Inspiration From A Teen Entrepreneur (Who Happens To Have Cerebral Palsy)
At 15, Tori Molnar has been more successful in business than many adults. She’s an entrepreneur and the President, CEO and founder of Utoria. It’s a unique direct-sales company that partners with small businesses and ropes in young women to sell products; the majority of partner companies are owned by women and teens. Goods sold include accessories, jewelry, electronics and health and beauty products.
Impressive, yes. Incidentally, she has CP. That’s her above, hanging out in Mary Kay Ash’s office at the Mary Kay Headquarters in Dallas, Texas. “They don’t let many people in there,” Tori says. “It was amazing!” It’s not surprising they let her in.
Here’s Tori with Spark & Hustle founder Tory Johnson, the wildly popular business guru
Tori travels around the country talking about her experiences, and will be speaking at the Digital Family Summit, taking place June 29 through July 1 in Philadelphia. Her motto: “Inspiration, Motivation, Determination.” She recently answered a few questions for Parents.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and how does the condition affect you now?
I was diagnosed right after my 2nd birthday. I am affected on my left side, but as of right now the only problem I have is arthritis in my knee, and my kneecap is off-track. I’ve been working a lot on my range of motion in my ankle, which is now to almost +14 degrees. (Pretty darn close to my right! YAY!) When I was first diagnosed I could not use my left arm at all, and at 2 years old I was not yet trying to walk at all. So I’ve come a long way.
What prognosis were your parents given?
Unfortunately, my father died six months prior to my diagnosis so my mom had to navigate all of this on her own. They told my mom that it was very unlikely that I would ever walk, and that my bones were going to deform very quickly over the next few years, resulting in many many surgeries. We proved them wrong!
Growing up, which therapy was most helpful to you, and why?
After the doctors told my mom that I wouldn’t walk, as we were leaving they offered getting her a handicap sticker for her car. She refused to take it and told them that I was perfectly capable of walking. What she did was incorporate things into our everyday schedule. If we were going shopping—which I love—she would park at the last spot so I’d have to walk. Every morning we would wake up and do Tae Bo, yoga and run laps around my backyard. When I was relaxing watching TV, she would sit with me and stretch out my arm. I also went through rigorous physical therapy, six days a week sometimes twice a day, but I think those things were most helpful because when you have something like CP that’s incurable, it makes you feel a little more human when you can go about a normal daily life.
What motivated you to start your company, Utoria?
My whole family had owned businesses for as long as I could remember. Construction companies, flea markets, accounting, antique stores—running businesses was all I had ever known. My parents would openly talk about them in front of me and I began experimenting with business at about four years old. By seven, I was reading business books and writing contracts and using stamps in my mom’s office to “notarize” them. When we were in the midst of a recession, I was looking for a business to start and at the same time I was mentoring friends and helping them launch their own businesses. That’s when I decided to start Utoria—I wanted to create a community where young women could come for knowledge and resources. I also saw it as a way for girls to raise funds to build their dream business.
What kinds of things do you like doing in your spare time?
I LOVE being active. I go to the gym four days a week, and swim the other three. I love boating, water skiing, riding dirt bikes with my 8 year old brother, and taking my St. Bernard for a run. I recently took a liking to canoeing. During the winter I like to go skiing, bowling, and see movies with friends. But out of everything, I love to travel the most. I get to travel all over the country to talk to students and professionals about how I started Utoria, my story, networking, and a lot of other key factors that have led me to be where I am today. I also travel to trade shows, events, and other things that allow me to connect with Utoria Girls and other young entrepreneurs.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you having CP?
Feeling pretty. I’ve learned to adapt things that most teenage girls do, but things like painting my nails, curling my hair, and doing my make up, can get frustrating at times because my CP affects my left side, so I have to adapt and conquer those types of tasks.
What is the biggest misperception other people have of kids/teens with CP?
That every person with CP is “disabled”. That label gets misused a lot. For example, I am not disabled. I just have Cerebral Palsy.
Simply put, if you can treat them like a normal kid, they’re going to act more like a normal kid. No kid with any disability (especially a teenager) wants to be coddled or given special treatment. So that sense of normalcy is really empowering. That’s really what I credit for my current condition. My mom wouldn’t let me say I had a disability, or that I couldn’t do things. My whole life I was told that I was just as capable as every other human, I just had to work a little harder. EXCELLENT ADVICE!