By Daniel J. Vance
At only 35, native Texan Juliette Rizzo has accomplished plenty. She is Director of Communication for the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Arthritis Foundation Metropolitan Washington Chapter and the Montgomery County (Md.) Commission on People with Disabilities. And don't forget that Masters in Journalism from the Univ. of North Texas.
Juliette has accomplished all this while having three forms of arthritis and using a wheelchair.
"The onset [of arthritis] with me was at age 3," she said over the telephone, describing her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). "I had joint and muscle weakness, and felt fatigued. I spent many nights awake growing up, crying, and in pain. And then looking out my window at other children going to school because I was too sick to go."
The Arthritis Foundation says JRA often involves joint inflammation, stiffness, damage and/or alteration or change in growth. Besides JRA, Rizzo has scleroderma, a disease that in her causes hardening of skin and blood vessels, and fibromyalgia, a syndrome characterized by generalized pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons.
"I often have different pain for all three types," she said. "As I've grown older, I've accepted the fact that pain will always be part of my life." She controls it using an all-natural, holistic approach, including the taking of capsaicin, omega-3 fatty acids, and eating lots of meat and vegetables.
Her arthritis doesn't limit her. In her words, "It gives me a sense of purpose." It has opened up a "whole new world" of always having to creatively figure out how to perform basic tasks most people take for granted.
Currently, she uses her platform as reigning Ms. Wheelchair Maryland to help young people with disabilities entering higher education and employment. It's an issue that hits home. She credits much of her own success to personal counseling and financial aid received through the 80-year-old federal Vocational Rehabilitation program. It helps annually more than 230,000 persons with disabilities become employed and integrated into communities. "Today in my position I am giving back, and promoting those same resources so other youth with disabilities are aware of them."
Next July, Rizzo represents Maryland in Ms. Wheelchair America 2005 competition in Richmond, Virginia. "Pageant" winners are selected due to excellence in accomplishments, self-perception, and public speaking skills. I'll be rooting for Juliette.