Custom-made jeans spur a Superior student to help others
This is a story about how a pair of jeans changed a young woman's life. It starts three years ago, as Meagan Barnard neared the end of her freshman year at Superior High School and felt ready to conquer the world. "When I was thinking about my hi...
This is a story about how a pair of jeans changed a young woman's life.
It starts three years ago, as Meagan Barnard neared the end of her freshman year at Superior High School and felt ready to conquer the world.
"When I was thinking about my high school years, I was thinking about, you know, prom queen, home-coming queen," she said.
But a year was all she would have before her ideas about a normal high school experience turned upside down.
She awoke one morning with swelling in her right leg. It was gone the next day but returned. Barnard spent the next five months seeing doctors. In December of her sophomore year, they diagnosed her with lymphedema, an illness in which the lymph nodes in her right leg can't drain fluid adequately. Fluid goes in but doesn't come out.
"When ... the Mayo Clinic told me that it was not going away, that was when everything actually came clear to me that I was going to live with this for the rest of my life," Barnard said. "Everything about me changed."
She said she used to look down on students who wore sweatpants to school. But now that her leg was swollen, tight pants caused her pain.
"It was either look nice and have pain," she said, "or just be underdressed and not have to worry about my leg so much."
Family members say she never wanted to talk about her disease. Barnard stopped playing basketball because the running caused her leg to swell. She stopped dancing and twirling baton because the costumes revealed her leg. She even stopped hanging out so much with friends.
"I just kind of felt like, at 15 years old, my life was over," she said.
As her painful junior year faded into summer and summer into fall, Barnard began preparing for her senior year. Shopping for back-to-school clothes reminded her of her condition in every store.
"I've never been able to go and look for pants or look for bottoms," she said. "I always buy tons of shirts but I have nothing to wear them with."
Frustrated, she stayed up late one night searching the Internet for clothes that would fit. A Web site caught her attention: a company that made clothes for people with broken bones, amputees and for people with lymphedema. Her heart sank when she saw there were no clothes for young women on Cast Clothing Co.'s Web site. So she wrote to the company's president.
When Mike Harding, president and founder of the Palm Springs, Fla.-based business, read Barnard's plea, he knew he had to act.
"It was all about giving her something that she can feel good about," Harding said.
Harding asked Barnard what she wanted to wear. A few weeks later, she received a pair of custom-made jeans.
"When they sent me my first pair of jeans," she said, "it kind of made me realize that I can overcome things."
She started playing recreational basketball. She started coaching younger dancers at the studio where she used to dance. But one final hurdle stood in the way of graduating: a senior project.
Barnard wanted to learn more about her disease. Working with Cast Clothing, she decided to create a magazine that would provide the kind of information she had needed.
"Right now in the media, it's, 'Fit in. Look this way. Be beautiful.' And if you have an abnormality, you definitely don't fit that description," Barnard said. "I think that's pretty much why I started it, because ... I needed this tool to help me."
After working on the magazine for five months, she realized it wasn't enough.
"Learning about all of the things that I'm going to have to face if there isn't a cure scared me," she said. "So I was like, 'What if I threw a fundraiser?' "
Her benefit for lymphedema last month at Superior Middle School raised more than $3,000.
"It made her realize that she can make a difference, and that's made her feel like she has more of a place in this world," said Barnard's sister, Kaitlyn.
Barnard, now 18, says her journey has taught her to look for the positive in the most negative situations.
"I don't have cancer. I don't have something that's going to kill me," she said. "I do have something that has no cure. I don't know how I got it or if it will ever go away, but it could be a lot worse."