FARGO — The losses for Elizabeth Galvan started early in life.
As a toddler, she lost her hearing due to repeated illnesses. At age 3, she lost her right arm after it became caught in an old-fashioned wringer washer. As an adult, she’s slowly, steadily losing her vision to a condition known as Usher Syndrome.
But don’t tell Galvan she can’t do something, because she’ll find a way.
“The challenges are definitely there, without a doubt, but that’s how you learn, that’s how you grow,” she said during an interview with The Forum, with the help of an American Sign Language interpreter named Dixie Duncan.
Galvan, 39, played volleyball, basketball and participated in track and field in high school at the North Dakota School for the Deaf in Devils Lake. She’s entered pageants and modeled.
Now, the 15-year Walmart employee and mother of a teenage daughter is taking on bodybuilding — the figure category, in particular.
Her coach, Kathy Kemper, was apprehensive at first, because she’d never worked with anyone like Galvan. But that faded after just a short time in the gym.
“She just took it head on and was able to do anything I had her try,’ Kemper said.
Up until last week, Galvan was training for the NPC Upper Midwest Championships being held at the Avalon Events Center in Fargo on March 23.
A serious bout of pneumonia that landed her in the hospital for several days has forced her to withdraw. But in her trademark positive style, she’s already planning for the next competitions, in late spring and summer.
It’s just one more example of an obstacle that she views as opportunity — to inspire.
“If I can do it, certainly anybody can do it. Anybody that has struggles or difficulties, it can be done. And I’m just proof of that,” Galvan said.
‘Part of who I am’
Galvan remembers clearly bits and pieces of the accident in 1982 that claimed her arm when she was three.
Her parents had divorced, and she was with her mother the day it happened.
Her mom wasn’t watching her at the time, she said, and young Elizabeth somehow got her arm caught between the wringers of the washing machine.
It was her mom’s boyfriend who found her. Because she’d been there so long, circulation was cut off to her lower arm.
Doctors tried to save her arm but would later amputate it in order to save her life.
Because of the neglect, likely due to mental illness, her mother lost custody and her father received full custody of her, Galvan said, while an aunt took on the role of mother.
Galvan still hopes to develop a mother-daughter relationship with her mom someday, and said she doesn’t want to judge her for her actions when she didn’t have full mental capacity.
She also feels no embarrassment that she has one arm, is deaf and can see with only tunnel vision.
“This is part of who I am,” Galvan said.
Galvan never let the loss of her arm keep her from doing anything.
In high school, she wanted to be a lifeguard, but was told no because she needed two hands.
“Well, that didn’t go over with me, and so I took classes and I proved them wrong,” Galvan said.
The same was true when doctors said she’d never be the same after having back surgery following a car accident. Galvan saw that as a challenge to overcome.
Building muscle through weight training has helped her feel stronger and more youthful than ever.
Kemper is coaching her on poses required for figure competition and has made equipment adaptations so Galvan can work both sides of her body.
“Otherwise, I’d have one big arm and one small arm, and you lose that nice ‘V’ in the back,” Galvan said.
The two communicate mostly via texting. When posing on stage in competition, Kemper and others will stand in areas where they can signal Galvan to turn, since she can’t hear the announcer’s instructions.
Galvan doesn’t make excuses and takes her role as a motivator seriously. If she doesn’t give up, maybe others won’t either.
“There’s so many people out there who say you can’t, but you can. You really can," Galvan said.