Standing on Faith
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“Standing on Faith,” New Era, June 2004, 21

Standing on Faith

Kacey McCallister stands out. He’s the only person in his family with red hair. His laugh and can’t-get-me-down attitude are contagious. His smile has been outlawed at night in six states because it’s so bright.

The handsome 17-year-old is broad-shouldered and built like a rock. He recently graduated from McNary High School, where he stood out athletically in cross country, track, and his beloved wrestling. In March he took second in his weight class at the state wrestling tournament.

But none of that is what makes this priest in the Keizer Ward, Keizer Oregon Stake, so remarkable. Kacey really stands out for two reasons. First is his unwavering testimony that God has a purpose for him. Second is that, without his prosthetic legs, he technically can’t stand at all.

Modern Miracles

Kacey doesn’t remember the accident that took his legs and changed his life. He remembers attending a sacrament meeting as a six-year-old with his cousins in rural Utah. He remembers waiting to cross the highway between the church and his grandmother’s house. And he remembers waking up in the hospital—without his legs.

His parents, on the other hand, probably wish they could forget. As they waited for an 18-wheeler to pass so the family could cross, Kacey suddenly darted into the highway to catch up with his brother, who had crossed moments earlier. Kacey almost made it.

“He shouldn’t have lived,” says Julene McCallister, Kacey’s mom.

“He had zero blood pressure,” his father, Bernie, says. “He lost massive amounts of blood.”

But then the miracles began. Amazingly, local paramedics had recently learned emergency procedures for treating critically injured children. And despite stormy December weather, Kacey made it—first by plane, then by helicopter—to one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation, where the medical staff was able to save him.

“It’s most definitely a miracle, a modern miracle,” says Brother McCallister.

“There’s some purpose Heavenly Father has him here for,” Sister McCallister says. “In the hospital, the Holy Ghost told me, ‘Sit back and watch Heavenly Father work.’ We’ve been watching the miracles ever since.”

Meeting Every Challenge

Taking second place at the state wrestling meet without legs was a challenge. But so was learning to walk on prosthetics, and doing a hilly paper route in a wheelchair, and completing a 50-mile hike on his hands.

Kacey can’t remember a time when there weren’t challenges. But if there’s anything he’s learned from wrestling, it’s that eating the mat isn’t any fun. He’d much rather come out on top.

The first year Kacey wrestled, he won only once. Some thought he should give up. Others doubted he’d ever be very competitive. “I wasn’t very good at first,” he laughs. “But I stuck with it and got a little better every year.” After years of hard work and a lot of time in the weight room, he won 39 matches during his final year and lost only one.

“He’s finished everything I’ve seen him start,” says Kacey’s wrestling coach, Tony Oliff. “Kacey’s got that attitude. He’s upbeat, and a lot of kids lean on it. He’s positive about life and fun to be around.”

A Headlock on Discouragement

It’s rare to see Kacey discouraged. Ask his family about the last time he was down, and there’s a long pause.

“There was that one time,” says 13-year-old Kirt, Kacey’s brother. “Oh, no, never mind.”

“Oh yeah …” begins older brother, Keith, 19. “Wait, no.”

Finally his mom remembers one. “He was discouraged about having to ride the handicap bus when he was little,” she recalls. “He’d rather wheel to school through the snow.”

Kacey admits that sometimes discouragement tries to get him in a reverse body lock, but he’s never been pinned. “There have been times I’ve imagined what it would be like to run and jump. But being discouraged about it wouldn’t help much. I still wouldn’t be able to do those things.

“When I start getting discouraged, it’s usually when I haven’t been reading my scriptures or saying my prayers, so I start again, and by the next day everything is better.”

One scripture in particular has helped Kacey take down challenges. “Ever since I was little, my favorite scripture has been 1 Nephi 3:7. If the Lord says something needs to be done, there’s always, always a way to fulfill it. We just have to find it. That’s been my motivation.”

