No Limits- A Wheelchair Basketball Dream for Malat Wei

Many young people have sports dreams. It may be to run the 100-meter dash in the Paralympic Games or to win a wheelchair rugby championship. Few have dreams like Malat Wei, and even fewer work tirelessly for years to see their dreams come true. However, Malat is no ordinary dreamer or average athlete. As a result, he has achieved what some once thought impossible. He brought the game he loves, wheelchair basketball, to the people of the country that he loves, South Sudan.

Malat Wei during his first trip back to South Sudan. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

Malat, who was born in the war-torn country of South Sudan, lost the use of his lower limbs due to polio at the age of three. He lived for years with his family in refugee camps before coming to the United States where he was outfitted with his first wheelchair and later exposed to adaptive sports. Through wheelchair basketball, Malat found confidence and strength that has empowered him to graduate from high school and become a premier player of the game. The transformative powers of sport led Malat to believe that if he could return to his home country he could share all that he has learned to help other individuals with disabilities to redefine how they see themselves and shift the perspective of community members on the value of people with disabilities.

Malat and Jess enjoying the game that transformed their lives. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

Jess Markt, a former wheelchair basketball player and current Diversity, Inclusion, and Sports Advisor for the  International Committee Red Cross (ICRC), also has a similar belief in the power of adaptive sports, due to a life-changing spinal cord injury and the introduction to wheelchair basketball during his rehabilitation process. In his role at ICRC, Jess has started numerous adaptive sports programs in countries caught in conflict. As a result, Jess visited South Sudan in 2017 and introduced the sport of wheelchair basketball in Juba.

When Malat saw a video on social media of the work that Jess was doing in his home country, he reached out to him. Jess understood Malat’s desire to become involved in the project and immediately saw the value in bringing Malat to South Sudan. Hence, he started advocating for him to join on the next trip as an assistant coach.

Malat demonstrating wheelchair basketball skills to new players. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

In 2018, for the first time since leaving South Sudan as a young boy, Malat returned home. Now, strong, educated, and empowered, Malat shared his passion for the game, belief in the power of adaptive sports, and hope for improved conditions for all people with disabilities. The pair spent their days teaching drills, wheelchair techniques, and the rules of the game. They also worked off the court to foster inter-tribal relationships and shift perspectives about the potential of people with disabilities by leveraging what was occurring on the court.

South Sudan wheelchair basketball players united through sport. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

The play taking place was a fulfillment of their dreams and a testament to all that they have overcome. It is also the true embodiment of the vision that the founder of the Paralympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Gutmann, had on the field of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948.

Players celebrating their successes on and off the court. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

In conclusion, at a time when many dreams have been deferred and hope may be hiding, one only needs to speak with Malat and Jess for a short time to believe again that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. These two inspire one to dream big, dig deep, and to keep moving forward to achieve the Possible.

Be sure to check out the award-winning documentary No Limits: Wheelchair Basketball in South Sudan which features Malat and Jess on their incredible journey to change the world through the game of wheelchair basketball. 

Some Impressive Sports Story Stats

Through the ICRC, Jess has brought wheelchair basketball to 19 war-torn countries with plans to expand to a total of 28.

Jess and the ICRC have worked to provide over 1,000 wheelchairs constructed by Motivation, a UK based organization that builds wheelchairs specifically for users in developing countries.

In 2018, there was 1 female wheelchair basketball player in South Sudan. In 2019, there were 25 female players with plans to develop more programming across the country.

Nevertheless, she persisted…the first female wheelchair basketball player in the South Sudan program. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

Catch Katie If You Can

Meet Katie Eddington, an 11-year-old who was born to run. If you are looking for Katie, you can find her running around her neighborhood or practicing with her local track team. Katie loves to move fast, really fast. She is so fast that she has set the national record for 8-11 year-olds in both the 100M and 200M at the Endeavor Games. However, her goals are loftier with her eyes on the Paralympic Games.

We caught up with Katie and her mom, Samantha, after their recent trip to Florida. It wasn’t a regular vacation in the middle of a pandemic. It was an important trip for Katie to get fitted for her new running blade. As a young and growing athlete, Katie needs to be fitted every 6 months for her running blade.

