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to wonder why their hieroglyphic messages were valuable enough for me to keep hidden away in a treasure box while my unpublished picture book biography and blog posts were not enough to justify my work as a writer.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.”

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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.

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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.

McKenna Dahl: On Target for Rio 2016

Introducing McKenna Dahl, the youngest member of the USA Shooting Team. She is on target for Rio 2016.

Hometown: I am from outside of Seattle, Washington. But, I currently reside at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado while I am training full time.

What sport or sports do you play? Shooting is my main sport now. Before I moved out here I was on a wheelchair basketball team, a disability baseball team, and I used to swim as well.

Why did you start focusing on shooting? I was into swimming originally, and my best friend was on the team. Our dream was to go to the London 2012 Paralympic Games together for swimming. She was in a different classification than me and she was improving, but with my disability I am missing some muscles. So I just was never as fast as some of the other swimmers.  Then, I was introduced to shooting and I fell in love with it. I finally realized that I could go further in shooting than I could in swimming.

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McKenna Dahl is taking aim at reaching her Paralympic dreams. Photo Credit: USShooting.org

What is your sports story? I got started shooting through Camp Access, a camp for children with disabilities, in Washington.  The director of the camp took everyone who was over the age of 12  shooting. So the year I turned 12, I got to go shooting. A few months later, the camp director invited me to go to a competition and I ended up beating him.  Then, several months later, I was invited to Paralympic training center. There I caught the attention of the national coach and was eventually able to earn a spot on the national Paralympic development team which means I have the potential to medal at a World Cup.  In August 2014, I was the first female and the first American to earn a quoted spot for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? Earning the quoted slot was probably one of my biggest accomplishments. That means we can send an athlete to Rio, and I am proud I earned that for our country. It was pretty cool because I did that just three months after graduating high school. I am also the youngest member on the team.  Most members of the team are men who are at least 10 years older than me.

What is your workout schedule? On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I train from 8-12pm on the range shooting. Then, I brake for lunch. After lunch, I workout from 1-3 pm that is when I focus on strength and conditioning with the trainer. It might include weights, core work, and cardio. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t have an afternoon workout. So I try to get in another training session on the range. In the evenings I do school work because I take on-line classes. I am studying to get my BA in business and technical management with a specialization in criminal justice. I have been thinking about becoming a lawyer.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? My motivation comes from the desire to get to the dream I have been working toward since I was 12. (FYI: McKenna will be 20 on May 1st.)

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McKenna shooting for Team USA. Photo Courtesy of McKenna Dahl.

What superpowers do you possess? Determination is a big one. Also, knowing that I can do anything I set my mind to. It just may take me a little more time to do it. I have learned to never give up on anything.

How would you define ability? Let me think about that for a minute that is a good question… Ability is not letting limitations define what you can do. If you can’t do something, it’s about finding another way to do it. It is working around any challenges you have.

How would you define grit? The ability to keep pushing through any bumps in the road that life throws at you. It’s never going to be perfect, but to persevere through everything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? To never give up. There will be difficult situations that you will have to work through, but you will learn a lot about yourself as you keep pushing forward.

Who would you like to thank? I would love to thank my parents for getting me started in all of this. They bought me my first gun. My dad got me an electronic target system and pushed aside his woodworking shop to build me a range. I also want to thank all of the people who have helped me along the way.

To stay up to date on McKenna’s progress follow her on FaceBook. You can also show your support for her journey to 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio at Go Fund Me.