"I'd Better Represent"
By Kari Croop
Karen Korb was the No. 1 women's wheelchair tennis player in the United States.
Karin Korb (M.S. '03) was an active do-gooder long before she'd devoted her adult life to lifting others up, the kind of person who, as a child, invited the homeless to her house for meals, became the first altar girl in the state of New Jersey and even thought about becoming a nun. But when she broke her back at 17 while practicing a routine gymnastics vault and lost the use of both of her legs, it cemented the notion that her life would have a special purpose.
"If you have a platform, I believe you have a social responsibility to facilitate change," explains Korb, who went on to become the No. 1-ranked women's wheelchair tennis player in the United States and use her notoriety as a springboard to promote physical and spiritual wellness as a public speaker and motivational leader. "And you know what? If I'm the only person with a discernable disability that you will ever meet in your life, I'd better represent."
And represent she does, cranking out workweeks that are anything but typical and sage insights that inspire her listeners to re-think the way they see their own lives - and their place in the world. Still, she doesn't consider herself to be all that extraordinary.
"People are fascinated with my level of energy somehow, but I'm just living my life. How I choose to relate to it is my experience," she says. "I am so often simply the person who reminds you of something that you have always known; you just forgot about it. I'm simply saying it in a way that reminds you of the goodness in your experience rather than the way you were looking at it."
These days, Korb is pouring her infectious positivity and seemingly limitless energy into "Divability: Mine, Yours, Ours," an organization she founded to empower young women and girls with disabilities. Activities range from supervised sleepovers, in which girls open up and share their struggles via overnight chat sessions, to confidence-building movement workshops with the Atlanta-based Full Radius Dance troupe, where Korb herself is a seasoned company member.
"With all our activities, we ask girls to ask themselves, 'What are you radiating, and does the inside match the outside?'" explains Korb, who sees dance as a form of both physical and artistic expression. "As women with disabilities, we are not taught how to get in touch with our bodies. I want girls to understand how amazing their bodies are."
Korb also works with severely disabled military veterans who've suffered traumatic brain injuries, limb loss and paralysis through partnerships with the Lima Foxtrot Program and the U.S. Paralympic Military Program, and actively volunteers with terminally ill patients at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home hospice in Atlanta.
At first, Korb's hospice work was a way to honor her father, who died in 2005 of a rare form of cancer. But the patients she's met - and the profound insights they've shared with her in their final moments -have helped her see her own journey in a whole new light.
"The work I do there is sacred, but there's a duality to it," she says. "To honor life the way I do is to also honor death the way I do - and everything in between."