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:

unnamed

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.

image (1)

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

Joy

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.

image

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.

CIN Walking

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.

img_0121

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.

img_0132

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.

img_0116

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

no-limits-no-boundaries

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.

julian-and-mom

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!

MCBookDay-21

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.

team-gold-pic-1

                 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:

jk-no-limits

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.

soccer-coach

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.

jk-coaching-track

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.

img_2982

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. 

img_2981

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!

#RoadtoRio

As the athletes train hard preparing for Rio, I thought I would share five bits of information about the Paralympic Games and Team Possible to help you get ready for Rio.

#1 The Paralympic Games were founded by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor born in Germany who sought refugee in England during World War II. “Poppa,” as he was called by his patients and staff, Guttmann was in charge of the spinal cord injury unit for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he revolutionized care for patients and introduced sports into the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. He shared his vision of the “Paralympic Games” with the world on July 28,1948. It was the same day King George VI opened the post-war 1948 Olympic Games in London. During this first adaptive sports competition, 14 athletes (12 men and 2 women) competed in archery.

Guttmann paralympics.org.uk

Dr. Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann    Photo Credit: paralympics.org.uk

#2 This year 22 different sports will be played at the Rio Games. Many sports are also played by able-bodied athletes such as track, swimming, triathlon, archery, and table tennis. However, some are unique to the Paralympics like wheelchair rugby, boccia, and goalball. To learn more about the classification of athletes, rules of the sports and to view video highlights on each sport. Check out the Rio Paralympic Games website.

Goalball telegraph.co.uk

Paralympic Goalball  Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk      

#3 Over 4,000 athletes from more than 170 countries will compete in the Games which begin on September 7th and run until September 18th. For the first time in Paralympic history the Games will be televised by NBC and NBCSN for over 60 hours of coverage. To learn more about viewing hours in the US, check out Team USA’s website.

#4 Team Possible Update: Sydney Collier will be riding for Team USA. McKenna Dahl will be shooting in Rio, and Cortney Jordan hopes to be swimming her way to the podium.  Mackenzie Soldan and Abby Dunkin will be playing together on the women’s wheelchair basketball team.

#5 Team Possible Hugs: Para-equestrian rider, Sydney Collier, recently hugged First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the 100 Day countdown to Rio. Blade runner and aspiring Paralympian, Rio Woolf , got a huge hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Rio and Prince Harry dailymail.co.uk

Rio gets a big hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando. Photo Credit: Getty Images 

Now, get ready to cheer on all of the amazing athletes who are on the #RoadtoRio. 

Remember, keep believing in the possible!

Jen

Tristan Carroll Loves to Run & Encourage

Most of us remember our kindergarten teacher, but how many of us left such a positive impression on our teacher that s/he would nominate us years later to be featured on a sports blog? Tristan Carroll is that type of student athlete. He is in fifth grade now and still sees his kindergarten teacher, Judy Bates, regularly.

For Tristan’s interview Nolan, Caitlin and I met up with him and his family at a local park. Instead of getting right to work, the kids first played on the playground together and then after a while gathered on a picnic table to talk about sports and life.

IMG_0695

Tristan with his brothers Spencer, Porter and Carter. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

How old are you? I am eleven.

Do you have any pets? No. We had some pets in the past, but they all died.

What foods do you like? Pizza!

What do you like on your pizza? Just cheese.

What books do you like to read? I like to read My Weird School series. They are funny.

What movies do you like to watch? I like action movies and superhero movies.

What is your favorite movie? Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

This led to a big debate about the ending of the movie and the reviews. The kids told me that I can’t share the details of their conversation on the blog because it would spoil the movie for everybody.

What sports do you play? I do speed skating. I play soccer through the Special Olympics*. I do track again through the Special Olympics*.

*Tristan actually plays on unified teams through the Special Olympics because there are limiting offerings in his area for youth with physical exceptionalities. Since many of you may be wondering about the similarities and differences between the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics. I plan to discuss them in an upcoming blog post. I will also talk about unified sports and the access to adaptive sports programs for youth. Because we know, everyone has a right to play!

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I was so proud when I stood up ice skating. I was always falling down, but I finally stood up all by myself. It took a couple of years to learn.