Katie’s mom also runs, but she doesn’t run to set records. Samantha runs to raise funds for the non-profit, 50 Legs, which provides prosthetic devices to individuals who have experienced leg or foot loss. Despite the Boston marathon being canceled for 2020, a major fundraising event for this mom from Kentucky, she has still raised over $18,000 for 50 Legs on her webpage. Knowing personally the importance of adaptive sports for youth, Samantha has a desire to raise even more stating, “That amount will be enough to get lots of kids running blades.”

Like her mom, Katie is trying to make a difference in the world for people with disabilities. With the goal of increasing the representation of people with exceptionalities in the media, Katie is a model for Athleta Girl. It was a photo of her running in a recent catalog that led us to pursue her sports story. Despite COVID-19, you will see Katie donning Athleta’s newest fall gear soon via photos and videos from home.

My daughter, Caitlin, who drafted the questions for our interview and co-authored this post wants to be sure you know one more very cool thing about this strong and fierce athlete. During her trip to Florida, Katie recently got a tattoo. Well, to be more accurate, her plastic molded foot on her every day prosthetic leg got a tattoo. There are advantages to being an amputee.

So you can catch Katie on the pages of an Athleta catalog, but don’t try to catch her on the track because she will leave you behind. Keep running, Katie! Keep believing in the Possible!

Fun Side Note: When I saw Katie’s photo in the Athleta catalog, I was inspired to write the post, Representation Matters. Fortunate for us, Samantha came across the post and reached out to Team Possible. Now, we get to share her sports story and watch her achieve her dreams.

Representation Matters

Being a professor of education for over a decade, I have read lots of children’s books. Over the past five years, I have focused my reading on children’s books representing people with disabilities, and you might be shocked at what I found or maybe not…

  1. You can find many picture books about disabilities, but few picture books where the main character has an exceptionality.
  2. You can find the sports stories of athletes who play traditional sports, but you cannot find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports. 
  3. You can find lots of pirate picture books featuring amputees holding weapons or bottles, but you cannot find books about going back to school that include children with limb differences. 
Pirate Pete by Kim Kennedy

When I reflect on what I can and cannot find for young readers, I wonder what messages they are getting from the books that do and do not appear on our shelves. Are these the messages we intended?

  1. You can talk about disabilities, but you can’t talk with people who have exceptionalities.
  2. You can hear the sports stories of traditional athletes, but the triumph of athletes who play adaptive sports are not as valuable. 
  3. You can read about amputees as villains, but they shouldn’t be included in your classroom.

Fortunately, there is a growing representation of people with exceptionalities in the media. You can see a young boy in a wheelchair on a poster at Target. In my Athleta catalog, a young girl who is an amputee is running across the page. So now, I simply wonder when children’s literature will catch up and include everyone on the shelf. 

Oliver Garza Pena gets that representation matters. Photo Credit: Ollie’s World Facebook Page

Until then, I will blog, teach, and present the sports stories of athletes who redefine ability and believe in the possible because I know representation matters. Don’t believe me. After a group of third graders, heard my son, Ian, and I share the sports story of wheelchair rugby champion, Nick Springer, and they asked to write him letters.

Nick Springer, two-time wheelchair rugby Paralympian. Photo Credit: Christopher Griffith for Vanity Fair

Dear Nick,

“You showed me that anything is possible. You showed me that there are no limits to what I can do.” -Sierra

“I think you are brave and I know you are strong.” -Olivia

“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do and what you can.” -Emerson

“Everyone loved how you persevered.” -Grace

“I think you are brave like a superhero. I like the way you do wheelchair rugby.” -Ahmed

“I bet you liked crashing, slamming, banging, and helping your team. I think it would be fun to play wheelchair rugby.” -Logan

“It felt good telling your story to the class. I was proud of you and Mom and me. It also felt good to talk about someone else who has a disability like me. The best part was doing it with Mom. Love, Ian”

I told you REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Ian representing his story at Shriner’s Hospital. Photo Credit: Shriner’s Hospital

Shriners Hospitals for Children Making an Impact

When filling out the adoption paperwork for Ian to join our family, we had to identify resources in our community that could support our son’s upper limb difference. We knew it was a blessing that just 30 minutes away was Shriners Hospitals for Children. However, at that time we had no idea of the impact that the team at Shriners Hospital would make on our family and just how grateful we would be for this amazing resource in our own backyard. Here are three ways Shriners Hospital has improved our lives:

