Nick Springer on the Move Hits Readers Hard

“The National Paralympic Heritage Trust is delighted to be able to share the inspiring story of Nick Springer in its heritage centre, here at the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement, Stoke Mandeville, the UK. Nick, like all fellow Paralympians, is an inspiration to us all, along with his family whom we thank for sharing his life.” -Vicky Hope-Walker, NPHT CEO

“His story is one that will impact and encourage readers worldwide. His perseverance, ingenuity, and hope is palpable on every page. It tells readers, young and old, that in all of life’s trials there’s a purpose to glide, push, and slide forward into greatness.” -Abigail, Teacher Candidate

“Jennifer Stratton and Christopher Kuster craft a powerful and inspirational story of resiliency, capturing Nick Springer’s strength, motivation, and indomitable spirit.  This is the journey of a true hero’s physical and emotional feats, and the amazing tale of a Paralympian who never gave up.  Nick Springer On the Move is a real celebration, an important book to share with children and adults alike because it offers life lessons for us all.” -Meg, English Department Chair 

“Jen’s book has provided a voice in our home library we didn’t know was missing. We have stories of fictional superheroes and magical lands, but none that address content so grounded in reality such as Nick’s story. Reading with a six year old, for whom this type of adversity is new to his worldview, his reflection after was ‘No matter what happens, just try your best.’ When a child sees this story as a tale of overcoming adversity as opposed to questioning the ‘why’ of it all, something special lies between the pages. And just like Nick doing it his own way, it can’t wait to get out and be told.”- Chris, Educator & Dad of Preschoolers

“I found Nick’s story so empowering and uplifting. What an indomitable strength of will. It’s clear he never backed down from a challenge. I especially enjoyed reading about the gold medal game. The writing and illustrations perfectly capture the breakneck pace of the game and the exhilaration Nick and the rest of the players felt as they played on the greatest sports stage of all. Nick left the world too soon, but he left a remarkable legacy behind, and I’m glad this book exists to share his story.” -Miriam, Bay Path University Access Services Librarian

“The book was AWESOME because Nick didn’t let people get the best of him. At first he thought he couldn’t do everything that he used to do, but he was wrong. He actually did more being different.” -Brady, 8th grader & Ethan, 2nd grader

“Utterly inspiring!”- Joey, 6th grader

To hear more about the book in my own words, you can watch my recent interview with Link to Libraries President, Laurie Flynn.

If you are looking to purchase Nick Springer on the Move for a reader you know or to donate to a local library, you can visit Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. If you are looking for more about the book, check out these posts…

The Sports Wheelchair: A (Very) Brief History

I would like to introduce you to my friend, Sam Brady from the UK. He has a very curious mind, and he has used his curious mind to become an expert on sporting wheelchairs. In fact, he is studying them in new and innovative ways that will eventually lead him to get his Ph.D. By asking questions and researching the answers, Sam has learned about the mechanics of sports wheelchairs and the incredible athletes who have helped engineer the evolution of the sporting wheelchair throughout the last century. Here is a video that Sam has created for the readers of Nick Springer on the Move and others to learn more about sports wheelchairs.

Still curious…Here is a transcript of this video and links to all of the visual resources for you to ask your own questions and do your own research.

Even more curious! Check out all of the awesome blog posts and artifacts at the National Heritage Paralympic Trust in Stoke Mandeville, England, the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement or scroll below for related Team Possible posts. Remember, stay curious and push hard!

Reading with Nick Springer on the Move

Ian and Caitlin reading Nick Springer on the Move
To purchase Nick Springer on the Move

Nick Springer on the Move is a hard hitting picture book biography that is meant to challenge readers and inspire action. It tells the real life journey of Nick Springer who became a quadruple amputee when he contracted meningitis at the age of fourteen. It is the story of how he found his own way to boldly move through life and his indomitable determination to become a world class athlete. Nick’s sports quest and the illustrations created by mouth painter, Chris Kuster, will have you redefining ability and will change you forever.

Questions to Discuss

Before: What do you know about people with disabilities and adaptive sports? How would you define ability? How does the image on the book cover support or challenge your definition of ability?

