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Julie Ann Mills-Testi – Winner Against the Odds

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There’s nothing confined about artist Julie Ann Mills-Testi. Not her bold mouth brush strokes, her passion for “dancing” through her art or her appreciation and love for her family. Even before Julie Ann recently received a scholarship from the prestigious Mouth and Foot Painting Artists’ (MFPA) organization that provides her an assistant, she had already pushed the envelope to achieve well beyond any physical limitations.

Julie Ann says of her arthrogryposis, a rare prenatal, congenital neurological muscle disorder that locks the joints of her hands and limits walking, “I’m just a ‘normie’ in a disabled body.” It’s a conviction she’s held since childhood when it was the law that she had to attend a separate elementary school for handicapped children just on the other side of the chain link fence from the school the “normies’” attended.

“I knew what I knew what I knew,” Julie Ann said, recalling how she intuitively sensed that the practice of separate schools was wrong. Deemed unlawful as early as 1963, the year she was born, handicapped schools were not officially phased out until the late 1970s.

Julie Ann had her own version of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech: “That someday disabled people will go to the same school, drink out of the same water fountain, work together and get married.” It was one of many of her childhood dreams that became reality.

At nine Julie Ann attended the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center with the help of a walker and a “cage” for upper body support. Impressed by Julie Ann’s artistic talent, one of the teachers asked to tutor Julie Ann. Painting gave Julie Ann a way to “dance”, something she had always longed to do. “Everyone can dance and they each have their own special way,” Julie Ann said. “They just have to find [it].”

Divinely inspired outcomes were something Julie Ann came to expect at an early age. When weak neck muscles caused her trouble in learning how to swim, she asked God to let her dream of how to accomplish the task. “I put it out there before I went to sleep and then it became a reality,” Julie Ann said, recounting her teacher’s surprise when she improvised a dog paddle followed by kick floating and rolling onto her back to breathe.

Her inventive approach to situations carried Julie Ann through school where she studied music, art, and psychology at Cypress Community College, and received her teacher’s credential and a degree in art at Loyola Marymount University.

Always competitive in art, Julie Ann learned that it wasn’t enough to have natural talent. “People thought I was cutesy. Cutesy doesn’t cut it. I actually had to work to [keep up] with the other artists’ level of work. That made me work harder.”Julie Artpiece

In spite of her hard work, Julie Ann’s submission of portfolios to both the Thasc Company and MFPA during her early 20′s didn’t pan out. 

In her mid-20′s, a new kind of divine inspiration touched Julie Ann’s life – a cute bearded guy at a neighbor’s Easter celebration. Julie Ann sensed it was the wrong time to be introduced and told her friend “no”, that God would introduce them when the time was right, in church, and that she was going to marry him someday.

Six months later at a church service, a clean shaven man named Anthony came up and asked to join Julie Ann. As time and circumstance would later reveal, Anthony turned out to be the same guy from the Easter celebration. “God did it,” Julie Ann said. “I never told [Anthony] that story until after he asked me to marry him. They just recently celebrated their 13th anniversary.

Along with their two children – Mark, 10-7/8 and Katie, 7, Julie Ann and Anthony enjoy a life blessed with normal family challenges and a special gift of knowing you can accomplish anything you want.

Julie Ann acknowledges the many obstacles she’s overcome. For people whose perceptions of handicapped people is limited, she says “It’s a struggle, but it doesn’t stop me.” Looking back, she says “The more people provoked or teased me, the more peaceful I decided to be. I wasn’t going to be [like] one of those people.”

As for accomplishing one’s dreams, Julie Ann says “Have the faith there’s something bigger than yourself. Believe in the dream and let your dream take you there.” For Julie Ann, it’s what limitless art is all about.