#1 Modeling Acceptance. Did you know representatives from Shriners Hospitals visit schools and teach about physical differences, equip children with vocabulary to discuss disabilities, and provide hands-on experiences with prosthetic devices, braces and more? I didn’t until the counselor at Ian’s school arranged for outreach visits to his school, and Ian came home from school with a “finger cast.” He then shared how Miss Lee and Miss Kristen from Shriners had visited his class with dolls, braces, and made molds of the children’s fingers to show them some of the services provided at the hospital.

A Thank You Note from Ian’s Classmate
Photo Credit: Thankful Mom

With their modeling and accepting language, Ian told me how he decided to stand up in front of his class and tell his friends about his upper limb difference. His classmates asked him questions like, “Does it hurt?” or “Will it grow back?” And with pride, he answered them, “No, it doesn’t hurt” and “Nope, it won’t grow back”. For a child once taught to hide his little hand, with the guidance of Kristen and Lee, he was able to educate others and share with confidence how he can do anything. He just does it differently.

#2 Making Play Accessible. Kids are meant to play that is how they learn and explore the world. But when a child has a physical difference, his/her ability to fully engage with his/her surroundings may be limited. For Ian, he takes on most two-handed tasks like cutting his food, zipping his coat, or even playing basketball by making modifications. It takes practice, but he usually figures it out and doesn’t look back. However, learning to ride a bike proved to be unusually challenging for him. After lots of falls, scraped elbows and knees, and plenty of band-aids, Ian decided to ask the doctors at Shriners for some help. During our annual visit to the upper limb difference clinic, he stretched out his arms and said to the doctor, “Look at my arms, they are not the same length. It makes me wobble, and fall off my bike. Can you help me?”

Ian’s Big and Little Hands
Photo Credit: Proud Lucky Fin Mom

The doctor held Ian’s outstretched arms, smiled back at him, and said, “You’re right. They are not the same. But, we can make you a bike hand and that will help you balance on your bike. Do you want a bike hand?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Ian. Then, the nurse simply walked us out of the examination room and down the hallway to Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services Department (POPs). There Brock (he really is as cool as his name) made a mold that day for Ian’s new bike hand. It wasn’t until a rainy and cold November day that Ian got to test out his new bike hand. Since the weather wasn’t cooperating, Ian got to ride smiling down the hallways of the hospital. It was absolutely thrilling to watch him maneuver confidently around the corners and even ride one-handed while giving the nurses and doctors high-fives.

Brock and Caitlin watch Ian test out his bike hand while riding through the hallways of the hospital. Photo Credit: Proud Bike Hand Mom

BIKING UPDATE: In August, after lots of practice Ian finally learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Learning to ride his bike was a redefining moment for Ian. He truly learned to believe that he could do anything!

Ian is all smiles after riding his bike to the beach with his siblings and without training wheels.
Photo Credit: Proud Bike Mom

#3 Valuing Our Story. This third gift of valuing our story I never expected, but it might be the most important service that Shriners has provided to our family. The staff listened our story. They understood our story. They encouraged us to share our story. In the end, they valued our experience and literally offered a helping hand when we needed it. Their encouragement let us know that anything is possible for Ian. Their compassion let us know that it is okay to ask and accept help with no conditions attached. So on this #GivingTuesday, please consider supporting this amazing organization with a donation. And remember, always believe in the possible.

Ian showing radio hosts, Zito and Kera, from Mix 93.1 his bike hand.
Photo Credit: Shriners Hospital Photographer

Adoption Year #2: Redefining Family

Painted Family Rocks to celebrate Ian’s 2nd Family Day
Photo Credit: Proud Mom

November is National Adoption Month, and I thought it might be the perfect time to share an update on our adoption journey. While year one was mostly spent navigating new territory, which made the year both beautiful and overwhelming all at the same time, year two has been spent settling into our new “normal.” For us to get there, we have had to find time for healing and redefining our family. Let me explain…

