For this installation of the TTR blog, we are so thrilled to amplify the voice of a sibling of one of our ambassadors. Kelly Hercher lives in Denver, and is the younger sister of TTR ambassador PJ Bernardis. She was truly a joy to speak with. Let’s dive in!
Sally: Thanks for being here, Kelly. Can you tell us what it was like to grow up with PJ?
Kelly: Pretty dang magical. PJ was my first friend and our childhood into adulthood is pretty comparable to any other older brother/younger sister relationship: there’s a home video of him stealing my blanket from me as a toddler (cue the tears), we ran through the sprinklers together, learned how to ride bikes together, walked to school together, rode the bus together… and as we got older we played beer pong together. We bickered, we laughed, we danced, we played, we annoyed each other and we challenged each other.
At the end of the day, growing up with PJ as my brother has been (and always will be) a big part of my identity. In fact, in high school, I was probably known by more as “PJ’s sister” instead of “Kelly Bernardis.” PJ was the coolest kid at Creek and I was his lucky younger sister that got to drive him to school (and I benefited from getting a parking pass to park on campus as a sophomore because I got to use PJ’s senior parking pass… score!)
Sally: So would you say that PJ is the “glue” of your family?
Kelly: PJ is our glue guy! He certainly holds us together and reminds us to focus on and stick with what matters most in life.
Sally: That’s awesome. A good reminder for all of us. Okay Kelly. The world wants to know… who is the favorite Bernardis child? It’s PJ, isn’t it?
Kelly: I mean… I feel like it’s normal for the firstborn in every family to be the favorite, so yeah… it’s PJ. But no, seriously. It’s PJ.
Sally: But of course! Alright, our next question is a little more serious. What would surprise someone to know about growing up with a sibling with a disability?
From my own experience, PJ has taught me more than I could ever teach him. He’s taught me to embrace the chaos, to be kind to all you encounter, to prepare for what’s to come and to be okay with things not always working out the way you had intended, to pick up the phone and CALL people to catch up, to dance like nobody’s watching (which is why I got him a big mirror this past Christmas… so that when he is dancing and no one is watching, he at least has an audience… himself! Plus, let’s be honest, the guy loves looking at himself in the mirror. I can’t blame him, he’s one handsome dude)!
Having a brother with a disability has taught me to be in the moment and to appreciate those around you. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from PJ is that anything is possible if you put your mind, heart, and soul into it. People with disabilities are in fact filled with many beautiful abilities!
Sally: That is well put, Kelly, and so very true. To close out our chat today, can you tell us your favorite story/memory about growing up with PJ?
Kelly: Let me set the stage (literally) and take you back to our elementary school days at Walnut Hills Elementary. PJ’s in fourth grade, I’m in second. It’s the talent show. PJ’s got a mic in his hands (are you surprised?) and I’m back on the drums. We perform a song that our parents helped us to write called “We Love Walnut Hills” but it was to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. PJ’s up front working the crowd and I’m in the back, keeping the beat. I’d say PJ’s loved the spotlight ever since and that spotlight has sure loved to follow him. Keep on shining, brotha!
Sally: Thanks for leaving us with that awesome image, Kelly. We love the Bernardis family and so appreciate you sharing your stories with us!