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St. Robert Teacher Overcomes Disability to Share Passion for Music

At 3 months old, doctors removed a tumor from Lindsay Tryba's retinas, permanently scaring and damaging her vision. Everyday is a struggle, but she has adapted and now shares her love of music with elementary school students.

At an early age, Lindsay Tryba learned she would have to work a little bit harder than her peers to get where she wants in life.

Growing up in Whitefish Bay, she grew fond of music and performing and refined her craft playing with youth symphonies and bands. Now, she tries to pass that love on to her fifth- through eighth-grade students at St. Robert School, where she has been a band teacher for the past six years.

“I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do music,” she said. “I’ve always been a band geek.”

But every day brings a new challenge.

You see, at just 3 months old, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor attached to the retina on her right eye, which later spread to her left eye. Tryba was forced to go under the surgical knife to have it removed.

“I’m very lucky they caught it in time,” she said. “It could have been much worst.”

However, the surgery left Tryba with severe vision loss, which isn’t correctable, she explained. She has virtually no use of one of her eyes.

“I’ve dealt with this my entire life, so I haven’t known it any different,” she said. “You adapt, and you just learn to make it work for you.”

Vision problems present significant challenges

In her youth, Tryba attended a school for blind and visibly impaired children, and learned to adapt, but as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying music, she noticed a slight decline in her vision, which she says forced a lifestyle change.

After moving on to Minnesota to earn her graduate degree in performing, she found herself performing with an orchestra in Chicago. During the stint, she said it became clear how much her sight disability would affect her ability to perform.

“You have to plow through so much music, so fast, and I was able to do it, but it was so stressful and it just took up so much of my life,” she said.

Today, getting students as excited about music as she was as a child means Tryba must adapt much of her teaching material, enlarging print and music and memorizing some of the substance.

“Through many instructors, I have come up with a system of markings and different colors,” said Tryba, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to obtain her teaching license. "There are a lot of high highs and a lot of low lows, but I love when you get to the concert, and you see all that hard work, blood, sweat and tears pay off."

Learning to 'step outside the box'

With the digital age altering the way children learn in the classroom with new technologies, Tryba says she has to use adaptive programs on computers.

"I have to step outside the box to make that work for me," she said. 

She spent a decade worth of summers working at a fine arts camp in Michigan and loved that, so the natural progressive was to enter the education field, Tryba said. 

“It’s fun for me to get them excited about music,” she said. “It’s fun for me to start them as beginners and see them progress.

“I appreciate their personalities."

Ultimately, Tryba's vision loss has shaped who she is today, she said. 

"It has taught me so many life lessons," she said.

St. Robert has a great arts program and it is growing very rapidly, Tryba said. Her disability forced her to be flexible with her hopes and dreams and things didn't exactly work out the way she initially expected, but life had something better in store for her, she said. 

“I like to share my story because I hope it inspires,” she said. “If you persevere and go the extra mile, you can make it work.

"Even when it's hard, and you think you can't do it, you can, and ask for that help and lean on those that love you the most. You may be surprised what you can accomplish."

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