Ian has the most beautiful mind. He is inquisitive and a big thinker. Every car ride is filled with questions, observations, and more questions. Often one idea bounces to another and yet another. Ian also has endless energy much like a bouncing rubber ball filled with joy, sunshine, and sprinkled with stardust. However, when you put all of this inside of a box like a structured school day or a martial arts lesson, it looks a lot like ADHD. It’s not

Ian is excited for his first day of 3rd grade.
Photo Credit: Proud Mom

It is, however, a brain that has experienced trauma from years of living in an institutional setting where all of your basic needs are not always met and from suffering significant losses. Fortunately, the brain can heal and grow. The fancy term for this is neuroplasticity and understanding this growth mindset has been a key component to Ian’s academic success, social-emotional development, and us becoming a family.

How does parenting from a trauma-informed perspective look different? For me, it has been three important approaches:

Ian inspecting shells on the rocky seashore of Maine. Photo Credit: Proud Mom
  1. Creating space. I try to create space for Ian to have some quiet time each day. I try to create space for him to talk about what is on his mind. I try to create space for hurt or angry feelings, and I try to create space for hugs and physical closeness. 
  2. Addressing sensory needs. I try to limit over-stimulating situations, especially if he is tired. I also let Ian know his schedule ahead of time, notifying him of any changes in it, and giving him a heads up on transitions. Additionally, I plan extra time for transitions and always have healthy snacks. I make it a priority that he is hydrated and well-fed. (We all function better when we are not hangry.) I make sure he exercises daily and gets to bed early. In fact, he loves the predictability of his bedtime routine where he gets his clothes out for the next day, takes a shower, and then cuddles while being read a bedtime story.
  3. Advocating for Ian. This is the hardest task for me because it means I have to get into some uncomfortable conversations with people who care about Ian but may not fully understand the complexity of his needs or situation. At home, it may mean changing a family tradition or vacation plans. At school, it might be asking for more services or holding providers accountable. With friends, it might be reminding them that I am Ian’s “real mom” and that his biological mom (a term they need to add to their vocabulary) loved him dearly. 

As the healing has taken place for Ian, we have also been able to focus on redefining who we are as a family. It has meant “Family Meetings” where we problem-solve on issues like chores, teasing each other, or how to get ready for school on time. Some of the redefining even comes in the form of scheduling events together like family movie nights or game nights. And a lot of it has been spending time outside together. Mother Nature has a lot of healing power.

Taking a break during a coastal hike.
Photo Credit: Seth Stratton

For example, in July, we headed to the coast of Maine for a few days of camping. We stayed in tents, built campfires to roast marshmallows, and went on lots of hikes exploring the rocky inlets of Casco Bay. During one of our hikes, we spotted two dozen horseshoe crabs huddled along the shoreline. With closer examination, we realized that they were mating while some lonely crabs were jockeying for a mate. We stood there watching in amazement, wondering about the event, and asking each other questions about what we saw. Later in the evening, we sat on rocks observing seagulls hovering high above craggy ledges with clams in their mouths. They would then drop the clams to crack them on the ledges below and then finally swoop down to grasp the exposed meat in their beaks. We cheered when they were successful and empathized with the gulls who, after much effort, lost their meat to a larger more dominant gull.

As you can see, this second year has been filled with lots of small moments where we have slowed down to connect, heal, and build something new. We will all admit that what we are building is not perfect and the process is often messy. But… it is us weaving our lives together. It is how we define our family.

Celebrating Family Day 2019
Photo Credit: Brian Marsh Photography

The Unexpected Village Built through Adoption

When we decided to adopt our son, Ian, we could confidently tell you a few things about him. He was seven. He was living in an orphanage in China, and he had an upper limb difference. We could also tell you that the adoption process was filled with lots of paperwork and tons of waiting. From our adoption classes, speaking with families who had adopted, and the books that we read about the topic, we could tell you with some confidence that there would be difficult times and challenging conversations. However, we never would have told you that we were adopting a village, but we did. Let me explain…

The first photo we ever saw of Ian. Photo Credit: Unknown

First, our adoption agency connected us with other families who had recently adopted or were in the process of adopting from the same orphanage in China. These initial connections became the inner circle of our village where we exchanged tips on paperwork or travel and shared photos from the orphanage. During our time in China, this group was a lifeline for me sending me encouragement and support when I was exhausted physically and emotionally. And over the past 19 months of being home, they have cheered for us during every milestone and shared stories that have helped us piece together Ian’s early years.