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51 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Elizabeth said:

    Hearing stories such as the one above gives a person the courage to go beyond his or her limitations to see their dream come true. Julie is limited physically but many are limited mentally or emotionally which can be more of a handicap but not so noticeable. It’s awesome to see that Julie did not have to overcome these handicaps too. I say this because she always saw herself as a “normie in a disabled body” and didn’t let the “label of being handicapped and going to a different school make her feel inferior to anyone.
    She also had faith that a higher power had her best interest and would provide for her as seen in how she knew that Anthony would be her husband and didn’t want to be introduced right away.
    Julie Ann Mills-Testi is an inspiration to many and an example of what can be done regardless of a handicap. Stories like this one are always encouraging to
    hear and inspires others to keep on keeping on… at least for me it does.

  • Barbara – North Carolina said:

    I do like that the articles I’ve read in the magazine so far are emphasizing that someone should continue trying to achieve something with their lives, that every life has a purpose whether others can see that clearly or not.

    This lady who is an artist, and married with a family of her own is very inspirational and encouraging for others who may feel they can’t do things just because they are not as able-bodied as someone else. thank you.

  • Sally said:

    I found this to be very inspirational but at same time not very in depth. I feel as if I could have gotten to know Julie better if there was more direct quotes and more written about her story and the actual struggles that she faced in life. People tend to relate more to a story that states what the struggles are and what people faced more than just a story saying that a person is a good person. Overall it was a great piece that I enjoyed.

  • Gail – New York said:

    The article on Julie Ann Mills-Testi was wonderful. It was well organized, interesting, inspirational, and a delight to read.

  • Sarah – Marilyn said:

    I like this magazine and what you are doing with it. It is a great place to read positive human interest stories, gain inspiration, or just feel lifted up. I like this article about Julie Ann Testi the best. I remember getting postcards that featured paintings by people with disabilities, and my mother loved them and always put them on the refrigerator.

    I enjoyed reading the article overall, and thought that it was organized well. I liked that it started with a description of Julie Ann as a joyful person rather than focusing on her disability. I also liked that the writer saved the details of her accomplishments and her family life for later on in the article, which gives it a nice tone throughout the piece.

  • Randi - Hawaii said:

    Julie’s story was an inspiring testimonial. She has overcome the odds and pursued her passion. All along the way she has been a mentor to others with disabilities. I really enjoyed it and Julie seemed to have a great sense of humor. I would’ve like to hear more of what she had to say in the form of direct quotes. Not to diminish the parts of the story that detail her struggle and accolades, but I really like getting to know someone through their own words.

  • Jefrey - Kentucky said:

    Enjoyed the article and actually found myself wanting to hear more of the story. As an artist myself I am always intrigued by other stories of artists and how they have developed a presence or following of their art and how they overcome the industry. She has a compelling story with a disability and a fantastic outlook on life. Just wish story was longer.

  • Sandhya – Singapore said:

    Went through your online magazine and found it quite interesting and resourceful. Quite different from other online magazines that focus just on the “in” things which most people including me cannot relate to,at least not always.

    I am a graduate in Fine Arts so I still tend to gravitate towards information on art and creativity despite having moved on to a much commercial side of it (Fashion). I particularly enjoyed this article because it was inspirational and well written in simple easy to understand language. Made me realize that I was just making excuses about not finding time to paint. I probably don’t have the passion for it that Julie Ann Mills did/does. I would love to explore more personalities like Julie Ann Mills.

  • Melanie – North Carolina said:

    I love the content of your e-zine, and I was drawn to this article because I saw an artist at one of the shows last fall in Weaverville who was working in a very similar way. What immediately bothered me, though, is that I couldn’t find any clear mention of where Julie Ann Mills-Testi lives and/or works. The painting in the photo that she’s working on reminded me a bit of what I saw at the show, and I was surprised the author would leave out such important information. The introduction is a strong start before addressing the artist’s early life and art background and I really like the connection of the end of handicapped schools to Julie Ann’s version of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

    You really have a fantastic concept that is a great counter to all the negative news we see today in the media.

  • Allison – North Carolina said:

    This piece on Julie Ann Mills-Testi is a wonderful example of someone faced with adversity who has chosen not to let that her challenges dominate her life. We all experience different types of challenges – some are obviously greater than others – yet, our attitude towards those challenges will have a lasting outcome on the quality of our life and the lives of those around us. For all of the people that choose to be victims of their circumstances, it is stories like this that I would hope to inspire others to be the best that they can be regardless of their challenges.