During: When Nick is recovering in the hospital, what questions do you think are going through his mind? (p. 9)

During: How do you connect with the moment in the story when “Nick knew he could do anything. He would simply do it differently”? (p. 14)

During: What words, feelings, and images come to mind as Nick and his teammates go for gold in the Paralympic Games? What real world connections do you make to this sporting event? (pp. 20-25)

After: After reading the book including the notes from Nick, Jen, and Chris, how would you define ability? How has your definition of ability shifted or grown? Why? Now, what do you know about people with disabilities and adaptive sports?

Words to Know

meningococcal meningitis– A rare bacterial infection that can have serious complications but is vaccine-preventable. Visit the National Meningitis Association for more information.

amputee– A person who was has had a limb amputated due to traumatic injury or at birth his/her/their limbs did not fully develop. For more information and resources supporting amputees visit Amputee Coalition.

occupational therapist– According to AOTA, therapists who “help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities” (American Occupational Therapy Association).

residual limb– Refers to the body part that remains after amputation.

prosthetic/prostheses– Refers to an artificial body part such as a limb or limbs.

prosthetist– A specialist in prosthetics who assists individuals with the development, fitting, and use of their prostheses.

wheelchair rugby– A highly physical coed team sport for male and female tetraplegic athletes. It is an invasion and evasion game with the objective of the game being to carry the ball across the opposing team’s try line to score. The team with the highest score wins. Visit International Wheelchair Rugby Federation and USA Wheelchair Rugby to learn more.

Paralympic Games– An international adaptive sporting event that takes place along side the Summer and Winter Olympic Games where athletes with disabilities compete to be the best in the world. Visit International Paralympic Committee and Team USA for more information.

Actions to Take

  1. Donate a copy of Nick Springer on the Move to your local library or classroom to start filling the the shelves with books that feature the abilities of people with disabilities.
  2. Give Nick Springer on the Move to a friend or teacher as a gift and encourage them to share Nick’s story with others.
  3. Follow and promote Jen Stratton and Team Possible and adaptive sports organizations like Move United on social media.
  4. Use this graphic organizer to write your own “On the Move” story and share it with us by emailing it to: jenstrattonandteampossible@gmail.com or tag us on social media @jenstrattonandteampossible.

9 Reasons Why Nick Springer on the Move Belongs on Your Bookshelf

Caitlin proudly holding up the first copy of Nick Springer on the Move

#1 It is an exciting sports story about two-time Paralympian, Nick Springer.

#2 It highlights the hard hitting sport of wheelchair rugby.

#3 The illustrations are bold and colorful and created by mouth painter, Chris Kuster.

#4 The language is rich and packed with vivid images.

#5 Many teaching and reading resources have been developed for it.

#6 It challenges readers to think differently about what is possible.

#7 It will have you cheering for Nick Springer and Team USA.

#8 It will inspire you to persevere against all odds.

#9 Nick Springer on the Move will change you forever.

Be strong and push hard!

If you are looking to purchase Nick Springer on the Move for a reader you know or to donate to a local library, you can visit Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. If you are looking for more about the book, check out these posts…

Jess Silver Is Flexing for Access

Could you define for us what is inclusive fitness?

I define inclusive or adapted fitness as allowing an individual that has any kind of limitation to be able to participate and to learn the fundamentals of exercise regardless and notwithstanding their physical limitation.  By just scaling down or adapting exercise to an individual’s needs, the individual can carry out the exercise and also learn about the importance of being strong and physically active.

Why is inclusive fitness important? 

I think it is so important because sport and fitness are fundamental to teaching life skills and soft skills. These skills include cooperation and defining what adversity is. Self-identity and self-confidence are also gained because, when you are working through a fitness regimen that is based on exercise, you are learning about your body.

Sports allow for interacting with others. Sport can be a microcosm of society where a smaller group can learn to cope with adversity. Sport can be a place where we can build to become a better society cumulatively, which is to me what sports really represents.

Would you say then that through inclusive fitness and sports, we can build a better society?

Yes, an individual that has a limitation versus somebody who does not have an obvious limitation and how do we design infrastructure in order to allow everybody to enjoy and participate actively in society. It is a social justice issue when we examine how those structures are strengthened to include everybody in something like sport and fitness.

What is your role as an inclusive fitness trainer?

I feel that it is my role to educate individuals with limitations and to help them become strong, to teach them an exercise prescription, and to teach them that they are valued members of society. I want them to know they are capable of being an athlete if they invest the time, effort and hard work into their performance. 

Being an adaptive trainer is not so different from being a mainstream trainer, but here’s why it is so important because of that social understanding. I can acknowledge that there are challenges, but I can say here’s a way that we can design and redesign curriculum to make it so that any individual can excel. 