Ian and his earliest family from his orphanage in China. Photo Credit: Village Mom

Recently, many families from this group gathered together and eight children who were adopted over the past three years were able to play and laugh together again. I watched in absolute amazement as Ian splashed and swam alongside his earliest “siblings.” The same children, who I had stared at in so many photos from his orphanage, were now in front of me smiling, playing, and being embraced in endless hugs from their families. It was truly an unexpected gift that was only possible through this village.

There are many other unexpected places where our village has grown like the grocery store or doctor’s office. For example, the clerk who witnessed me talking to Ian through Google translate at the checkout during his first trip to a grocery store has become a villager and always asks how he is doing. The nurses who administered six immunization shots at lightning speed during his first visit to the doctor’s office ask for constant updates and celebrate every inch he has grown. Then, there is the team at Shriner’s Hospital who have redefined for Ian what is possible. They cheered and gave him high-fives when he rode his bike through the hallways of the hospital with his new bike hand. All unexpected villagers tied together by one little boy.

Ian at the beginning of his ride through the halls of Shriner’s Hospital Photo Credit: Proud Village Mom

Then, there are Ian’s friends and their families. There’s the family who embraced Ian before he was even home and had him over for his first play date when his main mode of communication was through Google Translate. Another family who played rounds of Connect Four with Ian at their home and laughed as he beat them all. And most recently, the farm family who had Ian over for his first sleepover where he fed the chickens, cared for the horses, and learned how to use a lasso. All of them and so many more have become a part of our unexpected village.

Ian using his new lasso on his friend. Photo Credit: Village Farm Mom

Finally, there is Ian’s village at school where the teachers embrace him with love and support. They take photos or video capturing moments of his first field trip or presentation knowing how important these are to us and Ian’s story. Their eyes fill up with tears at our end-of-year meeting when they discuss Ian’s progress, and they understand my tears as I listen to every report.

I wanted to share our unexpected village with you because it is such a beautiful part of adoption. I thought we would be on our own navigating this journey. Instead in the 21 months that Ian has been in our lives, this little boy has brought an entire village into our hearts, and I am deeply grateful for every single member of it. Believe in the Possible!

Grateful Village Mom and Ian Photo Credit: Deb Hanna Photography

Athletes Roll in Power Soccer

With the excitement of the Women’s World Cup, I wanted to share another story about soccer that may be new to some of our Team Possible readers. It is about the game of Power Soccer and the organization, Athletes Roll. Before I share the interview with player, Anthony Jennings, check out this amazing Power Soccer play from GoPro!

Awesome, right!?! I know. It was plays like this one and the high level of accessibility for players of all abilities that made me want to learn more about the game.

Here are six Power Soccer basics about the game from Anthony:

  1. It is like the traditional game of soccer with corner kicks and goal kicks.
  2. Four players total on a side including the goalie during a game.
  3. There are two 20 minutes halves with the referee keeping time.
  4. The ball is bigger than a typical soccer ball. It is 13 in diameters and it is less bouncy.
  5. The game is played on a flat surface like a basketball court.
  6. Players kick the ball by driving straight into it or spin and kick. (My favorite kick is the 360 spin kick, but the ¼ turn spin kick is more common.)
Intense Play in Power Soccer
Photo Courtesy of Athletes Roll

Now, Anthony warns Power Soccer is highly competitive with national and international levels. He also emphasized the importance of players being in the right place at the right time. To get there, players use control devices to drive with foot, chin, head, or sip and puff. The chairs can’t go faster than 6.2 mph and they are checked before every game. With players of all abilities, Anthony explained that there is a solution for any challenge an athlete may have. For example, if a player is unable to speak or is hearing impaired, teams use microphone and voice amplification or signaling devices to communicate during play.

Anthony believes anyone can be a great Power Soccer player. He states that if you have the desire, put in the time, and practice, anything is possible. Here is what Anthony wants readers to know about Power Soccer:

  1. It’s a real sport.
  2. It’s competitive.
  3. Players are real athletes.
  4. It takes a long time to develop the skills to become a great player.
  5. It takes a high level of dedication to play Power Soccer.

