The Power of Parks & Recreation

 

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Today was a remarkable day, and not just because the temperature in New England got into the 70’s during the month of February. It was an amazing day because Erin in our town Park and Recreation Department believed in the possible and the power of sports. And this mom is so grateful for having her on my team.

This story actually started a few weeks ago when I was trying to register the kids for spring sports. I kept questioning Ian and Caitlin what sports they wanted to play in the spring. It was a challenging conversation because I not only had to express what spring was like in New England to Ian, but I had to explain each sport to him and nothing seemed to interest him. Caitlin was engaged in the conversation, yet distracted. In the end, both kids accepted the opportunity to try track and field, but no one left the table with great enthusiasm.

I revisited the conversation the next day only to learn that Caitlin really wanted to play baseball, but she didn’t think it was an option because she was a girl. I explained that she could play any sport she desired. She then eagerly hung over my shoulder as I went to register her to play. Unfortunately, the online registration wouldn’t accept her information, and I had to disappointedly email our Park and Recreation Department about my difficulty in registering my daughter to play baseball. However, I got a prompt and apologetic response from Erin explaining that the form had been set to accept only one gender- male. However, she had reset it and that I should go ahead and register Caitlin. Caitlin beamed with excitement when I showed her the confirmation email.

So on this first day to get out and throw a ball, Caitlin and I played catch. She worked on her form and proudly grinned each time the ball solidly landed in her mitt. In fact, she even said, “Mom, I don’t plan to play as good as the boys. I plan to play better.”

While we tossed the ball back and forth, Ian sat watching unusually quiet. When we invited him to play, he replied, “I can’t. I only have one hand.”

“Of course, you can,” Caitlin quickly responded. I immediately thought of Jim Abbott. Doing the best I could, I showed him how he could tuck the glove under his arm while throwing the ball and then quickly switch the glove on to the same hand to catch the ball. He gave it a try with little success, but Caitlin wouldn’t let it end there. She coached him in throwing the ball properly, swinging the bat, and even running the bases. It was serious spring training here at the Stratton household.

After lunch, Ian begged me to register him to play on a baseball team like Caitlin. I promptly called Park and Recreation to sign him up. Erin answered and explained that it was late, but there were still a few slots open. I mentioned that Ian had joined our family in the fall and all of this was new to him making it difficult for him to decide on playing a spring sport. Her genuine excitement for Ian to engage in this new experience encouraged me to mention that he also had an upper limb difference. Expecting a pause, an awkward silence, I waited for her response…but she didn’t miss a beat. Instead, she responded that she would make sure he would be on a team with a returning coach who was more familiar with coaching young players. Then she asked if any of Ian’s friends were playing baseball. She wanted him to have some friends on the team to encourage him.  I then confessed that he thought he couldn’t play because he only had one hand. Worried she might doubt his ability, I quickly said, “I told him he could do anything.” This time she did pause and responded, “You’re a good mom.”

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I will admit I needed to hear that. Being a mom is hard work. It is scary work, always second-guessing yourself. I am so grateful for her kind words today. I am so grateful for her changing the gender setting on the website and enabling me to register Cait to play baseball. I am grateful for her not asking about Ian’s English acquisition or his limb difference, but about his friends on the team. Today, Erin believed in me as a mom. She believed in Ian as a ballplayer, and she absolutely understood the power of sports for this family. Erin, thank you for making this a remarkable day!

 

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F is for February, Family of Five & So Much More…

F is for February, and it is a special time in the Stratton household. We have officially been a family of five for a total of four months. It hasn’t been an easy four months, but it has been filled with many unexpected beautiful moments. I thought I would share a few of them with you.