Fitness and sport are vehicles to allow individuals that have physical limitations and injuries to manage and ameliorate their physical and emotional states of being. In fact, you can manage the disability and any atrophy by engaging in fitness and sports. So, in the end, it can actually redefine what an individual is fully capable of through fitness and sport.

So, what is your training regimen? 

It will probably make some people’s jaws drop, but I train or at least I try to train in some way, shape, or form every single day. Every day, I engage in some kind of training or movement-based activity. In terms of high-performance training, I strive to do it about three-four days a week. Because I have cerebral palsy, I know as an adult that the more I engage in movement, the more I challenge my brain through the different functional patterns, and even if there is damage associated with some part of the brain, the more improvements can happen.

Tell us about Flex for Access.

This has been an endeavor of mine that I’ve been working at developing and growing. It’s a registered nonprofit organization here in Toronto, Canada with the goal of recognizing how Cerebral Palsy affects every individual differently. It is a condition that affects 70 million people and is the most common neurological disability that children can be born with or acquire later on in their life as well, through a brain injury. Even though it’s the most common, I found that not a lot of people know that the condition affects every individual differently. Because I felt like that understanding was missing, I wanted to redefine the context from which it is understood. For me, sport was that avenue through which I could do that so Flex for Access was created.

In addition to training, founding Flex for Access, and working in Marketing and Communications, you have also written a book titled, Run: An Uncharted Direction. Can you tell us about it?

My book was something that I knew my whole life that I wanted to write. I’ve been a writer since I was six years old. I started by writing poetry and short stories. You could always find me with a pencil in my hand. For me, I wanted to write my book and put my story out there. 

We’re all on an uncharted journey. Your path and your experiences are not known to you. From the day we’re born, we become enriched by our experiences. We learn through our experiences. Some experiences are positive and some are negative. The negative ones, you learn from through adversity. But I would argue, that through adversity comes beauty. 

What I want people to learn from reading my book is that we are all on an uncharted journey. The more experiences that you expose yourself to, the more compelling and beautiful your journey will be. I want to encourage people to really embrace the challenge, embrace the unknowns, embrace the times where you feel like you’re broken, and you don’t know where you’re going. Through my story, I show how adversity breeds strength.

To close, how do you define ability? I think that ability is anything that you invest your heart and your mind into doing. 

For more on Jess Silver, watch this interview or visit her website: Flex for Access.

Bryanna’s Bold Ride

Accomplished athletes have goals, determination, and a fire inside of them. Bryanna Tanase has all that and a reason to ride. She fell in love with horses when she was just 3 years old and visiting a farm with her sister’s preschool. She spent the next 14 years dreaming about riding and learning about horses by reading books and researching riding on the internet. It wasn’t until she typed in “disabled rider” did she finally see an image of a person with a disability riding a horse and learn about Para Dressage. Then, she knew her dream could be a reality.

When Bryanna was 17 years old, she finally had access to ride a horse through a therapeutic riding center that had a lift for her to mount and dismount a horse safely. Since then, Bryanna has been riding and training with plans to participate in Para Dressage at a future Paralympic Games.

Bryanna trains multiple times a week. Some training sessions focus on the highly technical movements of Para Dressage. Other sessions focus on developing her overall strength, stamina, and riding skills. Bryanna also trains at home doing exercises to stretch and tone her muscles. This is incredibly challenging work because Bryanna has cerebral palsy which creates spasticity and uncontrollable movements in her muscles. Therefore, she must approach every day with an open mind and dogged determination to her training.

Bryanna also has one training technique that gives her an edge. She watches and analyzes hours of riding videos. She will watch fully able-bodied riders and think about how to translate their moves to her own riding style. She also watches Para Dressage riders like Sydney Collier to see possible adaptations to movements. Combining this critical analysis with Bryanna’s ability to develop deep connections with her horse, she is making great strides toward her goals of riding in FEI competitions on her way to the Paralympic Games.

However, Bryanna does not ride for the ribbons or medals. She has a larger purpose for reaching the podium. 

“I ride because I want people in the disability community to see themselves represented. I want people in the able-bodied community to better understand people with disabilities. I want to be seen as more than just a person in a wheelchair. I have goals and I am working to reach them.”

