I Was That Person No one Thought Would Amount to Anything – Video Interview with Ellie Heiden

Last Summer, my 11 year-old daughter, Eliza, was diagnosed with dyseidetic dyslexia. A form of dyslexia where she has a solid understanding of phonics and can read, but her brain has trouble re-visualizing words as an integrated whole. We have been on a steep and sometimes frustrating learning curve as we’ve tried to figure out all that this means and what kind of assistance she needs.

After hearing about Eliza’s diagnosis, a good friend of mine felt inspired to introduce us to someone who faced a similar challenge.

Meet Ellie Heiden. Age 20. Beautiful outside. And inside. In fact, her beauty on the inside will blow you away.

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Eliza and I will be forever grateful we met Ellie. She too has dyslexia. But her story changed our perspective, our understanding of dyslexia, and our hope for Eliza’s future.

If you have a learning challenge of any kind, I encourage you to not only hear, but feel what Ellie has to say. She is a living example of the truth Jesus told Moroni when he said, “I will make weak things become strong unto those who humble themselves before me” (Ether 12:27).

When Ellie was young, her classmates were very cruel to her. She would come home from school with bruises on her knees because kids had been kicking her. They would spit on her, call her stupid, refuse to be friends with her. Her story will break your heart. She wanted desperately to be good at something. Anything.

So she started to run. She invited other kids to play tag with her. And her goal? Never get caught. After weeks of playing tag, the other kids said to her, “Ellie, we don’t want to play anymore. Because we can never tag you!” Goal accomplished. And that was the beginning of Ellie’s running career.

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Ellie went on to hold 12 state track titles while running for Kamiakin High School in Washington state. 17 medals in all. She was even named Female Athlete of the Year. This girl is fast.

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When coaches started talking to her about running competitively on a collegiate level, she was ready. But to be accepted into an NCAA school, she couldn’t take any special ed classes. All classes had to be general curriculum, and she had to do well.

With the help of amazing teachers and mentors, Ellie took all the classes she needed, and scored high enough on the ACT to be accepted academically into BYU, where she received a track scholarship to run for the university.

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One year later she felt promptings to serve a mission and was called to the Eugene, Oregon mission. Her first day there she was asked to wear a Mandarin Chinese name tag, and start teaching in Mandarin. With no previous language training.

Daunting for someone who has dyslexia! But as you will see from the interview, she put her absolute trust in the Lord and in his ability to turn weakness into strength.

During one of her first teaching appointments, Ellie’s companion, who was fluent in Mandarin, spoke in English now and then so Ellie could understand. After the discussion Ellie thanked her for “throwing in a few English words so she could follow the conversation.” Her companion replied, “I didn’t speak a single word of English during that discussion.”

Ellie was blessed again and again to understand and learn a language God asked her to learn. True to his promise, He provided a way (1 Nephi 3:7).

Ellie helps us see, no matter what kind of challenge we face, we can make the Lord a part of it.

At the time of this interview, Ellie was home recovering from a surgery that interrupted her mission. She will be returning to the field at the end of this month. Mandarin speaking.

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With every bump in the road, Ellie shows us if we love God, He will cause all things to work for our good (Romans 8:28). A medical leave certainly wasn’t what Ellie hoped for, but this setback allowed her to meet Eliza, who in turn, will introduce her to you.

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There has been a tightness growing in my heart this past year over Eliza, but it began to unravel the moment Ellie told her, “It’s going to be okay. It really is. And I’m excited for you! Your disability will help you learn really important things about yourself and the Lord. He will always help you!”

Ellie’s words lightened a load I have been carrying for months.

I am so proud of Eliza for doing this interview. For being willing to talk about her dyslexia. It’s hard to be graded and compared against students who don’t have reading deficits. It’s scary to feel embarrassed when you are trying to learn.

As a mom, I want so much for Eliza to be successful. Ellie’s perspective, and the light blazing around her face as she spoke to us, filled me with new trust in God’s plan.

Ellie, thank you for sharing your incredible story with Ruby Girl.

Now, don’t let me stand between you and Ellie.

Video by Michelle Lehnardt

Author profile

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by education, a writer by passion, and a lover of nature, words, and light. She and her husband Doug live in Utah, where they are raising their kids on oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, Korean Japchae, Star Wars, and Jane Austen. She enjoys running the local canyon, hiking as a family, and believes every person on earth is important to God.

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  • TaylorBerhow
    May 15, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Such a lovely video! So great to hear different stories and experiences and realize, “We’re all going through the same thing, and we’re more alike than we are different.”

  • Leslie Lords Robbins
    May 15, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Such wisdom and beauty!

  • Shari Haws
    May 15, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Ellie, that was beautiful! You are an amazing example to us all!

  • Maureen Robinson
    May 15, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Had the privilege of having Ellie in our Ward at Chuch….she trily is a beautiful young woman inside & out. a great influence on all young woman.

  • DeAnne
    May 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I would love to know who you saw that was able to diagnose your daughter’s dyslexia. I have wondered about my daughter for some time, but I have never been able to have her evaluated specifically for dyslexia. I would love so much to be able to do that. I don’t want to deal with the school, I want to do it privately, but don’t know where to go.

  • Mary Lehnardt
    May 16, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Amazing, wonderful, fabulous video, Mom!

  • Julissa
    May 17, 2016 at 6:50 am

    I also am Dyslexic and at BYU. I Love being dyslexic and all that it has taught me during my life, especially as I learned Spanish on my mission. I too can testify that it is the Lord that carries you through along with supportive parents. I’m grateful for my weakness and what I’ve learned from it. My brother also has dyslexia and graduated with a PhD in Nano Solar Technology from Purdue. My mom remembers when his school teachers told him he wouldn’t amount to much of anything and now he is an inspiration. I’m currently becoming a Special Educator becuse I want to be the teacher that believes in her students and their potencial

    • CathArvy
      May 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Julissa, your comment brought me to tears. It brings both me and Eliza increased hope. Eliza said, “I used to think I was the only one with dyslexia. Doing this interview helped me see I am not alone. That has helped me a lot.” Your story is also giving her courage. Thank you for sharing it here. And kudos to both you and your brother for your determination and ability to overcome. Amazing! You will make an exceptional special ed mentor. All the best!

  • Nici Youbg
    May 17, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Thank you so so much for this! We live in southern Oregon and my daughter, who is dyslexic and also struggled with bullying when she was in school (we now homeschool) could completely relate. This warmed our hearts. Thank you!

    • CathArvy
      May 28, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Nici, hopefully this will give her strength and optimism for the future. Ellie teaches us so beautifully how God can turn hard and painful into strength and beauty. Sending love and good wishes. Thank you for your comment!

  • Anne Marie
    May 18, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    This is absolutely uplifting and inspiring!! Thank you so much for sharing this. Ellie has incredible wisdom.

    • CathArvy
      May 28, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Sweet Anne Marie, I received your email while we were on vacation. I intend to respond this week. Thank you for reading and sharing and offering your great love and encouragement in all things. You are an angel.

  • camryn
    January 22, 2017 at 10:53 am

    that was the best video ever. Ellie is so beautiful and kind in every way