Never Give Up

Driven by challenges, buoyed by a good attitude, and strengthened by faith, Kacey has been able to do just about anything he’s ever wanted to. Not having legs doesn’t keep him from playing roller hockey with the priests quorum (he laces the skates onto his hands). He gets around the kitchen by pulling himself up on the countertops. He climbs trees, acts in school plays (where he “lost his legs” during a battle scene in Shakespeare’s Richard III), and hopes to do a marathon soon.

“After a while you realize he can do everything you can do and more,” says classmate and fellow priests quorum member, Chris Nelson.

Along the way he has surprised everyone. “I didn’t think you could play baseball without legs,” laughs Eric Goesch, a friend and quorum member. “Pitchers hated pitching to him; there’s no strike zone.”

“One time we had to go down two long flights of stairs,” recalls Brother McCallister. “He looked at it and took the whole thing in his wheelchair by himself. I thought, ‘Huh. I didn’t know you could do that.’”

“He surprises me every day,” says Whitney, Kacey’s 14-year-old sister.

“That’s because he fits under your bed,” laughs their dad, who explains, “He likes to scare her.”

Different Isn’t Bad

How would you answer this question if it were on your next test: How does a six-year-old survive being hit by an 18-wheeler traveling at highway speed? Or better yet, why?

If life is a test, then this is one of Kacey’s story problems. Your test may be different, but his answer may help you.

“We came to earth to be tested,” he says. “The point of coming was to grow and progress. I know it’s with the Lord’s help that I survived because there’s no way a six-year-old kid is going to stand up to a semi. Heavenly Father has a purpose for me here. There’s more for me to learn and more for me to do for others.”

Kacey has tried to live his life accordingly, looking for ways to grow and for people to help. He has spoken to youth groups and elementary school children about overcoming challenges. He has helped make a difference for people with disabilities in his community, fighting for the right to compete in sports. And he has tried to be a good example. His friends say almost everyone at McNary High knows him, and most people who know him know he’s a member of the Church.

“His faith means a great deal to him,” says Coach Oliff. “His family has strong values. That’s a great building block for a good kid. The fact that he takes those values seriously is a big asset. I’ve learned a great deal from Kacey.”

But Kacey characteristically shrugs off the praise because he understands he’s not better than anyone. He’s different, but that’s the way God made us.

“Heavenly Father knows us and loves us. I know He has a plan for each of us individually,” Kacey says. “Each of us has different talents that will help move the kingdom forward. His plan for me is different from everyone else’s. I don’t know everything I’m supposed to do yet. But He’ll help me figure out the details.”

[Challenges]

President James E. Faust

“I am persuaded that these extraordinary challenges are, as the Savior himself said, that ‘the works of God should be made manifest’ (John 9:3). How these challenges are met can often be the expression of the very essence of the gospel of Christ.”
—President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “The Works of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 54.

Photography by Adam C. Olson and courtesy of the McCallisters, except as noted; photography of medals by Christina Smith.

Though he lost both legs at age 6, Kacey McCallister has enjoyed participating in cross country (opposite page), track (left), wrestling, and other activities. His positive attitude earned him the opportunity to carry the 2002 winter Olympic torch in Oregon (below).

At McNary High, Kacey is known for his friendliness off the mat (top) and his determination on it (below; photograph courtesy of Olivia Nisbet and The Oregonian).

Kacey enjoys a challenge. After being carried for the first few miles of his Scout troop’s 50-mile (80 km) hike, he decided he’d rather hike it himself (opposite page, top), wearing through a pair of gloves and four pairs of pants.

He isn’t bashful either. Kacey made regular appearances on the sidelines as McNary High School’s mascot while his older brother, Keith, appeared on the field (opposite page, bottom).

Kacey appreciates the support and love of his family (below, left to right), Whitney; Kirt; mom, Julene; Keith; Kyle; and dad, Bernie.

Kacey doesn’t know all the reasons God spared his life, so he tries to do the best he can at everything he can, including school plays (above and left) and roller hockey with his quorum (below).