  1. F is for fierce. Ian really wanted to climb the rock wall at school. Caitlin thought about how he could use his prosthesis and engaged Ian in an at-home “coaching” session. She created various exercises and pushed him hard. He listened and tried his best.  By the end of their training session, Ian had figured out how to hang from the rings with his prosthesis. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend hanging rings in the basement with a cement floor and only a small foam mat beneath, but watching their teamwork and Ian’s perseverance was worth the risk.IMG_2108
  2. F is for fun. We are fortunate to live in New England and to have a large yard with a decent size slope for sledding. With the three of them packed into a plastic sled, Ian literally squealed with delight as he zoomed down the hill for the first time. He is still working on stopping before hitting the old stone wall, but luckily his older siblings are helping out with that important step. IMG_1997
  3. F is for friendship. Ian has enjoyed celebrating new holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, he could hardly contain his excitement to share his culture and language with his friends at school during the Chinese New Year. It was simply beautiful to witness how his peers embraced the many traditions associated with the holiday and then how they challenged themselves to write in Mandarin on their red paper lanterns. As they struggled and asked him for help, I could feel their respect for Ian and his journey deepen. IMG_1717
  4. F is for forts. Nolan, Caitlin, and Ian are a remarkable trio. Their energy and creativity are endless. As oldest, Nolan is typically the leader and delegates jobs. Caitlin is the creative one whose out-of-the-box thinking generates new ideas for the group. While Ian is the eager little brother who usually gets sent on every less desirable job. Building forts whether inside or outside is one of their favorite group activities.IMG_2237
  5. F is also for fighting, but I won’t share any of those sibling stories. Just like in any family, brothers and sisters don’t always get along and I’m sure you know what that looks and sounds like. So there is plenty of bickering in the house or the car, but those less than beautiful moments have taught Ian the most important lessons about our family: Love in our family is endless, and our family of five is forever.

So there you have it, five moments that give you a glimpse of our journey as a family. Hope you take time this February to have fun and to reflect on your own family moments.

Believe in the Possible,

Jen

 

PEOPLE WORKING SIGNS

 

Yesterday, my daughter, Caitlin requested a special post. She wants me to share her story about trying to change “MEN WORKING” signs to “PEOPLE WORKING” signs. Because I believe in her, her message, and that anything is POSSIBLE. Here is Caitlin’s story.

In the car on the way to school…

Caitlin: Mom, I just don’t get it. Why does it say, “MEN WORKING”? It should say, “PEOPLE WORKING.”

Me: Yeah, I never thought of that. That is a really good idea. What made you think of it?

Caitlin: Well, I want to be an architect and that means I will be on lots of construction sites. Those signs don’t include me. I think that is unfair.

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Caitlin researched women in construction on the internet and found an interesting article. Here she is reading it and taking notes on the topic. She found it shocking that women make up only 2.6 percent of the construction workforce.

Two days later and after lots of research on the topic…

Caitlin: Excuse me, sir, can I fix your sign? It says, “MEN WORKING” and it should say, “PEOPLE WORKING.” I want to be an architect and I will be involved in construction.

Eversource Worker: Yeah, sure. Go fix the sign.

 

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Caitlin stands proudly next to the new “PEOPLE WORKING” sign.

Caitlin’s Steps & Tips for Making “PEOPLE WORKING” Signs

  1. Get some recycled cardboard. (Tip: Use long skinny ones, but any will work.)
  2. Cut the cardboard into a 6-inch by 24-inch strip. (Tip: Make sure it is long enough to cover the word MEN.)
  3. Cover the strip with Duck Tape (Tip: This makes it weather resistant.)
  4. Write “PEOPLE” in big bold letters. (Tip: Use Black Sharpie.)
  5. Go to the construction site and safely find a nice worker. (Tip: WEAR BOOTS!)
  6. Politely ask the worker if you can fix the “MEN WORKING” sign. Explain that it is not fair and doesn’t include everyone. (Tip: If you want to go into the construction field, you can say that too.)
  7. Go fix the sign. Use lots of Duck Tape and make sure you wrap it around the back of the sign. (Tip: Don’t go on a rainy day like I did, unless you really want to change that sign.)
  8. Talk to your friends and share this post.

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    Here are Caitlin’s Supplies for PEOPLE WORKING signs.