With admiration Nolan confesses he is still learning to stand up on ice skates. Tristan and his younger brother, Porter, then start giving ice skating tips to Nolan about pushing his feet out to the side and the importance of gliding. Tristan concludes with the best advice, “You need to be determined.”

IMG_0696

Tristan competing in track. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

What are your ultimate sports goals? To run a marathon.

Who will you run the marathon with? Porter will run it with me.

What about your mom? Oh my goodness, are you kidding me?

What makes a good teammate? They need to be encouraging. They need to be like, “Go! You can do it!”

What makes a good coach? That they help you improve. They tell you how to get better.

What advice do you have for other young athletes? To never give up. Don’t be afraid to fail. Trust me, I have failed tons of times.

Caitlin responds, “That is really good advice!”

How do you define ability? Something you are really good at.

Porter then asks to share his definition, Ability means you are physically and mentally able.”

A deep conversation starts with the kids discussing their views on ability, and if people need to be able to do things in the same way. They discuss Rio Woolf running with his prosthetic leg. They discuss Nick Springer playing wheelchair rugby and Tristan learning to ski. Then, Tracey captures all of our ideas in one statement: “If you are mentally able to do something, then you find a way to physically do it. If you think you can’t, you won’t.”

What superpowers do you have? I encourage people. Encouragement is energy.

Porter can’t help but add, “He laughs at everything. He will fall down and laugh.” Tracey agrees, “Yes, he has a good sense of humor. He has always had a good outlook on life.” Tristan smiles proudly and nods.

IMG_0688

Tristan writing about running in kindergarten. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

Telling the Truth

Telling the truth is not always easy. As a non-fiction writer, I now find myself immersed in digging around and finding ways to explain the truth to children through my writing. Therefore, when I was asked by a local elementary teacher to speak to the second graders at her school, I felt I had to be honest and apologetically replied, “But I haven’t ‘published’ anything yet.”

“Yes, I know which is fine. You are just like our students with their ‘Works in Progress.’ It is perfect,” she responded. I sighed a deep breathe of relief and started planning for my visit.

As I thought more about it, I realized I have a very broad view of writing that includes a collection of my children’s earliest messages which look like scribbles to the outsider, but carry great meaning. I started to wonder why their hieroglyphic messages were valuable enough for me to keep hidden away in a treasure box while my unpublished picture book biography and blog posts were not enough to justify my work as a writer. So I started to realize that maybe the truth was…I am a writer with many “Works in Progress.”

IMG_20160211_120205782

That’s me holding my graphic organizer displaying the very messy process of my “Work in Progress.” Photo Credit: Beth Mengwasser

With this newfound belief in myself as a writer, I visited the second graders and shared my writing process. I showed them how messy writing is and how I use graphic organizers to plan out my work. I explained how I revise and revise again using different colored pens and sticky notes. I even admitted that I often have to walk around and frequently write standing up. I even confessed that I am not so good at sitting still and that I have green putty at my desk to help me concentrate.

IMG_2450

A thank you note from Aeson. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

I then talked about why I write and how I am writing to solve a problem that I found on the library bookshelves. I told them that in my research I could not find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports. So, to solve that problem I am writing books and blog posts about people with exceptionalities who play sports. The students were amazed at the accomplishments of the athletes in the sports stories that I shared.

After telling them about Nick Springer, a wheelchair rugby player, quad-amputee and the subject of my first book, one boy raised his hand and asked how Nick could catch or throw a ball without hands. I said, “I think we need to shift our perspective here. I need you to not look at Nick’s disability, but how he is exceptional. I need you to think about how he can do things in exceptional ways.” A hand then popped up from a girl in the front row and she demonstrated how Nick could use his elbows and residual limbs to throw or catch the ball. Then, more hands shot up and the students started shouting out ways they thought Nick could do anything from playing wheelchair rugby to driving.

In the end the visit exceeded my expectations because I was able to tell the truth about my  writing process while sharing the awesome stories of athletes I have met who play adaptive sports. And, to my surprise by telling the truth about my messy writing process, I was able to validate the writing experience of those students who learn differently. Overall, it was a great visit, and to be honest I hope to do more in the future. Until then, I will keep working on telling the amazing true stories of athletes who redefine the possible.

Keep believing in the possible!

Jen

P.S. If you would like me to speak at your school or organization, just email me at jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com.