Hear This: Li Shares A Message Of Hope And Inspiration
Sometimes, Zion Li is worried about using his voice.
“I can get pretty loud in my classes, and sometimes I can shout out things when I get excited,” Li said. “But I’m working on that and I think I’m getting better.”
Some things, though, are still worth shouting from the rooftop: such as Li’s message about “special abilities.”
A 15-year-old sophomore at Stevenson who is on the spectrum, Li says that he doesn’t consider his unique challenges a disability.
“I found out that it’s not a disability at all. It’s a special ability,” Li said of being on the spectrum. “That’s what I want (other kids to know). I think God wants to make us all different, and that’s OK. Everyone is different and that’s what makes us special.”
Li certainly has a special story....a "Stories Of Stevenson" kind of story.
When he was 3 years old, he was stumbling and suddenly had a hard time walking. That’s when his parents, Zach and Hong, were first given the diagnosis that he is on the spectrum.
“It was like the end of the world, not being able to walk. I remember that,” Li said. “But I didn’t give up. I didn’t lose hope, and basically, I got to where I am now.”
And now, at Stevenson, Li is thriving.
There were times last year as a freshman that Li says that he felt like people were picking on him for being different. But he sought support and comfort from his parents, trusted adults such as his favorite teacher Ms. Cabarello, and his friends.
And he got involved in multiple clubs, such as Badminton, Chess, Green Team, Best Buddies and Archery, which created an even bigger friend circle for him.
His learning curve in archery was nothing short of amazing.
“My mom told me that I needed to be in more clubs, so I just showed up to archery as a freshman,” Li said. “I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. So now, I tell other kids, ‘just try some new things, maybe you’ll be kind of good.’”
Li is more than good at archery. In his very first tournament last year, never having even tried archery before he got to Stevenson, Li snagged a second place, shooting a 283.
He went on that season to win two tournament titles in the freshmen boys division, and also got one perfect score.
“Some people say that I just have a special talent for it,” Li said while smiling shyly at Ms. Caballero, who joined him for this interview and, at times, couldn’t hold back tears.
Caballero, the sponsor for archery and pictured left, is also Li’s physical welfare teacher and leans on him to help her set up for their first-period class each day. He also helps lead the warm-ups, and was intent on making sure at a recent class that everyone was doing their prescribed number of pushups.
“Zion is just so kind and fun and loving and supportive and curious, and there is a lesson to learn from him,” Caballero said. “You can achieve anything you want if you try hard enough. Nothing should ever stop you.
“Like with archery…all it took was just working on his focus a little bit and he was getting bullseyes every time. It was amazing because when he started doing that…I saw so much hope in his eyes.”
Caballero quickly made Li an integral part of the archery team. He was the only freshman on varsity last year.
“He stood out because he came into archery wanting to know everything about it,” Caballero said. “And now he’s very, very good. He grew so much in one year.”
Li has grown immeasurably since that diagnosis more than a decade ago.
He says that he is proud. He hopes that others read his story with hope.
“If you can believe in yourself, you can push through,” Li said. “Just don’t give up because you are different. If you keep doing the right thing, things will come out right for you.”