If you would like to learn more about Power Soccer, you can follow Anthony’s organization, Athletes Roll. If you are an interested athlete or know of one and would like to know how to get started in the sport, please contact Anthony at contact@athletesroll.com. If you want to support Power Soccer in New England, follow Athletes Roll on social media, spread the word and buy one of their cool t-shirts.

Cool Gear from Athletes Roll
Photo Courtesy of Athletes Roll

Keep rolling and believing in the possible!

Jen

Summer Reading Challenge

Caitlin reading while camping by the ocean in Maine. Photo Credit: Proud Book Mom

I just love talking with kids about books and helping them find the right book to read. It can open up a whole new world to them. Now with summer here, I’ve gotten some requests for summer reading lists for Team Possible families. So, I thought I would share ten goals that I have for my family and resources to support reaching them. I hope you and your family will find these reading goals and books lists helpful. Let me know if you do and what goals you accomplish. And, if you have a book to add to these lists, please share it with me.

Goal #1: To read a book with a main character who is differently abled.

Young Readers- Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Middle Readers- Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusty Bowling

Older & Parent Readers- The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Other Book Lists- Schneider Family Book Award & Books Section of Team Possible Blog

Goal #2: To read a book with a main character from a culture different than my own.

This year our family will focus on Malala Yousafzai and her courage to create change for girls in her community and around the world.

Photo Credit: Kid World Citizen

Young Readers- Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Middle Readers- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader’s Edition by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Older & Parent Readers- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Other Book Lists- Coretta Scott King Awards Book List, Pura Belpre Award Book List, South Asia Book Award Book List, American Indian Library Association Book Award List , Children’s Book Council Diverse Kids & YA Lit Book Lists

Goal #3: To read a book with interesting facts about my world.

Yes, my kids and I love to snuggle up at bedtime and travel the world by reading a world atlas. It is so fun to learn about different countries and the language, economy, landscape and more. Give it a try. No packing or tickets required for this trip.

Ian getting ready for a trip. Proud Book Mom

Young Readers- National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas

Middle Readers- National Geographic Kids World Atlas

Older & Parent Readers- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We Are Wrong About the World by Hans Rosling

Goal #4: To read a book about an issue that is important to me.

Starting a new job at a all women’s undergraduate university, I felt compelled to learn more about women’s issues and empowerment. The books listed here have helped me, my students, and my daughter thrive. They have also helped me find ways to talk with my husband and sons about gender equity issues. I encourage you to follow your passion and share it with your family.

Caitlin with her “People Working” sign. Photo Credit: Proud Feminist Mom

Young Readers- I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong

Middle Readers- Confidence Code for Girls by Katy Kay & Claire Shipman

Older & Parent Readers- Confidence Code by Katy Kay & Claire Shipman

Mom Readers-  A Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates (A MUST READ!)

Other Book Lists-  A Mighty Girl  website

Goal #5: To read a book by a local author.

Living in New England, we are surrounded by many amazing local authors. We have children’s literature icons like Eric Carle and Jane Yolen. We also have rising authors like Jarrett Krosoczka who is breaking new ground. He is the focus of my local author list.

Ian with his favorite author, Jarrett Krosockza, during a school visit. Photo Credit: Ian’s School Principal

Young Readers- Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett Krosoczka

Middle Readers- Lunch Lady Series by Jarrett Krosoczka

Older & Parent Readers- Hey, Kiddo! By Jarrett Krosoczka

Other Book Lists- SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Book List

Goal #6: To read a book with a main character who learns differently than me.

Young Readers- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

Middle Readers- Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt or Rules by Cynthia Lord

Older & Parent Readers- Focused by Alyson Gerber

Other Book Lists- Schneider Family Book Award

Goal #7: To read a non-fiction graphic novel about women in science, a historical event that is surprising, or one that simply interests me.

Young Readers- I Am Jane Goodall (Ordinary People Change the World)  by Brad Meltzer (Note: More of a hybrid text with word bubbles than a graphic novel)

Middle Readers- Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty

Older & Parent Readers-Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani

Other Book Lists- Albris Best Selling Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

Goal #8: To read a book written in verse.