Day 50: ‘Tis the Season for Exhausting Joy

It has been 50 days since Ian came into my life. It has been 50 days filled with incredible life-changing moments, and the journey is exhausting. But, it is not exhausting because Ian is a difficult child or the transition is not going well. In fact, Ian is the most remarkable little boy I have ever met, and he is transitioning beautifully into his new life. It is not exhausting because I am not sleeping. Actually, I crash early every night and sleep like a baby getting at least 7-8 hours. The exhaustion comes from the most unexpected place- from all the JOY. Yes, JOY! I had no idea JOY could be so difficult.

You see… I have learned that with life’s moments of joy comes heartbreak at exactly the same time. Lately, my heart and head are constantly split in two. Here are some of the ordinary moments filled with joy and heartbreak that have occurred in just the past two months:

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Ian at his first doctor’s appointment. Photo Credit: Mom

1a. Ian went to the doctor’s for his first physical and he was a trooper. Every nurse eagerly came in to meet him.

I was so proud of my new son that I thought I was going to cry.

1b. Ian went to the doctor for his first physical, and I had to write NA or Don’t Know on three pages of the medical history form.

I was so empty that I thought I might make up answers in the future.

2a. Ian went to the grocery store for the first time in his life. He was in awe of all the food. He hugged and kissed me when I let him pick out a mechanical Batman toothbrush.

I was so excited for the small things in life that I bought two gallons of ice cream to celebrate.

2b. Ian went to the grocery store for the first time in his life. In aisle 10 he stopped me because our cart was full and he wondered how we would pay for all our food. I bent down looked him in the eyes and assured him that he would always have enough food to eat in our home.

I was so grateful for the small things in life that I turned up the radio and cried as I drove home from the grocery store with him sitting in the back seat holding his Batman toothbrush.

3a. Ian went on his first flight and gazed out the window wondering if the plane could park on the clouds.

I was in such awe of seeing him soaking in the vastness of the world below that I thanked the Heavens above.

3b. Ian went on his first flight, and it was to leave behind everything he knew for the first seven years of his life.

I was in such shock over his incredible loss that I couldn’t cry.

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Ian with his two coins from the Tooth Fairy. Photo Credit: Mom

4a. Ian lost his second tooth and carefully inspected the little bloody indentation in his gums. Then, he left the tooth under his pillow, and the tooth fairy visited him leaving two coins behind.

 

I was so squeamish that I just let Seth and the tooth fairy to deal with it.

4b. Ian lost his second tooth, and his sister helped him write a letter to the tooth fairy. They explained that he had lost a tooth in China, but the tooth fairy never came.

I was so happy to see his smiling face in the morning that I captured it in a photo with him showing off his two shiny coins from the tooth fairy.

In the past 50 days, Ian has experienced more “firsts” than most people do in a lifetime. During this entire time, Ian has exhibited incredible resilience and courage. However, it is his JOY for life that truly amazes me. It is his JOY that gives me the energy and strength to cherish every moment of this totally exhausting journey. 

Hope you feel the exhausting JOY of the season found in the ordinary moments!

Jen

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A Gift of Love & Sunshine: Ian Stratton

Sometimes you just never know where you will go on life’s journey. Nearly three years ago, I started this blog to raise awareness about adaptive sports and share the sports stories of athletes who redefine ability. At that time, I didn’t expect to fall in love with someone I had never met. I didn’t expect to travel across the world with my family or to become a parent for the third time. But all of that did happen, and it has been incredible.

We met Ian on October 9th and became his family on October 10, 2017. It took nearly a year to get to that point. During that time, we would stare at the few photos we had of him and imagine our new life with him. Now, we can’t imagine life without him. Here is a glimpse of how this 7-year-old boy from China has melted our hearts, taught us about the power of love and shown us the beauty of the small things in life.

