Athletes Roll in Power Soccer

With the excitement of the Women’s World Cup, I wanted to share another story about soccer that may be new to some of our Team Possible readers. It is about the game of Power Soccer and the organization, Athletes Roll. Before I share the interview with player, Anthony Jennings, check out this amazing Power Soccer play from GoPro!

Awesome, right!?! I know. It was plays like this one and the high level of accessibility for players of all abilities that made me want to learn more about the game.

Here are six Power Soccer basics about the game from Anthony:

  1. It is like the traditional game of soccer with corner kicks and goal kicks.
  2. Four players total on a side including the goalie during a game.
  3. There are two 20 minutes halves with the referee keeping time.
  4. The ball is bigger than a typical soccer ball. It is 13 in diameters and it is less bouncy.
  5. The game is played on a flat surface like a basketball court.
  6. Players kick the ball by driving straight into it or spin and kick. (My favorite kick is the 360 spin kick, but the ¼ turn spin kick is more common.)
Intense Play in Power Soccer
Photo Courtesy of Athletes Roll

Now, Anthony warns Power Soccer is highly competitive with national and international levels. He also emphasized the importance of players being in the right place at the right time. To get there, players use control devices to drive with foot, chin, head, or sip and puff. The chairs can’t go faster than 6.2 mph and they are checked before every game. With players of all abilities, Anthony explained that there is a solution for any challenge an athlete may have. For example, if a player is unable to speak or is hearing impaired, teams use microphone and voice amplification or signaling devices to communicate during play.

Anthony believes anyone can be a great Power Soccer player. He states that if you have the desire, put in the time, and practice, anything is possible. Here is what Anthony wants readers to know about Power Soccer:

  1. It’s a real sport.
  2. It’s competitive.
  3. Players are real athletes.
  4. It takes a long time to develop the skills to become a great player.
  5. It takes a high level of dedication to play Power Soccer.

If you would like to learn more about Power Soccer, you can follow Anthony’s organization, Athletes Roll. If you are an interested athlete or know of one and would like to know how to get started in the sport, please contact Anthony at contact@athletesroll.com. If you want to support Power Soccer in New England, follow Athletes Roll on social media, spread the word and buy one of their cool t-shirts.

Cool Gear from Athletes Roll
Photo Courtesy of Athletes Roll

Keep rolling and believing in the possible!

Jen

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!

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

Sled Hockey- Pushing to the Limits

This post is written in honor of the USA Sled Hockey Team who brought home the gold medal from this year’s 2018 Paralympics Games in PyeongChang, Korea with an overtime win defeating Canada, 2-1. GO TEAM USA!

 

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Team USA celebrates their victory over Canada for their third straight gold medal run. Photo Credit: Joe Kusumoto @TeamUSA.org

 

Since many families ask me how to get their children involved in adaptive sports, I wanted to highlight the power of local sled hockey teams. The Center for Human Development (CHD) hosts teams for juniors (ages 4-17), a recreation level and travel team (ages 17+) at a local accessible arena. Ryan Kincade, the CHD Outreach Coordinator and Captain of the Western Mass Knights, along with Kim Lee, Vice President of CHD, and Jessica Levine, CHD Program Manager, took some time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about their hockey program and the power of sports.

But before I share their insights, you should know a few basics about sled hockey: 

sled hockey equip

  1. Most of the rules are the same as traditional stand-up hockey.
  2. The players use sleds with skates to maneuver on the ice.
  3. Players use two sticks about 3 feet long for passing and shooting. Picks on the end of the sticks enable players to propel themselves on the ice.
  4. Players wear body pads, helmets, and gloves. Goalies wear gloves that have picks on the backside to assist with movement.
  5. Most players have ambulatory impairments, but some players at the youth and recreation level are fully able-bodied.

So now is here is what Ryan, Kim, and Jessica have to say about the CHD sled hockey program…

What do you hope athletes will gain on and off the ice from your program?

It’s about a sense of community. For many of our participants, physical activity is not part of their normal routine. Through sled hockey, they realize that can do so much more than they imagined. Our athletes gain physical and mental strength. For our parents, they get the opportunity to root their child on and observe peer-social relationships through athletics. It is also unique because siblings with or without disabilities can participate. The program can benefit the whole family and lead to participation in other CHD family activities like rock climbing.

What do you love about sled hockey?