  • Jessica said:

    This was a great story that has inspired me to draw again. I took a drawing class in college but was regularly discouraged when I knew what I wanted to create but couldn’t quite get there. I actually disagree with the idea of working harder to keep up with others’ skill levels though, as Julie mentioned. I feel that art is about experiencing and recreating and not competing. Sure you can appreciate others’ work and skill levels but to competitively compare is like juxtaposing an oak tree to a birch tree; there’s nothing inherently wrong with either, they are just as they were meant to be. The mere difference is personal preference which is an illusion because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say.
    The technical writing of the article could be a improved a bit but the overall mood of the article was effective and I really enjoyed the concluding sentence. I enjoyed reading the article and am walking away inspired to pursue a passion of mine so I’d say the article is an overall success. Keep up the good work!

  • Szabo – Hungary said:

    This article is very interesting and close-to-people. I always feel touched by the subjects which show people who are handicapped. I particularly like and feel something close to me when they can express themselves in artistic fields. I think it is a great thing that they not only accept their disabilities and don’t live in a below-average life but accept what was “given” to them and even they come out with more than the maximum setting up an example for the rest of their peers.
    When reading the full article I absolutaley was touched by the story and I liked that it was not a negative, sad story was presented but a talented woman’s life but as an example of the human will that anyone could be able to do anything in the world no matter what circumstances they are/were in related to personal life, family, work or career.

  • Annakeara said:

    I enjoyed the interview with Julie Ann Mills-Testi. She is the type of person who redefines what people consider normal and possible, and she doesn’t settle for being appreciated because she is an artist who works under rare circumstances. “People thought I was cutesy.” She said, “Cutesy doesn’t cut it. I actually had to work to [keep up] with the other artists’ level of work. That made me work harder. As an artist, it is inspiring that Julie Ann allows her intuition and faith in life guide her work beyond any perceived limitations.

  • Crystal – Nevada said:

    I liked how you talked about not only her challenges but you also talked about the fact of her faith in God when she said that she was going to get married to him one day and they did. It makes the article not only concentrated on the ‘bad’ and scary things but also give it a lighthearted sense of accomplishment.

  • Stacia Miller said:

    Julie Ann is the perfect example of an individual who refuses to live her life as a victim despite the reality of her uncontrollable physical condition. It would be incredibly easy for somebody in Julie Ann’s position to throw their hands back and indulge in their own pity. Julie Ann is a prime example of a woman who chooses not to self-deprecate but instead chooses to take an unfortunate situation and create a positive outcome. One thing I wish the article addressed was the content of Julie Ann’s art. I understand that artist’s often create from personal experience and the art is usually a product of the artists’ personal revelations. After having read about Julie Ann’s life I would be very interested to see how her art reflects who she is and what she believes.

  • Kerri – Florida said:

    I love what you are trying to do with your magazine. This article was a nice insight into Julie’s life, and it gave me, along with other readers, I’m sure, a sense of hope. It is just very fascinating to me that Julie had to experience her own type of strange segregation as a child, and she managed to use that experience to better her life. These types of inspiration and examples of hope are reasons why I like this magazine. Stories like these are inspiration to me in my personal life.

  • Salete Dias -- Brazil said:

    There is nothing more inspiring for humans than the example of another human being who overcame all the difficulties of their lives and Julie Ann is an example of life for us. She is an example that the love of art goes much further than having arms or legs. The love of art through the main organ of the human body can not have any type of disability: the heart. Congratulations Julie for the courage to live and especially for giving us this life so beautiful example.

  • Tamar -- California said:

    This is a very interesting and inspirational story. Although not very well-written, it definitely sparked my interested and touched my heart. As someone who struggles with chronic pain, I know that illness can get in the way of life if you let it. However, Julie is using her disability to touch others, to encourage change in our society, and to create in the best way that she can. Art seems to be a central part of her life, and reading about someone who uses her talents in the midst of hardship, especially pushing through the difficulties she has with her body as she paints, is so very encouraging. The article could’ve been organized better, and I would’ve loved a more engaging, gripping title. I would’ve loved to know a little bit more about her family life, and how that affects her art. How does she balance her time between family and her passion, art? How does she cope with her illness on her bad days, or when she’s especially discouraged? How does her faith help on these particularly difficult days? Overall, good content.

