Christine Salamone, 43, is a tough cookie. She gave birth to her now grown boys at home, completely naturally. “And I can say from experience that I deal with the pain of childbirth every day,” Christine says.
This is the side that Christine usually hides. All that most other Meramec students see of her is a petite, smiling woman in a wheelchair, with her service dog Peetie pulling her from class to class. But the real Christine is a powerful woman who has dealt with more than her fair share of pain, abuse, and depression.
As a child, Christine says that she was abused by her stepfather. She helped prosecute him and then admitted herself into the hospital. After originally studying for years to be a nurse, Christine says she left college without a degree. “I dropped out three months shy of graduating because I had a patient die,” she says. It was shortly after this that Christine was diagnosed with small nerve fiber neuropathy disease. The disease affects Christine’s mobility, energy, and even her eyesight. She says the diagnosis led to another season of depression in her life.
“I don’t want people to see the chair; I want them to see me,” says Christine. She says her husband also worried about her using a chair because it would hinder her talents. However, Christine finds ways to let her talents to teach, create, and tell stories shine through.
“I’m more in touch with who I am and what life is about,” she says. “I have to monitor my energy.” She picks up her Pepsi Zero bottle to help illustrate. “I have a limited amount of energy each day, and I need to decide where to use it.” Any given day Christine chooses to devote her energy to things like driving long distances to come to class, leading one of her study groups, or creating works of art – like the giant Easter Bunny toss game she made for the Meramec Student Activity’s Council Egg Hunt.
Christine says she believes in being invested in her school. She began attending Meramec in 2006 to achieve a degree in Human Services. After the first meeting of her first class, “I caught the bug,” Christine says. “It’s a bug of worthiness.” During the time that she has been on campus, Christine has voluntarily helped tutor her fellow students in study groups every semester. She also started the Human Services Club, petitioned (and succeeded) in having electric doors installed in the Meramec gym, as well as brought attention to previously overlooked drainage issues in the handicapped accessible restrooms.
“I was never a good student growing up,” says Christine. But after attending Meramec and seeing her grades take off, she says she realized her potential. “I’m a 4.0 student,” she says. “I don’t say it to brag…It’s surreal.”
In May Christine and Peetie will walk the stage to receive a hard-earned diploma in Human Services. Christine has been granted several academic scholarships, and most recently, the Chancellor’s Transfer Scholarship from Meramec. “I don’t try to be a role model, but what’s happened to me has happened for a reason. And if people can see me succeed while feeling like I’m in a trash compactor, then that will give them hope.”
Christine says that the downside of many scholarships, including the Chancellor’s Transfer Scholarship, is that they require the awarded student be a full-time student with a minimum of 12 credit hours a semester. With her condition, Christine says this is impossible. “It doesn’t come easy. It’s 10 times harder for me to study than anybody else.” It took Christine four years to achieve her Associates’, and even that was a stretch for her. In spite of the great honor, Christine is unable to accept the $7,000 transfer scholarship because it has no alternate options for disabled students.
Christine has been accepted at UMSL, and says she plans to start attending in the fall. “Leaving Meramec will be hard,” she says quietly, with a glimmer of tears in her eyes. “[The UMSL] campus isn’t as accessible as this one. And it’s 70 miles away from me…it’s a hell of a drive.”
Christine says that it’s possible she may end up getting to another plateau in her life, only to find that she still can’t achieve her goals. But she chooses not to dwell on that possibility. “There’s so much in life and I don’t want to miss out,” she says. “Every day I like to feel like I accomplish something. I will push to get something accomplished.”
She says that an 81-year-old woman once told her: “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle—but your plate is just too big.” Christine says that one thing she’s learned from her experiences is that “When it rains, it pours, but after the sun there’s always a rainbow.”
Christine smiles and pats Peetie. “I live in the enchanted forest,” she says. “I live at the end of the rainbow.”