Learning to Fly

“Mom, I have a question.”

This is how most conversations start with Ian. His questions range from “Mom, how did we get our last name?” to “Mom, do you know what superpower I want to have?” Most of the questions occur in our minivan as I race around after work driving kids to basketball practice, picking up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for dinner, and thinking about those work emails that I should return.

On this quieter Monday afternoon, I was headed to the library with Ian and Caitlin to drop off books that were due when Ian announced from the back, “Mom, I have a question.”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Do you think I can be a pilot in the military?”

I pause. I think about the military and their physical requirements to join. I think about how one learns to fly. I think about Ian’s limb difference. I also think that I am really tired, that I didn’t have my afternoon tea, and I really don’t know the answer to this question. So, I sigh and say…

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“Well, I don’t know. The military has special rules about becoming a pilot and I am not sure if they would let you.” I pause and sigh again. Then, I add the words that make my shoulders sag and my heart ache.

“I am not sure if they let people with limb differences learn to fly.”

Silence.

“I think you’re wrong, Mom,” Caitlin states breaking the silence as she looks at me with disgust. “I think anyone can learn to fly.”

“Maybe,” I reply feeling exhausted. Exhausted because this territory of raising children with exceptionalities never lets you retreat. Exhausted because fear seeps into every crevice of your life leaving you questioning your actions, worried about their future, and so wishing you had time for a comforting afternoon tea.

The discussion ends abruptly when I pull into a parking spot in front of the library. Distracted by the idea of picking out new books, Ian and Caitlin jump out of the van and run into the library. I walk slowly behind them wishing I had better answers for his questions.

7 books, 1 cup of tea, and 2 cookies later, back at home I hear a ding.  I ignore it and keep typing my response to a work email. Then Caitlin appears, standing over me at the end of the couch, she asks, “Did you see what I sent you?”

“No. I will in a minute.” Intrigued because Caitlin rarely sends messages from her iPad, I set my laptop down and look at my message. Here is what she sent:

See, Mom, Ian can learn to fly.

I have never loved Caitlin’s YouTube watching more. Jessica Cox, I have never loved being wrong more. Lastly, I have never been more proud of my kids and how they see the world! I hope they learn to fly and prove me wrong over and over again.

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When I took this photo, I thought I was capturing a moment of summertime joy. Now, I realize what they were trying to tell me. Ian was shouting, “Mom, Never doubt me!” Caitlin was growling, “Mom, I am more fierce than you ever imagined.” And, Nolan was sighing, “Mom, when will you ever learn? Trust us. We can do anything.”

Riding the Waves with AmpSurf

We heard about AmpSurf from a neighbor the summer before Ian joined our family. When she told me about their offerings, I couldn’t help but think that it was a little bit of fate. You see, AmpSurf is a non-profit organization that offers free adaptive surfing clinics to amputees on both the east and west coasts of the US, and they host one in Maine where we love to spend the summer months.

During a snowy January day, I registered for the August clinic hoping he would come to love the cold waters of Maine. Eight months later, after learning to swim and armed with a cozy black wetsuit, Ian was eager to try out a sport that his big sister loves.

The morning started with a warm welcome and an announcement that the best surfer on the beach is the one with the biggest smile. Caitlin leaned over to me and whispered, “I think that will be Ian.” The announcements were then followed by some dry land instruction on a wobble board and safety tips.  Then, in heats, each surfer clad in a brightly colored AmpSurf shirt hit the waves with their team. A team consisted of one surf instructor and four water volunteers who guided participants on their ride into the beach.

Ian was in the green heat and his instructor was Steve. He told us he was determined to stand up, and on his first wave, he DID. In fact, on every wave, he popped up and got into his best surfing stance. He did have one big wipe out, but a volunteer was right there and scooped him out of the water quickly. Then, in full Ian fashion, he stood up proudly and with a huge smile on his faced waved to us.