  • Charice – New York said:

    I feel like this peice of work is important not beacase of Julie getting the handicapped schools intertwined with regular schools: But, more about the fact that even with disabilities- YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH anything. I have suffered with Bi- Polar disorder all of my life. This touched home as over the years I have had to overcome obstacles relating to mental illness, and it’s truely a hard road– but it can be done. Absolutely great write and I enjoyed reading and relating.

  • Emily – Pennsylvania said:

    I enjoyed the article about the disabled artist, Julie Ann Mills because it was inspiring and reminded me of my mother who was also disabled.

  • Allie – Pennsylvania said:

    I find the article extremely pleasant and inspirational.This article speaks to me on a variety of levels. First and foremost, I have a lot of experience involving adults and children with disabilities and have found that these people are not only talented and capable, but have an extreme amount of dedication that would put most people to shame. They are able to overcome unbelievable odds and have enormous amounts of strength and hope. These individuals are the real winners. Second, I feel as if some people look down upon individuals with special needs and I feel that by publishing articles like this, these intolerant individuals can be more humane and develop compassion for those with disabilities. Lastly, my younger brother suffers from autism and my family has been very active in the special needs community.

  • Pam – Pennsylvania said:

    I am definitely familiar with your magazine and have been a fan for some time. There are several reasons for that.

    A couple of years ago, I was hired as editor for a new magazine that focused on the joy of life in small towns across America. I came upon “Winners Within Us” while doing research and just loved the articles. Two come to mind quickly — the story about the artist who said she was a normal person in a disabled body, and the other about the woman who visited Alzheimer’s and elderly patients.

    One of my best friends suffered a stroke during childbirth and has been in a wheelchair for many years. But she is the strongest, kindest, most “normal” person I know, so that story touched my heart immensely. The other story made me cry. My mother passed away in 2006 and during the last year of her life, she had trouble recognizing her children. Caring for the elderly is a very tough, emotional job. God bless the people who do it with joy.

    That brings me to another reason for liking “Winners” — many of the stories reference God and faith, both of which play a major role in my life. What’s so wonderful is that people write about it proudly and freely in the magazine. It’s so heartening to read these stories in a world where the slightest allusion to Christianity is being censured.

  • Jackie said:

    This was an enjoyable story to read. As the wife of a disabled artist, I was drawn to this world of a woman who overcame everything to do what she loved. The quotations that were chosen to be incorporated into the article were well thought out, especially, “I knew what I knew what I knew.” To me, that indicated a very self aware young lady who was aware of the world and its perceptions of her as well.

    I think that the article was a good length so as to not feel repetitive or long winded, and the descriptions was well written. Of course, nothing is perfect, and there was something that I thought could have been emphasized more. The article seemed to skim over a part of Julie-Ann’s story that I think is a catalyst to her recognition now – how did she receive her first recognitions in the art world? How did her career take off? The piece only seems to express who rejected her on her first attempts and her scholarships at the present time. It would be more complete for her career path to have a beginning, middle and end.

  • Marsanne -- Florida said:

    I found this both informative and inspirational.

  • Amy -- Canada said:

    Although it wasn’t the strongest article I’ve ever read, overall, I enjoyed it. It had a good flow of events to it and answered questions that I as a reader had thought of along the way. I think it’s important to anticipate reader questions, and this author did that quite well. I enjoyed that the article started off with a brief bio of Julie Ann and then looked back and started talking about her challenges from childhood. However, since the photo showed her as a disabled painter, and the article started off by discussing that, I was anticipating more details in that area of her life. I would have liked to have heard more struggles and definitely more success’ that she has had in that area of her life. The length of the article was nice, but I found the paragraphs a little short, which made my reading choppy. I think with a little more editing this article would have been close to perfect.