Young Readers- Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg

Middle Readers- Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Older & Parent Readers- Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Other Resource: Listen and watch children’s poets read their own work at No Water River: A Children’s Poetry Place

Goal #9: To read a book that has won an award or was recommended by a friend.

(Most books on this list are award-winning, and I hope you count me as a friend. Hence, this goal should be easy to achieve.)

Goal #10: To share a book that I read with a friend because reading connects us.

Now, go set some goals, read, and keep believing in the possible!

Ian’s Reading Goal Photo Credit: Proud Book Mom


The Parent Perspective on Marcus Kadinger

Behind every great athlete is a team of supporters. Most often, they are parents who commit to driving to practices, to cheering through games, and to providing the financial backing for equipment and uniforms. Sometimes, parents even take on the role of coaching. Mike and Jodi Kadinger have held all of those roles while their son, Marcus, proved himself on the basketball court, the track, and the football field. As a one-handed player with an upper limb difference, it was a challenging journey. However, in the end, Marcus persevered and reached his goal of playing college basketball. In this interview, Jodi and Mike reflect back and share some insights into how to support and develop a gritty athlete no matter the odds.

Marcus and his dad, Mike, going over the plays. Photo Credit: Kadinger Family

What resources or organizations would you recommend to other parents who may have a child with a limb difference or another type of exceptionality?

Mike & Jodi: We went to Shriner’s for Marcus’ first prosthetic. We thought he would need it to learn to crawl, but he barely used it. We encouraged him to wear it in early elementary school. He would go off to school wearing it, but it kept coming home in his backpack. It just wasn’t for him at that time.

Marcus at age 4 Photo Credit: Kadinger Family

Later, when he got older and we were doing family activities like kayaking or he was weight lifting for school, he started to think of his prosthetic as a tool. Then, he would go to Shriner’s and ask them for a prosthetic for this or that. He owned it and wanted it to fit his need.

In his interview, Marcus mentioned struggling with developing his confidence and accepting his differences, how did you support him when his confidence faltered?

Mike: As he said, Marcus has always been his own worst critic. In eighth grade, he hit a rough patch. He was really down on himself. We would try to be positive, but we didn’t see things the same way as Marcus. We didn’t have one hand. It was then that I reached out to a friend, Kevin Monson. He has the same condition as Marcus. He was older, had a family, a career, and was an accomplished athlete. He had played football, basketball, and pitched in baseball. He was even a coach.

We let them have some time together. Kevin could talk about things we couldn’t. His best advice for Marcus was when he said, “The perceived disability that people see has become my greatest source of strength.”

Marcus Kadinger playing high school hoops as a Hilltopper Photo Credit: Kadinger Family

Jodi: We tried to help him understand that everyone has differences and just that his difference was very visible. We all have things that we are passionate about and we find a way to do them. So we need to choose what we want to focus on. We don’t want to focus on what we can’t do, but what we want to do. We always told him, “We will figure it out. We will find a way.”

Marcus defined grit as “mental toughness” and talked about “getting through adverse situations and keeping your head held high.” How did you help Marcus develop his grittiness?

Mike: Basketball really brought it out in Marcus. He was always trying and playing hard to win. On the court, he learned that you have to do the little things right. You have to practice and put in the time.

During Marcus’ freshman year, I was the JV coach. The varsity team was horrible. The head coach brought up Marcus and another freshman to start. They got smoked. He wasn’t ready.

How did you teach him to deal with the failure?

Mike: After a game, I would ask him, “Are you getting better? Are you learning?”  Then, I would tell him that you have to look for the little win within the loss. But a friend of mine who is a coach said it best, “We don’t lose. We either win or learn.”

What advice do you wish someone had shared with you when Marcus was young?

Mike: Expose them to as much as you can. When you introduce them to things they like, it builds their confidence. Help them find what they like. You usually like what you are good at.

Marcus’ 2004 Little League Baseball Card Photo Credit: Kadinger Family

Jodi: We didn’t focus on the fact that he doesn’t have a left hand. He is more like others, than not alike. Sometimes, parents go through a rough time. We just loved him. We knew he needed to live in this world and adapt because we knew the world was not going to change for him.

How would you define ability?

It is a set of skills and strengths that you have. Ability is the measurement of those of skills and strengths. You will be good at some things and not at others.

