It’s hard to be a teenager at the best of times. Other kids are cruel, there’s the pressure of exams and parental expectations and the awkwardness of growing up in general as you try to get used to a rapidly changing body.
Can you imagine how much worse it must be to be 15 years old and have to face down the permanent removal of a limb? That’s where Dareen Barbar found herself and it’s taken a long time for her to recover her confidence.
This is her inspiring story of taking her life by the horns, despite the hand it dealt her.
Dareen is from Lebanon, and while you might assume that means her amputation is related to the problems her country faces, in fact, it was as the result of a deeply invasive bone cancer. She had to lose her leg or lose her life, a tough choice for anyone to make.
9. A Dramatic Life Change
Dareen says, “Can you imagine yourself at 15? You are talking to your girlfriends about parties and boys and clothes and going out. Then suddenly, you find yourself in hospital, surrounded with IVs and doctors.”
She continued, “It was a bit of a crisis for me.” As you might imagine.
Dareen’s operation was a success but, of course, the impact of the surgery was long-lasting. Lebanon puts great pressure on women to be perfect – it’s a country which offers and promotes personal loans for plastic surgery and she felt that she was excluded somewhat by society because of her leg.
Dareen says that her family and friends motivated her to come to terms with the change. She says that they gave her the sympathy she needed to adapt to life without a limb. However, that doesn’t mean that she immediately got involved in exercise – she had other things to do first.
One of the biggest changes in Dareen’s life was meeting and marrying her husband, Ramzi Gholmieh. He worked in Dubai and Dareen moved there to join him. Together they had two children and were living a happy life. But then in 2013, disaster struck again. You won’t believe Dareen’s bad luck.
Dareen had a bad accident and she broke her hip. She soon found that she would need to undertake a lot of exercise to recover her previous levels of mobility and she started to think about what she could do to turn her life around again. So she made her first trip to the gym.
She says, “What started as 10 minutes of walking on the treadmill (usually involving a lot of huffing and puffing) quickly turned into an hour of brisk walking and intermittent jogging. I taught myself basic circuit training and started going to classes for CrossFit and aerial yoga. When I wasn’t doing that, I was swimming, doing jujitsu—determined to do whatever it took to feel strong again.”
Dareen found she loved the workout regime. She wanted more and says, ” I signed up for the Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon. It was only a 4K race that I didn’t really run, but it was the first time I had walked that far since I lost my leg. And being able to accomplish that was unbelievable.”
This triggered another realization for Dareen, “I had always heard that exercise releases endorphins, and I discovered firsthand how true it was. I became hooked on fitness and the more I saw results, the more motivated I became. The way people started to see me once I changed my lifestyle had the greatest impact on my confidence. I even started to wear my prosthetic without its cover, a huge deal for me—and it was all because I wasn’t ashamed anymore.”
Dareen now works as a nutritionist and is a certified gym instructor. She also delivers inspiration lectures on living life with a disability.
She wants everyone to know, “The way I look at it now, having a disability is the extraordinary ability to make something impossible possible. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. If you trip, get back up and keep on moving forward. And most importantly, enjoy what you have and feel empowered because you never know what life will throw your way.”
Dareen’s journey has been truly incredible. In the two years since she broke her hip, she has lost more than 25 Kg (55 lbs) in body weight and completely turned her life around.
She has succeeded in transforming her life from that of a fragile housewife to a powerful, successful woman who motivates and inspires other women and men in the Gulf region.
She’s also turned her disability from a negative in her life to a positive. She’s an inspiration to us all. Keep Darleen in mind the next time you think about putting off your own trip to the gym. You can do it.