DSC_0902Ryan: I love the community. I love getting gritty on the ice and then after having fun together. Just being a part of a team and the physicality of it. I like being successful with other like-minded individuals. As captain, I try to motivate others. I try to be positive and teach them about the sport and how to be a good teammate. It’s about learning how to win and lose. It’s about being positive.

Sled hockey becomes and an outlet for athletes to talk about their journey and to learn from each other. In ways, it becomes a therapeutic group where athletes can share personal experiences. Sled hockey is altering for a lot of our players. For the first time, they are not being looked at as different.

What is your best training tip for interested athletes?

Ryan: Train off the ice,  just as hard as you do on the ice. Eat right and take care of yourself. Watch the sport, online or go to a game. Learn the positioning. Ask other players how to play and about the rules. Most importantly, be positive. Don’t implode and don’t show off.

How would you define ability?

Ryan: Ability is going beyond what you think is possible. It is pushing yourself just beyond your limit. It is individualized. Everyone has an ability and everyone needs to learn about their ability. Everyone can push a little harder to enhance their ability.

How would you describe your grittiest players?

Ryan: They have mental fortitude. They have a “Nothing can stop you attitude.” They take risks. They give hits and can take them. They don’t give up, not on the ice or in life.

How could community members support their local sled hockey program?

We believe everyone has the right to play and should have the accessibility to play. Therefore, we could always use hockey equipment. We accept donations of hockey pads, helmets, clothing and monetary donations to purchase sleds and sticks.

Check out these sites if you would like to learn more about local and national sled hockey programming: CHD Sled HockeyUSA Sled Hockey. You can also click here to watch highlights of Team USA’s gold medal win.

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CHD Sled Hockey Participants & Knights Sled Hockey Team Photo Source: CHD

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.

CIN Walking

Keep believing in the possible! We do!!!

Jen

 

 

 

Showing Up on the Blocks

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

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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!

Mackenzie Soldan: From Grit to Gold

Mackenzie Soldan has a long list of accomplishments for 2016. Completing her MBA at the University of Alabama, winning a gold medal with the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball in Rio and visiting White House are only three items that top the list. I was fortunate to catch up with Mackenzie as she took some time to reflect on her sports journey.

What moment from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio will stick with you? The moment before we got our gold medal. When I was pushing out to the podium with all of my teammates. I realized then that I had achieved my dream, and all of my family and old coaches were there to see it. All the people who had contributed to getting me to that moment were there.

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                 Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball with their gold medals in Rio.                                Photo Courtesy of Mackenzie Soldan

What makes the Paralympic Games a unique sporting event? The Paralympics are unique because it brings so many athletes from different cultures together that wouldn’t meet except through sports. It also demonstrates the progress of disabled sports and helps to continue the movement forward.

What was your grittiest moment of the Games? As a team, we had a moment in the semi-finals where we played the home team. In the locker room the coaches let us have it. The whole team was down because we hadn’t play to our expectations. At our next practice, we pushed through it. We realized that one moment or one game was not going to ruin this for us. We decided to forget it and go with what we knew. We did just that and ended up with a great final game.

Who was an athlete at the Paralympic Games that embodied grit for you? His name is

Ahmed Shafik Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Ahmed Shafik. He was born in Iraq and contracted polio as a baby. After the Iraqi team had a poor performance at the Games, he was jailed for a year and beaten badly. He decided to leave the country and arrived in the US as a refugee. He then joined the US Army as a translator and served a tour in Iraq for three years. When he came back he returned to powerlifting and was the only American powerlifter at the Games in Rio. I think that story perfectly displays having grit. He was in a tough situation, and against all odds, he made his way through it. The way that happens is by making one decision. I think you can usually trace back someone’s success to one moment where the person consciously decides to either make a change or do nothing. Ahmed made the decision to make a change in a harder situation than most of us will ever encounter.

 

What do you hope people gained from watching the Paralympic Games? I hope people realized that the Games are a high level of competitive sports and they became fans. I hope they watched and became inspired by athletes who were following their dreams. I also hope that the Games humanized people with disabilities. And finally, I hope that people learned not to fear disabilities, but to simply see them as a part of an athlete’s life. Disabilities don’t make a person greater or lesser.

What’s next for you? Everyone has been asking me that question. I’m not sure. It’s hard. For four years you have a plan. Right now, I am going to take a break and think about starting my career.

No matter her decision, Mackenzie’s future is bright because we know she will always choose grit. Thanks, Mackenzie for being awesome and representing Team USA!

If you want to learn more about Mackenzie you can check out her  NWBA Athlete of the Week interview.