Bryanna adds that the adaptive sport of Para Dressage has not only made her physically stronger but mentally tougher. It has also connected her with a community of riders, trainers, and horses. It has even enabled her to redefine “ability” for herself.

According to Bryanna, “Ability is the natural gifts and talents that you have, but it is also the work that you put into something. My abilities have grown because of horses and riding.”

At Team Possible, we look forward to cheering Bryanna on and watching her reach her goals. If you want to join her journey, follow her on Instagram @bt.paradressage.

A Mother’s Love Is Limitless

Teaching at a women’s college, I often find myself exploring gender issues with my students. When my students shared their desire to research the representation of women with disabilities in children’s literature, I was ecstatic about their curiosity and then devastated by their discoveries.

There are a growing number of picture books highlighting women with invisible and visible disabilities such as The Girl Who Thought in Pictures, The Story of Temple Grandin by Julia Mosca and Rescue & Jessica by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes.

This growing representation is essential and demonstrates progress. However, when one more closely examines motherhood, women with disabilities seem to disappear from the pages and bookshelves. 

Think about that for a minute…think about all the books that you have read as a child or have read to a child about a mother’s love, about families…how many included representation of women with disabilities? What does this say to children? You must be fully-able bodied to be a mother. What does this lack of representation say to a young girl with a disability? You are not worthy of being a mother. What does this lack of representation say to young boys? A woman with a disability is not capable of being a mother. If you have a disability as a man, you cannot be a father. 

These may not be the intended messages, but they are the implicit messages that our children are receiving. Here is one conversation among school children from a study in the British Journal of Sociology of Education (2014) focused on the assumptions young children have about people with disabilities, 

Interviewer: Do you think disabled people sometimes have children and families of their own? 

Boy 1: No, no, no, no, no!

Girl 1: No!

Interviewer: Why is that?

Boy 1: Because they’re disabled, they won’t ever look after them because…

Boy 2: (Interrupts) They can’t look after themselves! 
The only time that this assumption was questioned was when a child stated her uncle is a disabled person and father of three children, but this was an isolated comment and was ignored by her peers. (Beckett, 867).

The issue of mothers with disabilities missing from children’s literature becomes even more complex when we look at women of color. Where are women of all ethnicities and abilities represented on the bookshelves?  If you find them, please share them with me. I need them. My students, as future educators, need them. My daughter needs them. My sons need them. We all need them.

Because…a mother’s love is universal. A mother’s love is limitless.

Until I find those books (or write them), I will share and discuss inclusive images of motherhood like the ones above with my students, my children, and my readers.

If you have images of motherhood that represent the limitless ability of all mothers, please send them my way at jenstrattonandteampossible@gmail.com. And, keep believing in the Possible!

Work Cited & Other Related Resources

Beckett, Angharad E. (2014) Non-disabled children’s ideas about disability and disabled people. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35 (6), 856-875.

Pennel, Ashley E.; Wollack, Barbara; Koppenhaver, David A. (2018). Respectful Representations of Disability in Picture Books. Reading Teacher, 71 (4), 411-419.

We Need Diverse Books

Many Ways to Be Mighty: 35 Books Starring Mighty Girls with Disabilities

20-20 Vision for 2021

2020 gave us a lot to reflect on and learn from. It’s been hard, but there is hope. Here are a five reasons we will keep pushing forward in 2021 at Team Possible:

#1: Our first picture book biography titled, Nick Springer on the Move, featuring the sports story of wheelchair rugby champion, Nick Springer, and illustrated by Mouth and Foot Painting Artist, Christopher Kuster, is slated for publication in June 2021.

#2: Our work sharing adaptive and inclusive sports stories to REDEFINE ability has been welcomed by children at local schools and educators at national conferences.

Letter from a student after Ian and Jen presented Nick Springer’s Sports Story

#3: Team Possible blog posts have been read and shared around the globe because REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

#4: New relationships have been built with organizations like Move United, Flex for Access, Adaptively Abled Fitness, and National Paralympic Heritage Trust who share our passion for sports and access because EVERYONE can play!

#5: We got a whole new look and attitude developed by our AWESOME social media coordinator.

BONUS ITEM: If you read to the bottom, you deserve a treat. And, we’ve got one for you! Check out in this great documentary, Rising Phoenix, about Dr. Ludwig Guttmann’s vision and the power of the Paralympic Movement.

Stay tuned for more good news and sports stories! Until then, keep believing in the POSSIBLE!

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.