Bridging the Waves


Born without arms, Jenny Ireland has not only embraced the gospel wholeheartedly, but she has learned how to reach out to others effectively.

“Hello! This is Radio Halton. Jenny speaking. Are you happy and raring to go? I’ve got great things lined up for you today. But first, let’s hear some music.”

This cheery message is the way patients in Halton General Hospital, Runcorn, England, tune in to 17-year-old Jenny Ireland, their disk jockey for several hours each week.

What many of those patients don’t realize, as Jenny sends out bridges of comfort and hope along radio waves, is that she operates that complex equipment without the use of arms.

At Jenny’s birth, when her father saw only hands at shoulder level, his thoughts were, “Oh, how we shall miss hugs from this lovely daughter.”

Now, he says, “I have never been more wrong. Jenny’s hugs were whole body hugs. She couldn’t have been a more loving child.”

And this love for others now motivates Jenny in all areas of life. “I’d like to be everyone’s friend,” she admits. “My greatest ambition is to become a radio presenter, broadcasting to the public. A lot of lives can be touched that way.”

Touching lives is something she’s already doing. Nothing is too great an obstacle. She even completed the physically demanding Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, setting an amazing example to the rest of her school friends. The final hike in Snowdonia, Wales, was gruelling—days of trekking over mountains in all weathers, with only a compass and map to guide. Jenny also has no ligaments in one knee, which causes problems. But sheer determination keeps her going.

Maybe growing up on Runcorn soil has added a will to win to Jenny’s life. It’s the sort of town that’s had to build bridges to go places. The fourth largest fixed arch suspension bridge in the world crosses from Runcorn, south of Liverpool’s River Mersey, to Widnes, on the north side. Without that link across the waves, much trade and communication would be lost.

Without Jenny’s sociable nature, many opportunities for missionary work would be lost. She has a gigantic testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And she doesn’t mind who knows.

Jenny also knows how to make people feel special. Even those embarrassed by her disablement.

“Sometimes children will point at me and talk behind my back or make fun. It really doesn’t bother me one bit. I just laugh. My lack of arms is no problem to me. If I believe in myself, then I can accomplish as much as the next person.

“There was no medical explanation for my being born this way. No one is to blame. I’ve learnt a lot about myself in seminary. I feel I have things to do, and my disability is not a trial but somehow a help to others. It’s making me a much stronger, more patient person and keeps the family close together.”

Jenny has a younger brother, Jared, age 15, and two sisters, 13-year-old Maxine and Kirsty, age 9.

“The only chore I get out of is washing dishes,” laughs Jenny, “because I get a little wet—more like soaked! But, like Jared, I love to cook, and I really don’t need any help.”

Jenny once watched a video of herself and understands how people feel. “My immediate reaction was, ‘That girl needs assistance; she looks so clumsy.’ But when I’m doing things, I don’t feel clumsy. I’m just getting on with it.

“Of course there are days when I’m blue, too,” Jenny admits, “but my parents have taught me that my best friend is my Heavenly Father, and he’s always there when I need him.

“I can remember at primary school when everyone could write much faster than I. The teacher would be dictating, and I never could keep up. I’d come home crying. Mum said, ‘Ask Heavenly Father to help you.’

“Well, he didn’t seem to be helping—at first. Then a few weeks later I noticed I could do it! And I’ve kept up ever since, writing faster than others at times.

“When I was even younger,” she recalls, “I couldn’t reach to put on socks. So I sat there trying for hours until success came.”

School has presented many challenges for Jenny. But Church teachings and activities and loving parents and leaders have developed such self-esteem that nothing is a threat to progress.

“I can remember a school debate,” she smiles, “when we had to speak on a favourite subject. I chose the Church. When I mentioned ‘Church is fun,’ everyone gasped. During question time someone asked, ‘Do you really get up at six o’clock every morning for seminary?’ At the end, the teacher commented, ‘That was an excellent advertisement for your church.’

“On another occasion,” Jenny continues, “during the Duke of Edinburgh practice walks with a backpack, I felt so weighed down that I very nearly quit. Usually, before such a big trial, I ask Dad for a blessing. This time I realized I’d forgotten. I was just about to look for a phone to call Mum to come and get me when a line from my patriarchal blessing came into my head: ‘You can achieve anything you set your heart to do.’ And with help from my Heavenly Father, I did it.”

Accepting President Kimball’s “do it” challenge takes Jenny wherever she wants to go. She hikes, swims, skates, dances, camps, paints. Also on that list are graduating from seminary, learning to drive, saving for a trip to America, temple marriage. But foremost is her goal of conquering the waves—sound waves.

Jenny’s voluntary work as a hospital radio deejay has whetted her appetite for sharing music and words with anyone willing to listen. She loves all types of music from classical to modern and has a calm, humorous, slightly Liverpudlian approach to the microphone.

“I think giving talks at church from an early age has helped me feel comfortable speaking into mikes,” she smiles. The chairman of Radio Halton, Derek Owens, agrees. “She joined us five months ago as an assistant. Then one day the other deejay was absent, so Jenny was thrown in at the deep end. Being the smashing girl that she is, she stepped right in without hesitation and put on a great show. Now she has her own show each week.”

With such praise from the boss, it’s no wonder Jenny feels an obligation to set the best possible example of being a Latter-day Saint.

Sometimes temptation to slacken can be almost overwhelming, especially when a cherished goal comes in sight. Like the time Jenny was invited to meet with top deejays from Independent Radio City, Liverpool—on a Sunday.

She wanted so much to be there, supporting her hospital team and meeting influential people, possibly furthering career opportunities. Workmates kept pressing invitations. But she refused, at the same time explaining her feelings for the Sabbath.

“I felt awful letting them down,” she says, “but I’d have felt even more awful letting myself and Heavenly Father down and my workmates, too, in the long run, because they’d have witnessed a bad example.”

And Jenny knows bad examples knock down bridges. As she’s more interested in building them, she rejoins the radio waves with another cheery message.

“Time to close for today, but before we go, I’d like to interview the lady who’s been interviewing me for the past two hours. She, too, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes known as the Mormons. Let’s ask her a few questions about the Church and a magazine called the New Era. …”

[photos] Photography by Anne C. Bradshaw

[photo] In learning to expand her horizons, Jenny has had the support of her father, who is also her bishop. The bridge over the River Mersey in their hometown of Runcorn is a good symbol for Jenny’s ability to make connections with others.

[photos] Conquering the commercial airwaves is Jenny’s next goal. She would like to make radio her career. Jenny’s family (from left to right) Arthur, Irene, Maxine, Jared, Kirsty, and Jenny.