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Ian catching his first wave with AmpSurf with the help of Steve and his team of volunteers. Photo Credit: Proud Mom

As Caitlin, Nolan, and I watched Ian surf from the shoreline, we jumped, shouted, and cheered for him. There were even a few proud Momma tears. I just couldn’t believe how far my little boy had come! One volunteer working with Ian ran up and said to us, “I am not sure who had more joy on their face, Ian or all of you. This is just so beautiful!”

And it was beautiful, all of it. Even Ian agreed. On the car ride home, when I asked him what he thought of the AmpSurf clinic, he said, “Mom, it was beautiful.”

Surprised by his response, I asked, “Why? What made it beautiful?”

“It was so beautiful to see all of those people surfing. Some had one leg. Some were missing two legs, but everyone got to surf. Everyone got to have fun.”

Thank you AmpSurf for providing Ian, our family, and all of the participants with an incredible morning! We are already looking forward to next year!

If you are interested in learning more about AmpSurf, donating, or volunteering, please contact them at surf@ampsurf.org.

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Ian waiting for his turn with Caitlin and Nolan as the blue heat heads out into the waves. Photo Credit: Mom

 

The Game Ball

At the end of every baseball game in Ian’s Coaches Pitch League, the coaches select a player who gets the game ball. Often the game ball goes to the player who made a clutch catch, hit a double or tagged someone out during the game. It is an honor to receive the ball, and the young players cherish getting the game ball more than a win.

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In one of Ian’s recent games, he didn’t make a clutch catch or tag anyone out.  Actually, I’m not sure he even touched the ball when he was playing in the outfield. However, he did get a hit. It was barely a single, but it earned him the game ball. Let me explain how it all happened…

Ian walked slowly up to the plate dragging his electric-green bat behind him. He positioned his feet parallel to the plate, slung his bat over his shoulder, got his back elbow up and looked at his coach signaling he was ready. Kneeling on one knee, Coach Nick lobbed the ball over home plate. Ian swung…and missed. Ian swung at the next ball and missed. He continued to swing and miss until the fifth ball. This time he swung and tipped the ball only to have the ball hit him in the forehead. After rubbing his head and talking to Coach Rori who checked his head,  Ian once again took his spot at the plate. This time looking tired and a bit nervous. Ian held tightly to the bat, swung and missed.

By about the eleventh pitch, I was standing anxiously with my hands clenched when Ian looked up at me wondering what to do. At this point, Coach Nick wiped his brow and encouraged Ian to keep swinging. Then, from the dugout one of his teammates started to chant, “Let’s go, Ian. Let’s go!” Instantly, all the other players stood up and joined in the chanting, “Let’s go, Ian. Let’s go!”

On the next pitch, Ian swung and hit the ball. It wasn’t a big hit. It didn’t even get past the pitcher’s mound, but it is enough for Ian to make it safely to first. Once on base, Ian jumped up and down waving his arms triumphantly in the air. Everyone cheered, and I felt like I was in a Disney movie as the tears welled up in my eyes.

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At the close of the game, the coaches gathered all the players in the dugout. I didn’t get to hear what was said, but I will always remember Ian running up to me while holding a ball high above his head smiling and shouting, “Mom! Mom! I got the game ball! I got it for not giving up!”

I can’t thank the coaches enough for what they taught Ian at that game. He learned to persist. He learned that when you surround yourself with others who believe in you that you can exceed your own expectations. Most importantly, Ian learned that he can do anything.

I also want to thank all of the players and their families. I am so grateful for all of the support you have shown Ian throughout the season.  It makes me proud to be a part of this community where differences are celebrated.

And just when I thought I couldn’t be more amazed by this baseball season, Ian ended his last game by taking the mound and pitching. Watch out Jim Abbott!

Finally, keep believing in the possible! I do.

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Caitlin’s Life Lessons from a Cactus

There are many reasons why I recommend this book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling:

  1. It’s really good.
  2. The main character, Aven, is funny, kind, interesting and cares a lot about her two best friends.
  3. It has really good mysteries in it.
  4. Aven has no arms and plays soccer.
  5. The story shows you what it means to have true friends.
  6. It teaches you not to be afraid and that you can do anything.

