brakes on one side. Leah has found true acceptance and community in the para-sports world, and she wants to share that connection with Raegan.

“I just thought, ‘You know what, I want her to get into sports when she gets older and I want her to have a mentor because they said she has never been in a community with people with disabilities,” Leah explained.

Leah plans to train with Raegan this summer in hopes that she’ll get into triathlons as well! These two prove that sometimes it’s our differences that truly bring us closer together.

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