Aiming for the stars

Tully Zygier
When Marlena Katene was in high school all her friends were getting part-time jobs. Marlena has cerebral palsy and uses a communication device. She also uses a wheelchair. So Marlena wasn't sure what job she could find. Still in high school she decided to buy a jumping castle to rent out for kids parties. Now at the age of 21 her business has grown and she is also a professional public speaker. She wants to be the first woman who uses a wheelchair to fly to the moon. She met Richard Branson and he tells her it's possible.
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Tully Zygier on 08/08/2012
An image of earth taken from space.

Marlena has her sights set on space.

A while back I attended a conference for people with a disability who want to develop their leadership skills. One of the seminars was given by Marlena Katene who started this leadership course in 2011.

When Marlena was in year nine at high school many of her friends were getting jobs at McDonald's and Donut King. She wanted an after school job too but Marlena wasn't able to serve people burgers or donuts.

You see, Marlena has cerebral palsy. She is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair. She is unable to talk and uses a communication device.

Marlena was determined to get a job and start saving money so she could be independent one day. She says high school traditionally is a wind-down period for those with a disability, and even though she went a mainstream high school it is easy to say that some people with a disability do not receive an equal education.

One day Marlena says, I was walking by a market and saw a business for sale that happened to be a jumping castle business.

In year 10 at the time, Marlena bought her first jumping castle that she rented out for children's parties.

She then decided to take on a business course at TAFE.

Rising above the rest

At the age of 21, with the knowledge gained from completing the business course, a whole lot of courage, a fair bit of negotiation and all of her bank savings, Marlena purchased the jumping castle franchise.

Marlena says, I have split my business in two, with my initial one catering to events and markets and the other for parties.

Marlena not only has her own business but also works as a public speaker. On keeping busy and challenging herself Marlena says, challenges are good and rather than see my communication as a barrier I see it as marketable and unique.

Aiming high

While Marlena is determined to continue building up her jumping castle business, she also has another interest that will take a lot of kids parties to help pay for it. In her words, I am thinking of a Richard Branson Virgin Galactic Space Flight.

Marlena has met Richard Branson and told him about her dream. He has given me the green light, saying it is possible and he welcomes me up there, she says.

The only thing is that she has to buy two flight tickets, one for herself and one for a carer. Each seat on the flight costs $200,000. But despite the financial hurdle it is in the plans. As she sees it, if this were to happen it would be my meal ticket for life.

And Marlena is right, who wouldn't want to pay to hear her talk about such an extraordinary adventure?

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