* Caitlin and I received this book as a gift from a friend. We have enjoyed talking about the characters, their struggles and trying to solve the mysteries in Aven’s life. When we finished the book, Caitlin immediately asked to write a book review. This is her first book review. I hope there are more reviews in her future. 

 

 

PEOPLE WORKING SIGNS

 

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

In the car on the way to school…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

    People Working Materials

    Here are Caitlin’s Supplies for PEOPLE WORKING signs.

A Gift of Love & Sunshine: Ian Stratton

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Keep believing in the possible! We do!!!

Jen

 

 

 

Showing Up on the Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you, Nolan! You’ve got grit!

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.

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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.”

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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.

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

Jr. Team Possible: Greyson Cage and His Family

Greyson Cage Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson Cage Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

“This interview will not be like all of the others,” Nolan stated, as he and Caitlin prepared for their first double interview with their friends, Greyson and Emersynn Cage. He was right. This double interview turned into a family affair.

It all started when I sent the blog to Greyson and Emersynn’s mother, Rhonda, because she is a special education teacher, and I thought she would appreciate the stories being told. Excited by the stories, she read the blog aloud to her kids and to her surprise Greyson asked if he could be interviewed. Here’s the interesting piece… we had no idea that Greyson is a person with an exceptionality and for the first time he wanted to tell us his story.

So we arranged for a interview/playdate. Everyone met at our house and gathered around the table on the back porch. The girls on one side, and the boys on the other. Nolan and Caitlin sat smiling with their highlighted questions in front of them. Greyson and Emersynn sat posed and ready to handle anything.

Emersynn ready to play soccer. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Emersynn ready to play soccer. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What sports do you play?

Greyson: Basketball. Soccer.

Emersynn: Same. Basketball. Soccer.

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Greyson enjoying his favorite food! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What are your favorite foods?

G: Lobster and crab.

Nolan and Caitlin let Greyson know that they too love lobster.

E: Crab legs, lobster and shepherd’s pie.

Emersynn shares that her aunt makes the best shepherd’s pie.

What books do you like to read?

G: Action and adventure. I like books by Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling and Brandon Mull.

E: Non-fiction animal books.

Caitlin smiles at Emersynn’s response. She is also a non-fiction animal book lover.

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Captain America Photo Credit: Disney Parks

What movies do you like to watch?

G: Action, action, action and adventure.

Nolan says with a questioning face, “You said action three times.” Greyson responds confidently, “I know. I just really like action movies.”

E: I like all movies except superhero movies.

Nolan stands up and shouts across the table, “Oh! We guessed that! We thought you would like any movies, BUT superhero movies because Caitlin hates anything I like.” Siblings.

Greyson thinking about teleportability. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson thinking about teleportability. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What superpowers do you possess?

G: None. I wish I had superpowers. I wish I had invisibility, teleportability, flight and super speed.

Nolan reflects on Greyson’s response and then asks a follow up question, “Why would you need to fly if you could just teleport?” Greyson explains, “If I was battling someone, I would need to fly and not teleport.” Nolan nods in agreement.

E: My superpower is that I never give up.

Greyson's Awards Collection Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson’s Awards Collection Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of?

G: My trophies from sports and having fun.

E: Having fun and doing my best.

What’s your ultimate sports goal?

G: Play in the NBA.

E: Playing in the World Cup.

Greyson playing basketball. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson playing basketball. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What makes a good teammate?

E: They pass the ball.

G: Same. She’s right.

What makes a good coach?

G: They build up the players confidence by making them work hard.

E: When the coach is a good teacher, like my mom.

It should be noted that her mom, Rhonda, has many superpowers like being an excellent teacher and Emersynn’s basketball coach.

The Dynamic Duo Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

The Dynamic Duo Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What makes a good friend?

G: They are nice. They usually say, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they are nice to guests…like Nolan for example.

FYI: While Greyson is answering this question Nolan is pointing at himself repeatedly.

E: They are nice, respectful, and they play with you.

Playing the guitar is one of Greyson's many abilities. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Playing the guitar is one of Greyson’s many abilities. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

How would you define ability?

G: Something you can do or something you are trying to work hard at to make it one of our abilities.

E: Yeah, I agree.

