Introducing Mary Jane Brantall
Born in Campbell River, British Columbia in 1967, Mary Jane has a genetic disorder known as Apert Syndrome. This condition causes abnormal development of the skull as well as deformities of the hands and feet. Over her life, Mary Jane has had more than 100 surgeries; the first when she was just six months old. Doctors opened the sides of her skull to allow her brain to grow.
When she was three, Mary Jane, her mother and her six siblings moved to Middleton, Nova Scotia. From grade primary to age 16, she was bullied, and physically and emotionally abused by fellow students and teachers. Her mother fought hard to keep her in school, and did everything she could to protect her daughter. “I had a rough life, but I was raised in a loving home,” says Mary Jane. “My mom has been my rock, my hero, my heart and soul.”
At age 15, Mary Jane underwent a craniofacial surgery. When she returned to school, no one recognized her at first. The kids were shocked to see her new look, but the tormenting didn’t stop. She left public school when she was 16.
After taking a couple of courses and working as a chambermaid at a local hotel, Mary Jane decided she wanted to do something with her life. She made a bucket list of things to do before turning 25 that included getting her license, owning her own home, getting married, doing something spectacular and winning the lottery. Although Mary Jane never married or won the lottery, she was a homeowner for 15 years and a member of the Special Olympics team!
She first competed in bowling and floor hockey, but switched to track and field after being injured. She also tried cross country skiing, despite hating winter and when she attended the World Games in Anchorage, Alaska, she won a gold medal! “The experience taught me to accept the way I am and others too. I made a lot of friends.”
The first time Mary Jane attended a Special Olympics event, she noticed no athletes were speaking. She went to the organizer to find out why. Soon after, she was asked to speak at the Special Olympics Sport Celebrity Festival, where she wrote and delivered a speech to 500 attendees. “I wanted to encourage others like me to do more than people give them credit for,” she says. Over the next number of years, Mary Jane spoke at many events (including one in Toronto), helping to inspire others to also make their dreams come true.
Mary Jane came to Northwood in March 2015, after her mom suggested she needed more support with daily living. “My attitude is to be happy, strong and honest,” she says. “I control my life with the support I need. I have my mind and I don’t want to be told otherwise.” Mary Jane has a new bucket list that includes getting her GED. “I want to show people I can do it and that I can learn. I love learning.”