As an award-winning business leader, world traveller, decorated athlete, humanitarian and best-selling author, Tracy Schmitt knows a thing or two about perseverance and living a limitless life. In her case, she opts for the term lim(B)itless, a cheeky reminder that she’s also a four-way amputee who shares her life story as tool to push others beyond their limits.
Recently, she spoke to business leaders in Toronto during YouAreUNLTD’s inaugural conference, UNLTD Live! Dubbed ‘Unstoppable Tracy,’ she breaks down barriers, both personally and professionally. With her upbeat attitude, humour and warmth, Schmitt is the kind of woman you feel like you’ve know forever, but want to know better. She’s a doer—bringing out the best in others because, in part, she doesn’t take no for an answer.
It’s an attitude she credits to values instilled by her mom. Schmitt, who was born without her limbs, told UNLTD Live participants the story of her first day of kindergarten. She attended school in the 1970s at a time where the word “accommodation” didn’t exist. She recalls approaching school that first day with her mom at her side and being greeted by the principal, who was apologetic, but adamant that the school wasn’t the right place for someone like Schmitt. The assumption was that she couldn’t complete simple tasks, like tying her shoes, that her needs would usurp those of the other students, that she would require too much time and attention. That she would need help. That she would be a burden.
Instead of backing down or getting angry, her mom tried a different tact—counter opposition—to get the principal onside: “How about you let Tracy try for one week?”
She broke him down, but he warned that if her daughter couldn’t pull her weight, she’d be out. During first recess he searched for Schmitt and noticed she hadn’t made it outside. He assumed she couldn’t get it together to join her classmates in the schoolyard so he went looking for her, assuming his point had been made. Instead, he found 5-year-old Schmitt helping her classmates tie their shoelaces. None of the other 30 kids could tie theirs and by the time she tied them all, recess was over.
“At 5-years-old, I realized the thrill of making a difference for others.”
“How come the only girl with no hands was the only girl required to be able to tie her shoelaces?” asks Schmitt, who, in helping her classmates, was adhering to her mom’s parting words as dropped her daughter at school that day: “’Tracy, it’s really important you and everybody is included. Nobody left behind,’” recalls Schmitt. “At 5-years-old, I realized the thrill of making a difference for others.”
It’s Schmitt’s guiding force. She refuses to be left behind and, as a speaker and business leader, she shares her insights so others can make the most of their lives, too.
“I realize the value of busting barriers,” she told a captivated audience UNLTD Live! Schmitt used her keynote to inspire participants to think differently about aging, to see it as a time of opportunity with the potential for transformation and wonder.
“I know there is a place for every one of us… no matter our age.”
“Turning 50, as a person with a disability, I am experiencing a whole bunch of new variables in my life,” says Schmitt. “But I know there is a place for every one of us… no matter our age.”
Rather than using aging as an excuse to slow down or think of it as a barrier, she encourages the opposite. She acknowledges that given her physical condition should she have decided to take to the couch and lived a quiet life, people would have understood. “The worst thing in the world is a good excuse. I could be limited by excuses and no one would judge me.”
Instead, she constantly challenges herself (and has the credentials to prove it). As an athlete, that meant finding solutions that would help her excel at the things she wanted to do, including downhill para-skiing, World Cup sailing, deep sea diving and mountain climbing.
In turn, Schmitt was the winner of the 2017 Robert W. Jackson Award (founder of the Canadian Paralympics), a 2017 Ontario Premier Award, a 2017 C-SASIL Lifetime Achievement Award and a 2018 Women of Essence Global Award Nominee.
Plus, as an entrepreneur, she operates a thriving consulting business and has written a book. Schmitt, like so many others her age, isn’t slowing down. In fact, professionally, she’s at the top of her game. In 2018, she travelled to more than 20 countries, sharing her personal story, positive attitude and business insights to audiences eager to open their minds and take their personal or professional lives to new levels. Even Oprah’s a fan.
Schmitt outlines her philosophy in her book Unstoppable You (Cracking the LIM[B]ITLESS Secret) and sums up her ethos in three points:
- Exceed uncertainty
- Embrace possibility
- Earn independence
“Being uncertain is no excuse for inaction,” says Schmitt, who encourages people to get out and try new things at any age. Don’t avoid failure. As she puts it, she would never have learned to ski or to stay in a boat without a whole lot of trial and error.
“When I was sailing I had to get my head out of the boat. When I could see the wind coming my way, I could balance in the boat,“ says Schmitt, adding her approach can be applied to individuals, as well as to businesses looking to break out of the same old, take on challenges and capitalize on market opportunities.
“See what is around you. Head for the winds, don’t avoid them—that’s going where those opportunities are,” says Schmitt, referring to the massive changes, challenges and possibilities presented by an aging demographic looking for products and solutions to help them age powerfully, on their terms.
In the meantime, Schmitt continues to live life on her own terms, setting new goals (she recently climbed a 25-storey building in downtown Toronto just because she wanted to try), sharing her wisdom and showing others what it means to have an unlimited attitude.
“I was lucky enough to be born lim(b)itless… I don’t know why, but I do know I was born exactly the way I was supposed to be,” says Schmitt, who adds: “We’re all aging and I know there is a place for each and every single one of us every day.”