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Some people are so much sunlight to the square inch. –Walt Whitman

 

  1. His smile. It is infectious. Ian isn’t just a happy boy. He is joyous and spreads joy like a pixie fairy leaving anyone in his wake smiling and feeling better about the world.
  2. His courage. Ian is the bravest person I have ever met. He has embraced his new life and all the challenges it presents like a seasoned champion.
  3. His heart. Ian loves wholeheartedly. He smothers us with hugs and kisses. He greets us at the end of the day like we have been gone for weeks, and he says “I love you” because he means it.
  4. His energy. Ian has endless energy, and I mean endless. Ian Nolan Swim
  5. His intelligence. Ian is smart and he is proud of it. He will tell you what a good student he was in China, but it is his big thoughts that amaze me. It is what he wonders about…like parking airplanes on clouds or afterlife in heaven, that make me stop and reflect.
  6. His sense of humor. Ian is always teasing us and laughing. He loves to have fun and laugh with others.
  7. His grit. Ian lives a one-handed life in a two-handed world. It is not easy, but he takes it all on with dogged determination.
  8. His future. It is simply so bright.

So now you know…you know why I haven’t been writing as much as I would like. You know how I fell in love with a little boy across the globe. You know about Ian, my youngest son, who has redefined our family.

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Keep believing in the possible! We do!!!

Jen

 

 

 

Showing Up on the Blocks

I learned an important lesson about “just showing up” from Nolan at his swim meet on Saturday. Here he is as a sixth grader swimming on the high school team simply because he believes he can. He stands about a foot shorter and 75 pounds lighter than most of his teammates or competitors. He is still trying to do a flip turn and he has come in last every race this season. Yet, he still shows up…with a smile.

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Nolan and Cole, the swim team captain, who has supported Nolan the whole season. Thanks, Cole! Photot Credit: Jen Stratton

On Saturday, it was a big meet. It was the league championships. While I was sitting with Nolan before his first race, he shared that Jack, one of the older students who has been watching out for him, asked him on the bus ride  what his goal was for the meet. Nolan told me he had two goals: 1) not to come in last and 2) to do flip turns in his freestyle events.

I sat nervously in the bleachers as Nolan stepped on to the block for his first race, the 50 freestyle. He took his mark and dove in. For the first 25 he swam his heart out just a few yards behind the leader. He approached the wall and to my amazement did a flip turn. I jumped up shouting. I cheered and screamed like it was the Olympics. Parents from other schools  in the stands looked at me wondering why I was cheering so loudly for the kid who was clearly undersized and was now being outperformed by all the swimmers in the pool, except one.  Although his kick slowed and his form got messy, he tagged the wall in fifth place for his heat making him 77 out 78 swimmers. He had achieved his goals.

I sat back down and my heart filled with joy for him. Then, my eyes filled with tears. In those tears were all the memories of PT sessions, OT sessions, evaluations, labels, and all the other rollercoaster moments of being a parent of a child whose journey is different.

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Nolan coming off the blocks for his 100 freestyle event. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

And just like a rollercoaster ride, this meet was filled with ups and downs. Two hours later with a bit of success under his belt, Nolan confidently stepped on to the block to swim in the 100 freestyle event. This time he dove in and came up with his goggles not on his eyes, but choking him around the neck. He struggled to make it to the end of the pool. He then stood in the shallow water gasping for breath looking around for help. His coach pulled him from the pool and, fortunately, Nolan’s teammates surrounded him with support.

Eventually, he made his way to us in the stands. He slumped down and cried, “I didn’t achieve my goals. I am a failure.”

Seth and I tried reassure him that he had achieved some of his goal, just not all…not yet. We tried to explain how proud we were of him for “just showing up.” We shared sports stories of other athletes like Michael Jordan who had failed, but had grit and had persevered through setbacks.  However, our words just were not enough to lighten his disappointment.

Fortunately, it appears some rest and comfort can help a lot. Because over breakfast Nolan asked me to take him to the pool at the YMCA to train. He explained that he was going to “redeem himself.” He was going to practice so  that in his next meet, the New England Championships (an even bigger meet),  he could achieve his goals. So we spent this Sunday morning at the pool swimming laps together and Nolan taught me how to do a flip turn. During the car ride home, Nolan smiled and said, “Mom, that was fun.” I agreed and told him that he had not only taught me to do a flip turn, but that sometimes, we just need to show up.