  • Jennifer J -- New Brunswick said:

    What a great story. Julie is an inspiration.
    I loved how the writer ended the piece. It was a great quote and summation. The kismet manner in which Julie met her husband was really quite beautiful, and her display of faith was empowering.
    For the writing I have very few criticisms. I found that adding “in church” in the middle of the sentence slightly ruined the surprise about where they met. There was also a run-on sentence near the beginning, but overall I enjoyed the read. The quotes were distributed well throughout the article and the flow was smooth. Great job!

  • Andrea -- Canada said:

    I navigated through your site and was thoroughly impressed by the work you are doing. Your mission and concept is simply brilliant and very timely. I was inspired by this Winners Against The Odds story about Julie.

  • Mary -- Canada said:

    As a cancer survivor at a young age of 12 years, I am beyond touched by story of the lady without hands.

  • Shadaye -- Tennessee said:

    I love reading positive and uplifting stories such as the story about Julie Ann Mills-Testi and her not just overcoming living in our world with a disability but fully learning how to contribute to it fearlessly. Thats just awesome!

  • Ashley - Washington said:

    I just finished reading this article which definitely pulled on my heartstrings! I enjoyed the organization of it, beginning with her illness and ending with her conquering life’s difficulties regardless. Very inspirational!

  • Linda H. from Michigan said:

    Your site is beautifully organized, interesting, with very well written articles. I salivated over the restaurant reviews and became absorbed in the profile pieces. I especially liked this article about artist Julie Ann.

  • Sandra -- Iowa said:

    This article is a perfect example of a human-interest story that both inspires and raises awareness. This piece focuses on Julie Ann, an individual born with a rare disabling disorder that prevented her from use of her appendages; through this article, one learns about a rare disorder and also learns about how Julie Ann defied many expectations and strove to live a normal life, one filled with the pursuit of cultivating her artistic inclinations and building a family. It is exactly this kind of story that engenders understanding and outreach because it causes people to reflect on the challenges and experiences of their neighbors.

  • Sherie G --NE said:

    I really like the article on Julie -Testi the Visual Artist. Since I am a visual artist also, I could relate to her story.

  • Cherly C from New Jersey said:

    After reading articles in the inspiration section, I am so very happy to see these heroes get recognition. I also enjoyed the comments section. This story about a woman artist who has found a way to give, to be productive despite a dysfunction of her joints, was memorable. I am always amazed at individuals who live full lives despite such constraints.

  • caitlyn from New Jersey said:

    I wholeheartedly believe in what you are trying to accomplish with your magazine. In fact, your mission to incite change in this world one person at a time is similar to my own. I want nothing more than to help open they eyes of people who may be ignorant to issues that are so important to our futures, and sing the praises of the unsung heroes of this world. This story particularly caught my attention. My interest in this article is two fold. Firstly, I truly enjoy seeing anyone pursue their love of the arts, especially against seemingly insurmountable odds. Secondly, and nearest to my heart, is that she suffers from a physical disability. My boyfriend was born with Spina Bifida and walks with crutches. Since dating him I have been introduced to a whole new world. As an able bodied individual I took so much for granted. I also was ignorant, in the purest sense of the term, about many things. A personal goal of mine is to show the world the amazing things that those who are considered handicapped by society are actually capable of doing. Only then can society begin to realize that the handicapped population is not so different or scary as they seem. Julie’s story is one that may not have been told if not for Winners Within Us™

  • Melissa V -- Arizona said:

    Julie Ann is an inspiring individual who has overcome a
    great deal of hardships due to her arthrogryposis, but I do not feel as though the article conveyed the nature of her struggles in as much depth as it could have.

    I found, as a reader, I was left with many unanswered questions; What adversities (aside from the obvious mobility issues) did Ms. Mills-Testi face? Why did she choose to pursue a career in art – a seemingly daunting career for someone with a mobility-limiting
    disorder. Did she struggle with any personal doubts or set-backs along her career path?

    I thought the article did touch on several important milestones in Julie Ann’s life, such as her early schooling, her artistic achievements, and her marriage and subsequent family, but did not seem to go into any depth on any of the issues.