Post Interview Reflection:

After I hung up the phone with Mike and Jodi, I felt so grateful. They shared so many more insights into raising a child with a limb difference. However, it was their laughter and reassurance that made the journey feel possible, even special. Some of the questions I had were:

  • How did you teach Marcus to tie his shoes?
  • What did you do when people suggested he play soccer and not basketball?
  • How do you feel about pirate books?

We chatted about the importance of finding role models for our children and new challenges in life as they become adults like dating, raising a family, and employment. But it was Mike saying, “We will talk again. Stay in touch,” that made feel like I knew who I could lean on when we hit a rough patch with Ian. Thank you, Mike and Jodi!

The Kadinger Family 2018

Marcus Kadinger Makes His Hoop Dreams a Reality

Playing ball at the college level was always a dream for Marcus Kadinger, but he didn’t think it was possible. During his junior of high school basketball, everything started to shift. With determination and lots of hard work, Marcus received honorable mention to All-Conference. It was then that playing at the college level started to become a reality for Marcus. With the continuous support of his parents and coaches who believed in him, Marcus started to dream big. This month, Marcus Kadinger just completed his senior year playing basketball for Marian University in Wisconsin. Here is his sports story about making his hoop dreams a reality…

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Marcus Kadinger playing for Marian University. Photo Credit: Marian University Athletics

What steps helped you achieve your dream of playing college basketball?

I was never a star player, but coaches told me I was a special kind of player. I was a team guy first. At a clinic, one coach encouraged me by telling me that I was one of the hardest players on the court. He noticed that I would put in the extra effort to get the rebound, or make the pass, or to defend the ball. He said, “You play hard every single second.”

Being a one-handed player, what adaptations or modifications did you need to make to develop your game?

When I was younger, I was uncomfortable using my left side. I learned to use a quick first step to get around the defender. My jump shot developed naturally, and slowly I became more confident. Eventually, I learned one or two quick moves on my left side, which the defenders were not expecting and then a spin move. I just had to play smarter.

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Marcus taking a quick first step to get by a defender. Photo Credit: Leader Telegram

What challenges did you face during your basketball career?

I was always my own worst critic. Sometimes, I had confidence issues which made meeting new people hard. I had to learn to embrace my differences and not let them alienate me from people. Being an amputee, it’s just… I didn’t ever meet anyone like me.

Who has inspired you along your sports journey?

My dad. My parents have been very influential. They were always encouraging me.

When I was younger Coach Booth made a big impact on me. He taught me that life is bigger than basketball. He would ask me, “What are you doing to be a good person?” He always included everyone on the team. Everyone had a role.

I have a one-handed basketball player in my house. What advice do you have for my son, Ian?

I went to a lot of camps. You have to learn to move with the ball, to dribble in and out, and you have to push yourself to train like everyone else. You have to try to dribble on both sides, even for just one or two moments. The more you try it, the more confident you become. I really didn’t start dribbling on my left side in a game until middle school. I wished I had tried sooner.

What are your post-college dreams for yourself?

I am graduating this year as a psychology major. Eventually, I would like to work at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children and counsel children who are amputees like me. Of course, I will always want basketball in my life. So, I hope to continue to work at summer camps, coach summer league, and someday coach at the high school level.

What advice do you have for parents and coaches of athletes with limb differences?

You need to let kids figure it out on their own. Let them do it their way. Be there for them and keep encouraging them to keep trying. They will always find a way.

How would you define ability?

Ability is your desire to act on your God-given gifts. We all have unique gifts.  It is just up to us to pursue them.

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Marcus demonstrating his ability and grit. Photo Credit: Leader Telegram

How would you define grit?

Grit is mental toughness. It is getting through adverse situations and keeping your head held high.

Marcus is an impressive student-athlete who plans to make a difference in this world by working with young people. In our house, we have already benefited from Marcus’ positive attitude and encouragement. After seeing videos of Marcus play basketball and hearing that Marcus was encouraging Ian to dribble with his left side, he gave it a try. First in practice, and then in his last basketball, Ian dribbled twice with his “little hand” while bringing the ball down the court. Thank you, Marcus, for being a role model and sharing your sports story! Keep believing in the Possible!

Learn more about Marcus’s story from his parents’ perspective here.