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Nolan is ready and determined to achieve his goals. We believe in you, Nolan! Photo Credit: Proud Mom (a.k.a Jen Stratton)

Love you, Nolan! You’ve got grit!

No Limits: No Boundaries- A Book Review with Guest Writers from Mrs. Jackman’s 2nd Grade Class

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I was thrilled when I was asked to review No Limits: No Boundaries My Journey through the ABCs by Julian English & Natasha Moulton-Levy for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. My excitement grew as I realized all the connections I shared with the authors, Julian and his mom. Here are a few:

  1. We have special people in our lives who were born prematurely.
  2. We have special people in our lives who learn differently.
  3. We love to travel and see the world.

Because this was a unique book with a special purpose, I decided I wanted to share it with readers who know a lot about books. So I headed to one of my favorite second grade classrooms in the district where I am a literacy coach and asked Mrs. Jackman’s class for their help.

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Julian and his mom, Natasha Moulton-Levy Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun

We started by reading “A Note from Julian” and learned why Julian and his mom decided to write this book. Julian explains, “Mom and I wanted to write this book for all the kids with special needs like me. Like you, I know it’s not easy seeing the world differently. But we do and that’s that!” Julian’s note helped us as readers understand the purpose of this book and also enabled many of us to share stories about people with exceptionalities in our own lives.

From reading the book we learned that Julian is conquering some of his fears by trying new things, that you can learn your ABC’s by traveling, and that we all learn in different ways. When reading the book we liked how Julian sees lots of animals, how Julian keeps trying even though he is scared, and how Julian takes risks without ever giving up.  After reading the book, we suggest that Julian and his mom write another book about numbers and colors and that readers read it more than once.

No Limits: No Boundaries My Journey through the ABCs by Julian English & Natasha Moulton-Levy reminds all of us that everyone has a story to tell and when we are brave enough to share our story with others we can make a difference in the world. Julian and his mom reminded us to challenge ourselves and to never give up. Anything is possible! Go Team Possible!

A Special Note: I want to thank all of the guest readers and writers who helped me write this book review with a special shout out to Peter B., Philip, Ryan, Andrew, Dominick, Liam, Isabella, Peter L., Caelan, Andrea, Amelia, Olivia, Ainsley, Haley, Devin, Jack, Makenna, Madelyn, Quinn, Moira, Gabriel, Faith, Grace, Hope and Mrs. Jackman. Keep believing in the possible!

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More Information About Multicultural Children’s Book Day/ #ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Some sites to learn more about #ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers 

Free Kindness Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents

Mackenzie Soldan: From Grit to Gold

Mackenzie Soldan has a long list of accomplishments for 2016. Completing her MBA at the University of Alabama, winning a gold medal with the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball in Rio and visiting White House are only three items that top the list. I was fortunate to catch up with Mackenzie as she took some time to reflect on her sports journey.

What moment from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio will stick with you? The moment before we got our gold medal. When I was pushing out to the podium with all of my teammates. I realized then that I had achieved my dream, and all of my family and old coaches were there to see it. All the people who had contributed to getting me to that moment were there.

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                 Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball with their gold medals in Rio.                                Photo Courtesy of Mackenzie Soldan

What makes the Paralympic Games a unique sporting event? The Paralympics are unique because it brings so many athletes from different cultures together that wouldn’t meet except through sports. It also demonstrates the progress of disabled sports and helps to continue the movement forward.

What was your grittiest moment of the Games? As a team, we had a moment in the semi-finals where we played the home team. In the locker room the coaches let us have it. The whole team was down because we hadn’t play to our expectations. At our next practice, we pushed through it. We realized that one moment or one game was not going to ruin this for us. We decided to forget it and go with what we knew. We did just that and ended up with a great final game.

