Representation Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Nick,

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

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

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

“Everyone loved how you persevered.” -Grace

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

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

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

I told you REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

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

Shriners Hospitals for Children Making an Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption Year #2: Redefining Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Family Day 2019
Photo Credit: Brian Marsh Photography

Summer Reading Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Kid World Citizen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian getting ready for a trip. Proud Book Mom

Young Readers- National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas

Middle Readers- National Geographic Kids World Atlas

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

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

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

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

Young Readers- I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong

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

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

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

Other Book Lists-  A Mighty Girl  website

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

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

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

Young Readers- Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett Krosoczka

Middle Readers- Lunch Lady Series by Jarrett Krosoczka

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

Other Book Lists- SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Book List

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

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

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

Older & Parent Readers- Focused by Alyson Gerber

Other Book Lists- Schneider Family Book Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Readers- Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Older & Parent Readers- Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

Ian’s Reading Goal Photo Credit: Proud Book Mom


The Parent Perspective on Marcus Kadinger

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

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

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

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

Marcus at age 4 Photo Credit: Kadinger Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you teach him to deal with the failure?

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

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

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

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

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

How would you define ability?

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

Post Interview Reflection:

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

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

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

The Kadinger Family 2018

Marcus Kadinger Makes His Hoop Dreams a Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What challenges did you face during your basketball career?

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

Who has inspired you along your sports journey?

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

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

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

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

What are your post-college dreams for yourself?

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

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

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

How would you define ability?

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

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

How would you define grit?

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

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

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

Sam Kuhnert from NubAbility

I am so excited to introduce you to Sam Kuhnert, Founder of NubAbility Athletics Foundation, an organization where children with limb differences receive training in mainstream sports from coaches with limb differences.

Sam Kunhert playing baseball with NubAbility campers Photo Credit: NubAbility.org

Sam Kuhnert is an ambitious young man, who in his senior year of high school had a vision for NubAbility. As a result, he spent his senior year, researching and using social media to connect with and gather a group of role models for young athletes. A year later, in 2012 NubAbility hosted their first camp with 19 youth at Greensville University. Sams reflects on that moment and states, “I knew then that this is what I am supposed to do with my life.”

Nearly seven years later, NubAbility has served 650 young athletes in various sports camps and clinics. This past summer Sam hosted 175 campers from 43 states and 3 countries. His work is making an impact nationally for people with limb differences. When speaking about the camp, Sam made it clear, “This is not a support group. We are teaching kids how to get up and reach their fullest potential. We want them to reach further than they ever imagined, more than they could have dreamed.”

Sam and the NubAbility Coaches teach campers to persist and work hard to reach their goals in three important ways:

  1. NubAbility Coaches teach athletes to block out the doubters and to listen to their inner voice saying, “You can do it!”
  2. NubAbility Coaches teach campers to embrace failure. They know that when we fail, we learn.
  3. NubAblity Coaches teach athletes that they need to be willing to put in the time and effort to succeed.

What does Sam hope athletes with limb differences gain from participating in Nubability camps?

I want them to know that everybody was created perfectly and that they can handle anything. I want kids out of the stands and into the game. There are a lot of life lessons that can be learned through sport.

What are Sam’s dreams for his organization and its athletes?

My ultimate goal is to see NubAbility worldwide. I want to offer clinics across the globe because, in other countries, people born with limb differences or amputees are seen as cursed. They are cast off and kept out of the public. Sport can change the way people are seen.

LISTEN UP: What advice does Sam have for parents and coaches of athletes with limb differences?

Don’t ever let them use their limb difference as an excuse. It becomes addicting. Push them to keep going even during times of adversity. Never let them know when you doubt them. And remember, it’s okay to let them fail because they will fail in their lives. It’s how we grow and get better.

How does Sam define ability?

Ability is the opposite of disability. It is being able to…Every person has the ability to do anything. If they have the will, they can do it. You’ve got to have grit.

What’s grit according to Sam?

Grit is being able to push through when people tell you that it’s too hard or you can’t do something. Grit is when you keep climbing no matter how high or how many times you might slip and go back to the bottom. You keep going. You keep pushing. You keep driving. You will make it to the top.

Who inspires Sam?

Jim Abbott. At 2-3 years old, I would sit on my dad’s lap and watch videos of Jim pitching in the major league. I would see how he owned his difference and how he wasn’t afraid of anyone. I saw how he used his platform for good and he owned who he was. I wanted to be like him.

Jim batting for the Angels. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

After speaking with Sam, I knew that I had just met someone who believes in the limitless potential of every individual and who is making a difference in this world for young people. Of course, I also loved that we both admire Jim Abbott for his ability to play baseball and use his platform for good.

Sam Kuhnert, Founder of NubAbility Photo Credit: NubAbility.org

If you are impressed with Sam and he has you motived to reach your greatest potential, please contact him. He is available for speaking events. Just check out Keynote for a Cause on the NubAbility website.

To Sam and all the Nubablitiy Coaches, thank you for all of your great work and believing in the Possible!  -Jen

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…

wing sky flying fly airplane aircraft military vehicle airline aviation show flight blue speed aerial pilot power team performance precision navy fast airshow jets blue angels air show air force jet aircraft aerobatics fighter aircraft monoplane air travel atmosphere of earth general aviation

“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.”

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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A Time to Dance

Over the past month, Caitlin and I were snuggled up in her bed each night reading, A Time to Dance, written by Padma Venkatraman. Inspired by the beauty of Venkatraman’s poems that create the amazing story of Veda, Caitlin wanted to craft her own book review written in verse. Here are her thoughts on the book.

 

A TIme to DanceThe Elements

Veda, a young dancer in India.

Paati, Veda’s grandmother and a spiritual leader to Veda.

Ma, came from the rich and left it all behind when she fell in love with Pa.

Pa, Veda’s father and Paati’s son.

 

Veda loses her leg in an accident.

She loses dance, too.

 

Govinda, a young man who dances from the heart.

He teaches Veda to dance again.

 

 

Why the Book Is Worth Reading

Written in verse.

Transports you to India.

The dancing creates beautiful images in your mind.

The story creates beautiful feelings in your heart.

 

Veda changes and her way of dance changes.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the book, you may want to watch the book trailer. If you have suggestions for other exceptional books that Caitlin and I could read together, please leave your ideas in the comments section below. Happy Reading and Keep Believing in the Possible!