What advice do you have for other young athletes?

G: Try hard and do your best.

E: And have fun.

Later, I followed up with their parents, Rhonda and Thomas, to ask them a few questions in hopes to gain a family perspective.

Can you tell me about Greyson’s exceptionalities?

Rhonda: Greyson was diagnosed with lipomyelomeningocele (spina bifida) at birth.  It is a neurological disorder. Greyson’s spine is tethered when it should be free flowing. His exceptionality affects his lower extremities (leg discrepancy, foot deformity, scoliosis, and gait abnormality). He also has neurogenic bladder and neurogenic bowel.

Working together Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Working together Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

As a family, what superpowers do you possess?

Rhonda: We believe that our superpowers are strength (of mind) and resilience. I would love to say patience but to be honest, I’m running low lately.

What is your family’s sports story?

Rhonda: Our sport story, hmm…I would say that our story begins with me. I started off playing basketball and fell in love with the game. I am a strong believer in team sports and what they have to offer in character development. Greyson has been to soccer games, baseball games, and basketball games since birth. He was BORN a fan! I coached my nephew for years and transitioned to Greyson’s coach. I never thought that Greyson couldn’t play sports, and most importantly he didn’t either. I just made sure that I was there to encourage him and support him as his coach and his mother.

The Cage kids are even models! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

The Cage kids are even models! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What advice do you have for other families who have a child or children with exceptionalities?

Rhonda: My advice would be to be your child’s strongest advocate and to encourage your child to advocate for him/herself. Learn as much as you can about his/her exceptionality, and talk about your feelings with family and friends. To truly view your child as exceptional, and not disabled.

Jr. Team Possible: Emilia Scovel

Introducing our newest Junior Team Possible member, Emilia Scovel. She was nominated by the amazingly kind and hard working two-time Paralympian, Cortney Jordan, who affectionately refers to Emilia as her “Mini-Me.”

Emilia and Cortney at a swim meet together. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Emilia and Cortney at a swim meet together. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Since kids talk more honestly with kids, Emilia was interviewed by Nolan and Caitlin via FaceTime.  When starting the interview Nolan and Caitlin reassured Emilia that this wouldn’t be just a bunch of questions, but that they could talk about lots of stuff. However, it didn’t appear that Emilia needed any reassuring. She looked fashionable for an early Sunday morning interview. In a colorful outfit accessorized with a headband and lip gloss, she smiled confidently and spun around a bit in her parent’s office chair. She was ready.

How old are you? I’m eight years old.

Nolan (10) and Caitlin (7) are excited by this answer because Emilia is between their ages. Emilia is excited because her sister, Bella, is ten. There are shouts for Bella to join us, and we are introduced to Bella on the screen.

Do you have any pets? I have a dog named Barley. He likes to cuddle under blankets.

Then, Barley makes a brief appearance to say hello and wag his tail.

DSC_0059What sports do you play? I swim. I play basketball, just for fun, with my dad and sister because we have a hoop in the front yard, and I used to play tennis.

What foods do you like? I like pizza. Sometimes I have it with pepperoni, and sometimes I go with plain cheese. I like tacos, too.

Nolan expresses his appreciation for pepperoni pizza, while Caitlin explains how she prefers vegetables on her pizza.

What books do you like to read? I love to read fairy tales and books about dragons. I really like Rumpelstiltskin and Puss and Boots.

“Interesting…” Nolan replies. I guess our resident book guru is pleasantly surprised with Emilia’s choices.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Characters

Disney Pixar Inside Out Characters

What movies do you like to watch? I like to watch scary and romance movies. I really like Maleficent. I also like Back to the Future and Star Wars.

Caitlin jumps in to ask an important follow up question.

Did you see Inside Out? Yes! I really liked it.

Everyone is excited to talk about their favorite characters in the movie. Emilia’s favorite characters are Joy and Disgust.

What superpowers do you have? Fashion. Keeping my dog calm. Remembering facts. I am a history lover. Every day I come home from school and say, ‘Hey Mom, I learned a new fact,’ and then I start spitting out facts about history.

