By Martha Hewett @MARTHA_HEWETT
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Videographer / director: Jacki Huntingdon
Producer: Martha Hewett, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Misty Diaz, 34, was born with Myelomeningocele - a form of Spina Bifida which affects the spinal canal at birth.
Misty, based in Los Angeles, was born with a severe form of the condition; her spine was completely exposed and some of her organs were on the outside of her body.
Rather than let this debilitate her, Misty has made a name for herself in both modelling and adaptive fitness and is now using her experiences to help others with similar conditions.
Misty told Barcroft TV: “Fitness allows me to feel like everyone else.
“No one is judging anyone in the fitness community, and everyone is encouraging one another.”
Growing up, Misty felt isolated having not met anyone else with her condition: “I didn’t meet anybody who had Spina Bifida until I was in my twenties.”
She added: “You don’t see anybody who looks similar to you so you’re thinking, what did I do?”
Although Misty’s parents gave her a normal childhood, her disability made life difficult for her.
“It affected me a lot because I didn’t know how to handle people who were bullying me.”
Misty’s life took a turn for the worse after underdoing her 28th operation - there were complications which resulted in her taking high doses of painkillers.
“I was on so much morphine and everything was just like a cloud – I was in a haze.
“I was watching things slip away from my life.”
Having almost lost everything, including her dog which she could no longer afford, Misty needed to hit rock bottom until things could change for the better.
Starting with a walk to her mailbox, followed by a walk around the block, Misty began to regain control of her life.
She explained: “Slowly but surely I started seeing the world differently.”
Misty got into fitness after seeing a Ronald McDonald 5K charity walk advertised on a billboard.
After completing the 5K walk, Misty took on a 5k run in a purple tutu and bright red lipstick.
The rest is now history and Misty has completed over 250 races worldwide – and she even got her “ride or die” dog back.
Misty joined Instagram and soon realised she wanted to use her platform to educate and help others.
She now has over 14,000 followers and created the movement, #SpinaBeautiful – a body positive page for those with her condition.
“I thought I’m beautiful, they are beautiful – let’s add the two together and create the hashtag.”
This is where Misty found her another calling – mentoring others going through similar struggles.
“It just goes to show you that you can take anything and make the slightest adjustment and change the world.”
A young woman who is grateful for this is Bryce Thygerson.
Bryce, 21, was diagnosed with Spina Bifida at birth but her condition began to worsen when she hit teenage years.
Bryce said: “I was totally independent walking on my own with a little bit of a limp, and then when I had surgery in 2013, I ended up with a spinal headache and I have used crutches ever since.”
Since Bryce has had to use a wheelchair and crutches, she has had a crisis in confidence, which is when Misty came to help.
“I met Misty after I had the bad surgery, she gave me the confidence to have crutches because I thought my life was over at that point,” Bryce continued.
“She told me to get really cute crutches, they were hot pink!”
The two women have kept in contact and Misty helps Bryce whenever she needs some advice or a confidence boost.
Describing Misty as “awesome”, Bryce credits her for giving her “more opportunities to do more outgoing things.”
“I love seeing Misty – just to know you have somebody there and that you do have a support system.” Bryce said.
For Misty, being able to help people like Bryce is why she created the #SpinaBeautiful movement to begin with.
She said: “It’s a blessing to be able to show people you can adapt, and you can push through.”