Who was an athlete at the Paralympic Games that embodied grit for you? His name is

Ahmed Shafik Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Ahmed Shafik. He was born in Iraq and contracted polio as a baby. After the Iraqi team had a poor performance at the Games, he was jailed for a year and beaten badly. He decided to leave the country and arrived in the US as a refugee. He then joined the US Army as a translator and served a tour in Iraq for three years. When he came back he returned to powerlifting and was the only American powerlifter at the Games in Rio. I think that story perfectly displays having grit. He was in a tough situation, and against all odds, he made his way through it. The way that happens is by making one decision. I think you can usually trace back someone’s success to one moment where the person consciously decides to either make a change or do nothing. Ahmed made the decision to make a change in a harder situation than most of us will ever encounter.

 

What do you hope people gained from watching the Paralympic Games? I hope people realized that the Games are a high level of competitive sports and they became fans. I hope they watched and became inspired by athletes who were following their dreams. I also hope that the Games humanized people with disabilities. And finally, I hope that people learned not to fear disabilities, but to simply see them as a part of an athlete’s life. Disabilities don’t make a person greater or lesser.

What’s next for you? Everyone has been asking me that question. I’m not sure. It’s hard. For four years you have a plan. Right now, I am going to take a break and think about starting my career.

No matter her decision, Mackenzie’s future is bright because we know she will always choose grit. Thanks, Mackenzie for being awesome and representing Team USA!

If you want to learn more about Mackenzie you can check out her  NWBA Athlete of the Week interview.

Josh Kennison: On the Side Lines

Josh Kennison loves sports. He is a fierce competitor who has set records in track and field. Josh is also a mentor at Camp No Limits (CNL) for young people with limb loss. At CNL he is known not only for his sports accomplishments, but for his heart of gold. Now, Josh is finding that this combination of grittiness and kindness is perfect when you decide to trade in running spikes for standing on the sidelines with a clipboard. Here is my interview with this athlete turned coach:

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Josh Kennison with the CNL family. Photo Credit: Camp No Limits

What sparked your desire to transition to coaching? This past winter, I could not train every day due to knee pain. I decided I wanted to know if I could transfer my competitiveness to training other athletes. In the spring I started  at Telstar High School in Maine as their head track and field coach. I soon realized that I loved helping young people. It was clear to me that the reason I was put on this earth was to help people.

How would you define your coaching style? I care a lot about my athletes. I want to push them so they bend, but don’t break. Coaching is not just about sports. I am there for them in life. I want to be someone they can trust.

What do you hope your athletes learn from you? I hope they learn to never give up in life. I don’t want them to ever loose sight of their goals.

You know I love superpowers, so what is your coaching superpower? Oh, man that is a good question. My coaching superpower is making athletes feel like they can do anything. I’m always like, “Let’s do this!” I have one athlete who wants to go to the Olympics. I believe in her and I am helping her achieve that goal. I would rather have an athlete fail trying 100%, than tell her to never try.

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Coach Josh on the sidelines with the Telstar Girls Soccer Team. Photo Credit: Duchess Killam

When we spoke last time, you defined grit as messy and said, “It is working so hard that you are reaching for every ounce of energy you can provide yourself.” How do you develop grit in your athletes? I have to ride them. I tell them that when you practice, you always have to practice like you are in a game.

What are your goals for your new coaching career? I want to be the best high school coach I can be. I want to be more than just a coach for my athletes. I want to be there for them in life and I hope someday to coach their children or even grandchildren.

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Coach Josh with his high school track stars. Photo Credit: Duchess Killam

In case you are wondering, Josh is a congenital quad amputee who coaches able-bodied middle school and high school athletes. I simply mention this awesome fact because Josh is breaking down barriers and redefining ability for himself and his athletes. Way to believe in the possible, Josh!

If you are interested in having this game changer speak to your students or athletes feel free to contact Josh at youcandoanything89@gmail.com.

My Favorite Four-Letter Word

In August we returned to Acadia National Park in Maine for a family vacation. We had been there five years earlier with Nolan and Caitlin. At that time Caitlin was just three years old and Nolan was five. During that trip, the kids hiked their first mountain and experienced the magic of Mother Nature. As a result, they too fell in love with the park.

