Source: The StarDate of publication: Oct 18, 2015
Inspirational speaker Talli Osborne is just 3 feet 5.5 inches tall. But her “awesome life” has included inspiring a punk rock song and jet-setting with Richard Branson.
Talli Osborne is early for the interview, waiting on the padded bench of a downtown coffee shop, her glossy pink scooter — decorated with black and white skulls by a Toronto graffiti artist — parked by the door.
She gets up to take a hooked stick that she calls her “panty remover” from her scooter before heading to the washroom.
In the next couple of hours, it becomes apparent that candour goes hand in hand with her humour, qualities that will be on display when she delivers her anti-bullying and positive-body talk at the TEDxToronto conference on Thursday.
When she returns, Osborne hoists herself back up, first placing her foot on the bench like a toddler trying to climb on a bed that is too high. At three feet 5.5 inches tall, Osborne manages the feat despite not having a full pair of arms.
“A lot of people growing up would look at me and think I have a sad life and I’m depressed and I have no dreams,” says Osborne, noting that this is how she starts all of her inspirational lectures.
“But actually I have an awesome life,” she says, referring in particular to longtime boyfriend Pat Skinner. They live together in Hamilton along with, part-time, his two daughters.
“And I list all the cool things I’ve got.”
Osborne, 36, is famous in the punk rock community for a song written about her by the Los Angeles band NOFX called “She’s Nubs.” She’s been a vocalist herself, performing with her band in Toronto venues including the Bovine Sex Club.
And she had a stellar career at Virgin Mobile in Toronto, where she was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Richard Branson’s private island after being named the best customer service rep in all his mobile companies around the world.
“How many people can say they have all that,” says Osborne, eyeing the noon-hour coffee crowd. “A lot of people, probably the majority of these people, focus on what they don’t have.”
Osborne was born with shortened legs and partial arms to a Montreal couple who didn’t feel they could cope with raising her. She lived in a hospital nursery until she was adopted at 13 months by a couple in Brampton who had one child of their own.
The “amazing Gina and Ray,” as Osborne calls her parents, adopted 19 children of all races, many of them with special needs. The family expanded by five in one go when her parents took in siblings aged 10 to 16.
Her mother, a volunteer for an adoption agency, “would see all these children who weren’t being adopted out because they weren’t perfect white babies,” says Osborne. “It sounds bad, but it’s true.”
One of her brothers, David, is hearing- and vision-impaired and has Asperger’s syndrome, she says. Five of the children, now adults, still live at home, along with two of Osborne’s young nieces — her 70-something parents now have a kindergartner.
The family survived on Ray’s income as a mechanic. “Being a grown woman now with two stepkids, a house that I own and all the bills that come with the house … I don’t know how they did it,” she says.
Osborne says everyone was expected to contribute when she was growing up. “Every morning I had to scoop litter boxes with my feet, and I swept the floors,” she says. “My sister Michelle, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t talk, but she still has her jobs — letting my mom know if my autistic brother is still doing things he shouldn’t be doing.”
Osborne craved freedom from her early teens. She ditched her prosthetic arms because she didn’t want a teaching assistant around all day to help her. “It was high school,” she says.
Once accepted into Ryerson’s social work program, she moved out of the family home and broke out of her cocoon completely, removing the legs that made her five feet tall. For the first time, she had to find a way to put her socks on by herself.
Osborne never graduated from Ryerson, but she went on to work at Virgin for seven years, first in customer care and then as a social media representative, before leaving to be a full-time inspirational speaker.
She says she wasn’t financially ready to strike out on her own, but she couldn’t continue commuting from her home in Hamilton to the company’s offices at Bathurst and King Sts. “I’d get home and get defeated,” says Osborne. “Remember that positive girl I was telling you about? She was almost gone.”
Osborne says she is often told that her “positivity is infectious,” though she admits “every day is not easy. Let’s be honest. Every day is not easy for anybody.”