    Not intending to be overly critical, I will say I thought the article had a clear and concise introduction to Julie Ann. It transitioned well from one piece of information to another. It was also concluded well. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the article.

  • Katharyn T -- Washington said:

    The way she overcame physical challenges in spite of her different abilities is a wonderful role models for not giving up on life no matter what adversities a person faces.

  • Britnie -- Massachusetts said:

    The article was very well articulated, flowed and seemed to do justice to describing this remarkable woman. I found it intriguing.

  • Brian D said:

    I particularly enjoyed this article. Beyond being inspirational, as intended, it was also informative and cohesive, a real pleasure to read. It was just a finely crafted piece overall.

  • Lara said:

    I found the Juli Ann Mills-Testi article moving and inspirational—a true fairy tale that sums up the saying, “if there’s a will, there’s a way.” As a reader, I really felt her passion for art and her determination to get there through her quotes. I am a firm believer, especially when it comes to profile pieces, that the subject should speak for itself. With that said, I would have love the writer to “show” me how Juli goes on with her day to day plans—maybe open up with a description of a painting she drew that led her to receiving a scholarship from the MFPA organization, and then go into her disabilities. From there, we can see that her disability was never a hindrance to her goals but a strengthener—and in that sense, we get a taste of her strong character. Overall, I felt the story was well written, organized and easy to read

  • jan said:

    Few of us realize the problems faced by physically challenged artists. Even fewer of us understand how they, using only their mouths holding a paint brush, can create such works of art. In her interesting article “Julie Ann Mills-Testi,” by Kristi Koons, the “how” is answered. On the whole a very enjoyable article that personalizes a person.

  • Denell Poff-Jesfen said:

    I met Julie in kindergarten and we both attended those schools together. Am glad kids are now recognized as normies and get to attend school with the rest of the kids that can walk well and have no physical disabilities. By the sounds of the comments to you Julie, you kept our promise we made years ago. Good girl! I am so glad you are very happy and have made a good life!

  • Denell Poff-Jesfen said:

    Julie OMG! I am so glad to see you do read this site. I hope you check it someday and hopefully get back to me sweety. I just recently ran across your mafpa site by accident. I printed your picture and your clip to show my mom and she smiled as big as I did. She suggested I search you out. here is my e-mail address lilbiittz@yahoo.com or my work one is djesfen@nelmslaw.com. I really would love to hear from you. Love ya bunchies, Denell Poff

  • JulieAnn Mills-Testi said:

    I am JulieAnn from this artical. All your comments are so up-lifting. I am blessed. Thank you.
    Being Pregnant was like any other pregnancy.
    Except I had to have a c-section for both children.

  • Heidi said:

    I know Julie personally as a fill in care provider, to most importantly, a friend. Our children attend school together, her youngest and my only, and they are great friends. Julie is so much more than this article says. She is the toughest, no nonsence, intelligent, spiritually grounded, loving person I know. Whenever I spend time with her I go home feeling refreshed with pure joy in my heart. We have had long talks about family, friends, faith and yes, even husbands. I love her and respect her. To me she IS a normie.

  • Rain Sullivan said:

    I admire Julie very much for never letting people or her disabilites get in the way of her life and passion for art. She is truly an incredible woman and I think if more people knew of her, she would be a hero in many eyes and the link to her artwork is invaluable. I only wish that the reader could be more informed of her children and whether or not the pregnancy was difficult due to her arthrogryposis. All in all it was a terrific article about a fantastic woman.

  • Liisi said:

    This is an amazing story. I have to say, I found this magazine, and after reading this story, I want to give my will to Heavenly Father, and have Him lead me down the path He wants me to take, just as Julie Ann has done. Thank you for this, my soul is filled with peace, and my heart is full of gratitude for the peace this message brings.

  • Charles said:

    This article was very uplifting. I am an artist myself, and reading this just reminded me not to take anything for granted.

  • Jennifer Amerson said:

    I really enjoyed this article. I teach special needs children. They are in a regular ed class. They get to go to lunch, recess, and special areas with their peers. We have come a long way.

  • Jorge said:

    This is a great article. I am inspired by her drive and passion to “dance” and do what she loves no matter what!

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