This time Seth and I wanted to explore new and more challenging hikes with them. So we shared the trial maps, read the description of the hikes and let them decide on our daily adventures. They choose to start with some familiar, easier hikes where we shared memories from our first hikes in the park. Then, they wanted to try the more challenging Beehive Trail because of the cliff climbs and incredible vistas.

Caitlin bounded up the entire trail like a mountain goat. I tried to keep up, but instead of leaping like a billy goat I often found myself crawling on my hands and knees. The steel ladders stapled into the side of mountain left me shaking and crawling. To Caitlin’s credit, she waited at the top of each ladder climb reaching out her hand and asking, “Mom, do you want some help?” Each time, I eloquently responded through clenched teeth, “You can help by just standing still for one minute.”

Seth and Nolan were behind me because Nolan has a fear of heights, and I was to be his “guide.” However,  Nolan just kept yelling at me, “Mom, stop saying, ‘Oh my God’ in that shaky voice. It’s NOT helping.” So our trek up the Beehive wasn’t always pretty, but we did make it to the peak. And like seasoned hikers, we proudly celebrated our accomplishment with a few photos, apples and trail mix.

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Nolan and Caitlin posing proudly after completing the Beehive Trail.  Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Over dinner we retold our versions of the climb which sounded as triumphant as climbing Mt. Everest. With this boost in confidence, the kids decided they wanted to try a two-peak hike. The next day we would climb to the top of Acadia, enjoy a snack, and then transverse to the top of St. Sauveur Mountain. It would be a four mile up and down journey, but we felt ready for the trek.

However, it didn’t take long before our confidence bubble started to deflate. Only a mile in we realized that I had left the second water bottle in the car that was parked at the trailhead. Who needs water when hiking four miles up two peaks in oppressive August heat? Okay, maybe we weren’t totally prepared. But more importantly, we had faith in ourselves.

Within an hour we reached the top of Acadia. It was stunning to look out over the mountains and ocean. Between the cool breeze, healthy snacks, and a few sips of water from our one bottle, we were ready to traverse to our next peak. The terrain was rocky, and we often found ourselves scrambling up boulders. It was a tough 2.5 miles. As we approached the summit of St. Sauveur, our paced slowed even more and the kids started to ask, “How much further?” One behind the other, Caitlin and Nolan trudged along. Nolan started to describe how the sweat was dripping down their backs. Caitlin shared that her legs burned. But…they never complained. They never asked to stop or give up. They just kept going one foot in front of another. After a long hour of slow yet steady steps, we rounded the bend to the summit.

At that moment, Caitlin exclaimed, “Mom, I have GRIT!”

Yes! Caitlin used my favorite four-letter word to describe her experience, her triumph…herself. She recognized that there will be times when we want to give up on our journey, times when we are experiencing physical and/or emotional pain that will make us doubt our own abilities, but it is during these times that we need to stay focused on our goal and to dig deep. 

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All of us on the top of Acadia Mountain. Photo Credit: A Kind Hiker

Caitlin experienced the power of grit on a mountain top, but she learned it from her cousin, Nick Springer. He is one of the grittiest guys we know. She also recently observed grit in action when we watched the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games. During the Games, she watched Team Possible members Abby Dunkin , Mackenzie Soldan  and the gritty USA women’s wheelchair basketball team win a gold. In the pool she watched Cortney Jordan add to her medal count; while the gritty veteran, Brad Snyder set a world record in 100M freestyle. These champions embody grit and grace.

Caitlin and I love how Mackenzie Soldan defines grit:

“Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it. Sometimes you have to fight for a long time, and sometimes it’s for shorter periods of time. Grit is having a drive to achieve something you want and not letting anything stop you. Even if it takes beating down the same problem or obstacle again and again. To have grit you don’t have to be a tough person, it is just a choice that you can make for yourself.”

So what choice are you going to make for yourself? We choose GRIT!