Undefeated

Katherine Klimitas ’11, artist, graphic designer, jewelry designer, and author
Katherine Klimitas ’11, artist, graphic designer, jewelry designer, and author

Young Alumna Katherine Klimitas ’11 (visual arts), artist, graphic designer, jewelry designer, and author, has faced adversity with courage, humor, and a spirit that cannot be defeated. Take a glimpse into her fascinating life.

Q: What do you want people to know about Osteogenesis Imperfecta and those living with it?

A: People with Osteogenesis Imperfecta have very weak bones that grow abnormally due to a lack of collagen. Basically, our bones don’t have the stuff that absorbs calcium to make strong, normal bone. People with OI also tend to have some hearing loss, loose ligaments and tendons, and are short in stature. The severity of these symptoms depends highly on the severity of the case of OI, which ranges from practically none at all to causing death by the age of two.

As important as all this science is, I think the most important thing for people to remember about people with OI is that we are not mentally retarded. OI causes no damage to our brains. I think people often assume that just because we are in wheelchairs or short of stature that we are not capable of thinking like they do (or in some cases, better). It gets extremely frustrating to be 23 years old and to be treated like a five-year-old in the middle of the mall or movie theater due to ignorance.

Q: What do you feel has been the hardest challenge for you?

A: Most people would think that the hardest challenge for someone with OI would be dealing with the physical pain that comes with it every day. I actually think that my greatest challenges came socially growing up. It’s hard to fit in no matter what you look like as a teenager, let alone be in a wheelchair and unable to do most of the activities your peers take part in. And of course, there’s nothing more you want than to fit in and be popular (especially for us girls). It’s very hard to do so when you can’t do the things your friends do and have an adult aide/nanny with you everywhere you do. There was often nothing more I wanted than to be able to go play soccer with my friends or not to have to have someone watching my every move all the time.

Q: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment?

A: Though I’ve won a few awards for my paintings, I think that my greatest accomplishment was probably something very “normal”—graduating college and starting/running my own business. I graduated summa cum laude from Loyola, something I worked very hard for, and immediately started KAK ART & Designs, L.L.C., after graduation. I do a lot of custom paintings, jewelry design, and graphic design for my clients, and I enjoy it. At times it’s a lot of work, but worth it. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and that, to me, is a major accomplishment.

Q: What keeps you motivated through the difficult times?

A: My parents (particularly my mother) have always been there to bring me back to reality any time I start feeling sorry for myself. Even with broken bones (depending on the severity of the break), I was very rarely allowed to skip school. Mom and Dad believed that I would learn in my own way to deal with the pain and get through it, and they were right. It’s no fun to be stuck at home while the world is still out there. With their motivation and help, I learned how to push myself and get through difficult moments.

Q: What inspired you to write your book, Looking Up?

A: Actually, my Loyola professors. And I think “pushed” would be a better word then “inspired”…LOL. At the beginning of our senior year, we were told we would have to do a final graphic design project to show off our talents. We were given free reign to do basically whatever we wanted, within reason, and the project had to be completed before our big show in March. My professors loudly hinted to me that they wanted me to do something that involved my unique perspective on life, literally and figuratively. Originally, I planned to do a series of posters, but that did not work out as well as I planned. I also toyed with the idea of doing a large-scale book so that the pictures of me were life size, but after researching printing costs and logistics, that option was quickly scratched.

I began writing little anecdotes around Christmas of 2010 and completed the first draft of the book by March 2011, in time for our show. I was told by multiple people that I should look into publishing it, that it was inspiring and creative, etc. After graduation, I did just that! Looking Up was officially published in November 2011 by Arthur Hardy Enterprises, Inc.

Q: What do you hope people take from it?

A: I hope that people see that a physical disability is often not a limitation, nor is it an excuse for laziness. To people with “disabilities,” remember that there are a lot of jobs in this world and something for everyone to do. There’s always another option then sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself. The same goes out to perfectly “normal” people. There is nothing that infuriates me more then to see a perfectly healthy person make excuse after excuse not to work. I work hard and my body is not normal. Along with that, I think it’s important for people to realize that people with disabilities are not useless, nor are they often stupid. A wheelchair does not equal mental retardation. I hope that this cures some of the ignorance in the world that causes staring, gaping, and ogling in public at people like us. It’s really not right.

Q: Where does your sense of humor come from and why is it important?

A: I see it this way: you can either laugh about it or cry about it, and laughing is a lot more fun. Again, I was taught never to feel sorry for myself, so I don’t…usually. Yes, there are times when I get achy and depressed, but they are not often. I choose to laugh about my life. In fact, I often break ribs laughing. I think it helps me maintain a positive attitude and keep going.

Q: What does your art (paintings, drawings, jewelry making) mean to you?

A: I started painting when I was about five and sold my first piece when I was 10. Art is my “thing.” Everyone has a thing growing up. Mine could never be soccer or baseball or running, and art was not only something I could do, but I found it was something I was good at and thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part, in grade school, I was better than my classmates at art, and that was a major boost in self-confidence for me. And when I figured out that my art could make money, I was totally sold.

Q: Why did you choose a career in graphic design?

A: I knew going into college that I wanted to stick to a career in art, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick with fine arts or do something else. Since I have limitations on how long I can paint and draw before I physically wear out, I knew that I would never be able to work at a fast enough pace to make any money for myself. Though I live with my parents, I still wanted to be as independent as I possibly could. Graphic design allows me to still have one foot in the art door while having the other foot in the prospering advertisement/commercial door. Though I don’t have the time to draw and paint as much as I’d like to sometimes, this is a good compromise for me.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I’m not sure yet. Everyone keeps asking if I’m going to write another book, and I keep telling them maybe, as soon as I sell the printed copies of the one I have. Right now I’m a freelancing graphic designer, doing mostly print work such as logos, business cards, brochures, posters, etc. I’m also doing some jewelry design and painting on the side when I have time. For the moment, I plan to continue that and see where it takes me!

To order a copy of Looking Up or to learn more about Klimitas, visit www.kakartnola.com or www.facebook.com/kakartnola

Read an excerpt from Looking Up.

View the complete summer 2012 issue of LOYNO.

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