No Fear

Alex Leon

Wind, rain or cold doesn't faze Kyle Mersola on the golf course. His

swing might be off, his ball might spend more time in the rough than on

the greens, and he might shoot in three digits.

But no matter what the elements bring, the sun shines brightly every

day for Mersola, a 15-year-old Village Christian freshman who plays for

the Crusaders golf team.

After all, Mersola is lucky just to be alive.

Weighing a tiny 2 pounds, 3 ounces as the result of being born three

months premature, all Mersola has to do is look in the mirror to be

reminded of what he has had to live with his entire life.

The medical name of Mersola's birth defect is Treacher Collins

Syndrome, a rare and very complex genetic condition involving

underdevelopment of the structures of the head and face, according to

literature provided by the Treacher Collins Foundation. His condition was

not caused by his premature birth.

Over his 15 years, the easy-going Burbank resident has undergone 20

surgeries, five of them major, involving his face, ears and teeth. But to

hear it from him, he is just like any other kid at Village Christian.

"I know I'm different in terms of the way I look, but I am able to do

anything every other kid can do. Except maybe play tackle football and

surf. But I may be able to do those after my next surgery this summer,"

Mersola said. "The surgeries are not something I look forward to, but if

they will help me in the long run, I'll do whatever it takes."

To the credit of Village Christian administrators, staff and student

body, Mersola is among the most popular students on the Sun Valley

campus. He says no one has shunned him because of the way he looks.

Instead, he is embraced because of the way he is.

As a kindergartener 10 years ago, Mersola was chosen to be the mascot

for the Crusaders football team. He proudly attended every game,

sometimes sitting on the shoulders of players or students to get a better

view from the sidelines.

Just walking on campus from one class to another, Mersola is in

constant arm waving motion as he responds to a constant chorus of one

"Hi, Kyle," greeting after another from groups of students.

While Treacher Collins Syndrome is not the kind of birth defect that

would keep Mersola from leading a normal life, according to literature,

Kyle's mom Cyndi said what Village Christian has done for her son, and

what he has done for himself, gives him confidence to tackle anything.

"When Kyle tested at Village before his first year there, the teacher

who tested him wasn't sure if it was a good idea for him to attend that

type of school," she said. "But instead of hiding behind what makes him

different, he has gotten encouragement to be his own person and I am very

proud of him for that.

"It just goes to show once again that judging someone on the outside,

without taking the time to get to know the person, is a shame when it

comes to Kyle."

*

Tiger Woods or Jaromir Jagr. Kyle Mersola doesn't know who he wants to

be today. But he is not different in that regard. Any kid his age goes

through days and weeks of loving one thing, and then it's on to something

else.

But if he had to pick one sport that he fancies more than another

right now, it would have to be golf. Since he participated in a golf

clinic at DeBell Municipal Golf Course last summer, Mersola has taken to

greens and roughs like he has played on them his entire life.

"Kyle is a good player for someone who just started playing golf, and

he never gives up. That's the quality I admire in him the most," said

Village golf Coach Richard Contrares. "He has a great attitude and looks

as playing as an alternate on the team as a challenge."

Forget golf, getting through life has been a challenge for Mersola.

All it takes is a lengthy stare from someone who doesn't know him, or

finger pointing and laughter from young children who don't understand, to

remind him that he is different.

But exceptional might be a better word to describe Mersola. He has a

3.8 grade-point average with several advanced placement classes on his

schedule.

And he wants other people with birth defects and handicaps to know

that if he can accomplish things without fear, then so can they.

"I'm not big, I have to wear a device that covers up the tracheotomy

hole in my throat that allows me to speak. I wear braces and I have aids

that help me to hear," said Mersola.

"Otherwise, I'm a perfect human specimen. But maybe God has a

different plan for me.

"Maybe he wants me to get out there and do things for those who can't

or are afraid to. If I just keep doing as much as I can. Maybe it can

help others get out there and try to live life like I do."

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