Shirley Cheng & Dance with Your Heart! Publishing
FINALIST: Limiting Your Limitations to Bring Forth New Visions


"" Juliet muttered, running her finger down her red English-Chinese dictionary and stopping when it reached its destination: arthritis. She read the definition of the name the doctor had just recently labeled on her baby daughter. "Arthritis? It doesn't sound so serious." Yet it seemed to be deadly on her eleven-month-old infant, who was, at that moment, in the hospital, undergoing test after test to validate the doctor's diagnosis. The previous doctor Juliet saw told her that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her daughter. At first, it comforted Juliet. But quickly, that comfort turned into discomfort. If nothing was wrong with her baby, then why would she scream in agony whenever she applied even the slightest pressure on her legs? Why were her joints red and swollen? No, there must be something the matter with her, and now she knew that something was arthritis. Still, arthritis, at least what she was gathering from the dictionary, paled in comparison to what her pearl was going through. There must be more than simply arthritis.

Indeed, it was more than simply arthritis: "Mrs. Cheng, Shirley has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis," announced the doctor when the test results came back.

The news, although it tore Juliet's heart, strengthened her resolve: "I'm going to use everything I've got to make life the best experience for Pearl." She would see to it that Shirley would be the prettiest princess on a wheelchair the world had ever seen. The disease could only touch her body; With Jehovah God's help, Juliet would make sure it would never touch her soul.

Seeing that American medicines offered no relief for Shirley without causing retrograde effects, Juliet took Shirley to China, her native country, six times in a span of ten years to seek treatment. By doing so, she had saved Shirley's life numerous times, for the crippling disease had rapidly spread to nearly all of Shirley's joints; like a statue, she was unable to move or sit, and every tiniest jolt sent pain throughout her body that cut like knives.

Once prevailing over her physical pain by age eleven on the never-ending dosage of her mother's unconditional love, Shirley entered into a new set of challenges--starting school for the very first time. That meant she had to catch up to those students who had already had five or six years of schooling and master a foreign language: English. Well, she soon prevailed in that, too.

Yet, as if previous mountains were not enough to tone her spirit, more challenges barged into her life: her eyesight forsook her at age seventeen. "Life took away my eyesight, I was determined to bring forth a new vision," said Shirley. Thus, she became an author at age twenty. "I will never give my blindness a single chance to dampen my mood, to stop me from going after my gold medals in life."


Despite the tremendous pain ravaging her body, Shirley seldom spent a day without laughing. Even through her tears, she, merely one-year-old, pointed at pretty fabrics, for example, and laugh, saying, "Pretty, pretty!" Such attitude earned her the nickname the Happy Baby, which hospital nurses in China called her.

As the years went by, Shirley's happiness grew with her height, and then well surpassed her five-foot height at age ten. Her happiness was not just a good feeling but a tool she unconsciously used to achieve both her personal and professional goals. Thus, happiness made her into a top honor student and an award-winning visual artist in her teen years, enabled her to write and calculate long chemistry formulas and equations in her head without eyesight or Braille, motivated her into empowering others as a motivational speaker, and propelled her into writing, publishing, and contributing to twenty-five books (nine of which were her own books) by age twenty-five as a winner of fourteen awards, including five Parent to Parent Adding Wisdom Awards for her book "Embrace Ultra-Ability!"

"Through my experiences, I've realized that no one and nothing can touch your spirit if you don't allow them. Therefore, by cultivating the spiritual, I receive everlasting abilities, power, and fulfillment." said Shirley. "I don't focus on the worldly, neither the passing pain nor the achievements that will only die with my flesh. Instead, my heart is always set on the spiritual realm, and my deep faith in Jehovah God is the cornerstone of my strength."

Shirley's spirit strengthened after each and every challenge, and she concluded: "Challenges are life's vaccines: they exercise your spirit and equip your soul with the necessary tools to battle future storms."

Professional Issue:

Having lost her eyesight at age seventeen, Shirley could no longer depict life's many fascinations through artwork,. Drawing had been her favorite pastime, and she had been looking forward to having a career in the visual arts when she "grew up." Her blindness seemed to have wiped away that dream. What else could she do now without eyesight and truly enjoy? Was art completely out of the question.

Visual art was out of the question, for the time being, at least, until she had an eye surgery to restore her eyesight. " But art is not out of the question," Shirley decided. "All I have to do is to limit my limitations and pursue a career in another area of the arts."

Hence, Shirley turned to writing when she was twenty, completing three books within the first year. She used JAWS, the popular, life-changing screen reader (computer software) manufactured by Freedom Scientific. JAWS told her which keys she typed and read the text on the screen. Even though she could type with only her two index fingers because of her severe arthritis, she could produce about sixty-five words per minute. She also single-handedly completed every step of book production, from formatting her manuscripts to designing and maintaining her own Web site.

Writing, as Shirley soon found out, was the easiest part in her career. "The hardest part is marketing," said Shirley. "It's not easy to stay away from home even one day, let alone doing extensive traveling. When I stay away, bags of my necessities need to tag along, including Mr. Commode, which obviously cannot follow me wherever I go! And my asthma is no help, either." While staying at a Las Vegas hotel in May 2007, she had an asthma attack prior to her scheduled film shooting session for the documentary for Wake Up...Live the Life You Love book series, of which she was a co-author.

"How could I effectively promote my books on a regular basis without wheeling out of the house?" Shirley wondered. "What marketing options does a blind and physically disabled individual have?"

Personal Issue:

Owing to years of hospitalization, Shirley started schooling for the very first time at age eleven when her health was finally stabilized. Back then, she knew only her ABCs and very simple English, so she was placed in a special education class in elementary school.

"I knew that two plus two equaled four and that three times five was fifteen; I had no idea from where rain came and why a beautiful rainbow followed." said Shirley. "Every time I saw a yellow school bus pass by, I wished I were one of the students lucky enough to ride in it. There's so much that needs to be learned, probed, and discovered. How could I live without understanding the Earth where I call home? How could I not want to learn more about the elements that make up who I am? I was floating on Cloud Nine when my chance to know all that finally came!"

After returning home on the first day of school, Shirley began her journey into reading with a simple picture book picked out by her teacher. "I could barely read a single word, let alone a single sentence," recalled Shirley. How was she going to catch up to those native English-speaking students who had already had five years of schooling?

Yet, after only about 180 days of attendance in elementary school, Shirley mastered grade level and entered regular sixth grade in middle school. She received numerous academic, art, and literary awards, including Student of the Year in sixth grade, Student of the Month in seventh grade, and an excellence award for achieving the highest grade of ninety-seven in Earth science in the entire eighth grade class.

Wrap Up:

"Thinking back on it, I sometimes have to shake my head at how far I have come," said Shirley. "But I wouldn't have been able to do it without my Heavenly Father and beloved earthly mother."

What will be her next high mountain to scale? Only time can answer that question, but one thing she is certain: whatever life brings next, she will whole-heartedly embrace it with all her might, for as she says, "No mountain will be high enough to hold you back, no wind will be strong enough to blow you down, when you are determined to reach your stars!"