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May 9, 2024 - LIMITLESS Magazine

Defining limitless: meet the unstoppable Ethan Bailey

A California colleague with TAR syndrome traces his path to resilience.

Magazine

Ethan Bailey sits by his laptop, composing documents that hopefully secure new business for his employer, Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA). He’s known around MMA for being a talented writer who always gets the job done. Bailey is an exceptional colleague and part of what makes him remarkable is that he succeeds while having Thrombocytopenia-Absent Radius (TAR) syndrome. 

TAR syndrome is a rare disorder with which he was born. It caused his arms to be severely truncated, with hands close to his shoulders. Although he did have legs at birth, their growth was stunted, resulting in amputation, temporary prosthetics, and his current need for a wheelchair. Though his condition presents challenges, Bailey is far from a defeatist. He accepts this as his norm. “It’s all I’ve ever known. It is what it is,” he says.

In many ways, Bailey is more independent and active than some who are not disabled. He drives. He swims. He goes out with his friends. He chronicles his life through vlogging. In the past year alone, he’s visited Arizona, attended concerts and shows in Los Angeles, celebrated his birthday in Las Vegas and attended a Raiders game. He lives alone in his downtown San Diego condo, only occasionally having to ask friends or neighbors for help. His beloved furry friend, a 13-year-old poodle-chihuahua mix named Swiffer, is a pet—not a service animal. He stresses that he takes care of her and walks her regularly. 

His journey to resilience began at a young age. As a child, he realized he had no choice but to move on and be adaptable, despite hardship. He was not held back. His loving parents provided a strong support system, and his father especially encouraged him to go to public school and live as “normal” as possible.

“I was born with this condition,” he says. “It was in the cards I was dealt, so the only way was forward.”

As a child, he “drove” himself by wheelchair to school a few blocks from home. As a teenager, if he wanted to go out with his friends, he had to figure out how to do so. His father helped him build adaptive equipment to further foster independence. They invented a multi-use tool that Bailey still uses to get dressed: a PVC pipe with attached planter hooks.

Bailey has also taken up quite the novel hobby: participating yearly in “Wasteland Weekend.” Based on the Mad Max films, the immersive camping experience incorporates post-apocalyptic costumes and comradery. He’s been trekking out to the Mojave Desert for the past decade for this five-day festival. His only concession was the use of a trailer for sleeping.

Despite his positive outlook, he has encountered cruelty over the years because of his condition. When confronted by mean children as a kid, he took his parents’ advice: “It’s not a reflection on you; it reflects the bullies; just ignore them and keep being yourself.” Today, his perspective is generous; he says: “Every kid has a hard time growing up and it was no different for me.”

Adults have been crass, too. A former employer called the wheelchair-using Bailey “Hot Rod,” so wildly inappropriate yet unfightable because he needed the job, he says. 

He’s faced other obstacles as well. Looking for a home to live on his own, he discovered many had steps or narrow doorways. Ultimately, finding a workable residence and moving in were monumental accomplishments. Today, he focuses on his window’s sunny view and beams: “I can’t complain too much here!”

One professional challenge was not so different from that faced by many, though possibly a bit more complex: how to monetize an education. He’d studied journalism at San Diego State University and wanted to become a TV reporter, but carrying a camera around and setting up shots wasn’t feasible. Then, he happily stumbled into proposal writing. Since March 2022, he’s worked as a fulltime senior proposal writer for MMA’s West Region, which includes California, Alaska, Arizona, and Nevada. He and a fellow colleague write proposals to help the sales team win new clients. The job is fully remote, a way of operating that became much more prevalent after COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

Bailey views MMA’s leadership team as having been totally accommodating to him; he’s grateful for their flexibility. “All that mattered to them was whether or not I could do the job.” He’s clearly demonstrated that he can. His laptop, mouse, motorized/adjustable standing desk, and intelligent, creative mind are his only tools.

He’s learned many lessons at MMA. The first is that working at an insurance brokerage can be very rewarding, not something he’d expected based on public perceptions of the industry. Secondly, he discovered the relationship between sales, marketing, communications, and his department, and how much teamwork it takes to accomplish things.

When asked about his professional goals, Ethan hopes to “keep improving the process I’ve helped implement at MMA, and make sure relationships I’ve developed with producers and salespeople stay strong. I’ll keep refining the good work that my partner and I do.” This includes the creation of executive summaries that accompany new business proposals. They outline who MMA is, and what prospective clients can expect. They require him to research their cultural and value commonalities. These extra tasks are not something all counterparts do. Another goal to cement his career choice: getting Proposal Management certification by year’s end. He’s studying for the exam, being paid for by MMA.

What motivates him the most these days is his desire to continue to live independently. Hard work, being adaptable, and having a job that allows him to live on his own are key. “I’ve created a nice life for myself and that’s really the ultimate motivator.” He’s also concentrating on time outside of the office. “And going to Padres games! I have season tickets that I’ll split with an MMA pal.”

To read more articles, explore our LIMITLESS Magazine.