Emilia’s mom, Gigi, explains further that Emilia can even remember all sorts of family events including who was there and what they were wearing. Emilia agrees and states that she even remembers times from when they lived in Malaysia. This comment solicits a surprised reaction and great interest from Nolan and Caitlin.

Emilia and her sister, Isabella, traveling in New Zealand. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Emilia and her sister, Isabella, traveling in New Zealand. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Emilia shares that for three and a half years from when she was 3 to 6 years-old, she lived with her family in Malaysia and traveled to many countries in the area including Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore.

Nolan asks if she ever saw someone play a didgeridoo. Emilia thinks about it and says, “No, but I did get to pet a kangaroo and koala.” Caitlin, our resident animal lover, is very envious.

Emilia proudly holds up her Coaches Award. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Emilia proudly holds up her Coaches Award. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? At my last meet for the summer, I got second place in breaststroke. This year I also got the Coaches Award for the Makos (her club team). The Coaches Award is when all the coaches vote for the swimmer who is the best listener and who tries very hard.

“Very impressive!” replies Nolan with admiration. Emilia smiles.

What are your ultimate sports goals? I want to swim in another Paralympic meet. I want to grow up to be like Cortney.

Nolan smiles and says, “That’s a good goal.”  Caitlin adds, “I was guessing you would say something about Cortney.”

Why do you look up to Cortney? I look up to her because she has the same disability as me. We have a lot in common, and I just want to grow up to be like her.

Nolan whispers to me, “Can I tell her about Nick?” I encourage him to share Nick’s sports story.

“We have a cousin, Nick Springer, and he was in the Paralympics. He played wheelchair rugby.”

Caitlin interrupts, “He still does.”

“Well, he does still play wheelchair rugby, but in 2008 he won a gold in Beijing.” Nolan then explains how Nick contracted meningococcal meningitis at the age 14 and to save his life the doctors had to amputate his arms below the elbows and his legs above his knees. Nolan concludes, “He is amazing and he can do anything. He can even use chopsticks.”

Emilia then proudly shares how one of Cortney’s friend is also missing portions of his limbs and the amazing things he can do. She also explains how her young friend, Gracie, has gone through multiple operations to lengthen one of her legs. Gracie is only five years-old, but Emilia plans to teach her how to swim. We all wonder if Gracie will be Emilia’s “mini-me”, and if Nolan and Caitlin will get to interview her in a few years.

What makes a good teammate? Cheering each other on and teamwork like saying, ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’

What makes a good coach? What makes a good coach is someone who knows how to make the team believe in each other and makes the team do their best.

Emilia snowboarding at Wintergreen Resort. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

Emilia snowboarding at Wintergreen Resort. Photo Credit: G. Scovel

How do you define ability? Ability means you can mostly do anything, and you don’t need help.

“Wow!” replies Nolan.

Gigi, Emilia’s mom, elaborates by explaining that they were worried about Emilia when they were preparing to live in Malaysia. They did not know how her disability would impact her life overseas or how they would be able to meet her needs. However, Emilia was so strong nothing stopped her including a broken left foot. In Cambodia, she climbed all the steps to the temples they visited and never complained. “Nothing stops this kid,” her mom proudly states, “It is hard to tell her ‘no’.”

Emilia then shows us the braces for her left leg. She has had three braces. She was fitted with her first brace when she was a toddler, and it went up to her knee. Her second brace covered her calf and had a hinge at the ankle to allow for more movement. She explains that she got to pick out “all sorts of crazy colors” with her sister to make her brace totally unique. The third brace that she currently uses is smaller and goes just above her ankle. Nolan shares that his cousin, Stephen, has cerebral palsy and he wears a very similar brace on his right leg. Emilia smiles and adds that she and Cortney both have left sides that work differently. 

What advice do you have for other young athletes? Try your best and never give up and have fun.

“I love those words!” exclaims Caitlin.

“Yeah, words of wisdom by Emilia!” declares Nolan, “She is great at this!”

Nolan and Caitlin suggest to Emilia that she should do more interviews. We are all confident that there will be many more interviews and awards in the future for Emilia.