I love reading with kids! I cherish the intimate experience that reading together creates in a class, especially when the text asks the reader to look critically at the world in new ways. Recently, I was invited into some classrooms to read Nick Springer on the Move, a book that I wrote to create a new narrative about amputees.
Because young people are so curious about the world, they welcomed Nick’s story into their lives. They sat in silence and with concern on their faces when Nick got sick with meningococcal meningitis. They empathized and tried to imagine how Nick would redefine his life as an amputee. They were filled with hope as they watched Nick relearn how to navigate his teenage life, how to drive, how to play wheelchair rugby, and how to achieve his sports dreams. Then, they cheered as Nick won a gold medal with Team USA in the Paralympic Games.
Their rollercoaster of emotions as I read was everything, Chris Kuster, the illustrator, and I had imagined would happen when young people were presented with an inclusive wheelchair sports story. But when I shared more information about how Chris created every image with his mouth due to paralysis and explained how few children’s books feature people living with disabilities, the students had powerful reflections and comments including new perspectives on all of the abilities within disabled people. Here are some of their own thoughts and images about Nick Springer on the Move.
I hope Nick Springer on the Move finds its way to the bookshelf in your home, local library, or classroom, and you get to share it with a young reader. If it does, check out these resources to support your discussion and let me know what you think. Keep believing in the Possible!
“The National Paralympic Heritage Trust is delighted to be able to share the inspiring story of Nick Springer in its heritage centre, here at the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement, Stoke Mandeville, the UK. Nick, like all fellow Paralympians, is an inspiration to us all, along with his family whom we thank for sharing his life.” -Vicky Hope-Walker, NPHT CEO
“His story is one that will impact and encourage readers worldwide. His perseverance, ingenuity, and hope is palpable on every page. It tells readers, young and old, that in all of life’s trials there’s a purpose to glide, push, and slide forward into greatness.” -Abigail, Teacher Candidate
“Jennifer Stratton and Christopher Kuster craft a powerful and inspirational story of resiliency, capturing Nick Springer’s strength, motivation, and indomitable spirit. This is the journey of a true hero’s physical and emotional feats, and the amazing tale of a Paralympian who never gave up. Nick Springer On the Move is a real celebration, an important book to share with children and adults alike because it offers life lessons for us all.” -Meg, English Department Chair
“Jen’s book has provided a voice in our home library we didn’t know was missing. We have stories of fictional superheroes and magical lands, but none that address content so grounded in reality such as Nick’s story. Reading with a six year old, for whom this type of adversity is new to his worldview, his reflection after was ‘No matter what happens, just try your best.’ When a child sees this story as a tale of overcoming adversity as opposed to questioning the ‘why’ of it all, something special lies between the pages. And just like Nick doing it his own way, it can’t wait to get out and be told.”- Chris, Educator & Dad of Preschoolers
“I found Nick’s story so empowering and uplifting. What an indomitable strength of will. It’s clear he never backed down from a challenge. I especially enjoyed reading about the gold medal game. The writing and illustrations perfectly capture the breakneck pace of the game and the exhilaration Nick and the rest of the players felt as they played on the greatest sports stage of all. Nick left the world too soon, but he left a remarkable legacy behind, and I’m glad this book exists to share his story.” -Miriam, Bay Path University Access Services Librarian
“The book was AWESOME because Nick didn’t let people get the best of him. At first he thought he couldn’t do everything that he used to do, but he was wrong. He actually did more being different.” -Brady, 8th grader & Ethan, 2nd grader
“Utterly inspiring!”- Joey, 6th grader
To hear more about the book in my own words, you can watch my recent interview with Link to Libraries President, Laurie Flynn.
If you are looking to purchase Nick Springer on the Move for a reader you know or to donate to a local library, you can visit Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. If you are looking for more about the book, check out these posts…
I would like to introduce you to my friend, Sam Brady from the UK. He has a very curious mind, and he has used his curious mind to become an expert on sporting wheelchairs. In fact, he is studying them in new and innovative ways that will eventually lead him to get his Ph.D. By asking questions and researching the answers, Sam has learned about the mechanics of sports wheelchairs and the incredible athletes who have helped engineer the evolution of the sporting wheelchair throughout the last century. Here is a video that Sam has created for the readers of Nick Springer on the Move and others to learn more about sports wheelchairs.
Still curious…Here is a transcript of this video and links to all of the visual resources for you to ask your own questions and do your own research.
Even more curious! Check out all of the awesome blog posts and artifacts at the National Heritage Paralympic Trust in Stoke Mandeville, England, the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement or scroll below for related Team Possible posts. Remember, stay curious and push hard!
Nick Springer on the Move is a hard hitting picture book biography that is meant to challenge readers and inspire action. It tells the real life journey of Nick Springer who became a quadruple amputee when he contracted meningitis at the age of fourteen. It is the story of how he found his own way to boldly move through life and his indomitable determination to become a world class athlete. Nick’s sports quest and the illustrations created by mouth painter, Chris Kuster, will have you redefining ability and will change you forever.
Questions to Discuss
Before: What do you know about people with disabilities and adaptive sports? How would you define ability? How does the image on the book cover support or challenge your definition of ability?
During: When Nick is recovering in the hospital, what questions do you think are going through his mind? (p. 9)
During: How do you connect with the moment in the story when “Nick knew he could do anything. He would simply do it differently”? (p. 14)
During: What words, feelings, and images come to mind as Nick and his teammates go for gold in the Paralympic Games? What real world connections do you make to this sporting event? (pp. 20-25)
After: After reading the book including the notes from Nick, Jen, and Chris, how would you define ability? How has your definition of ability shifted or grown? Why? Now, what do you know about people with disabilities and adaptive sports?
Words to Know
meningococcal meningitis– A rare bacterial infection that can have serious complications but is vaccine-preventable. Visit the National Meningitis Association for more information.
amputee– A person who was has had a limb amputated due to traumatic injury or at birth his/her/their limbs did not fully develop. For more information and resources supporting amputees visit Amputee Coalition.
occupational therapist– According to AOTA, therapists who “help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities” (American Occupational Therapy Association).
residual limb– Refers to the body part that remains after amputation.
prosthetic/prostheses– Refers to an artificial body part such as a limb or limbs.
prosthetist– A specialist in prosthetics who assists individuals with the development, fitting, and use of their prostheses.
wheelchair rugby– A highly physical coed team sport for male and female tetraplegic athletes. It is an invasion and evasion game with the objective of the game being to carry the ball across the opposing team’s try line to score. The team with the highest score wins. Visit International Wheelchair Rugby Federation and USA Wheelchair Rugby to learn more.
Paralympic Games– An international adaptive sporting event that takes place along side the Summer and Winter Olympic Games where athletes with disabilities compete to be the best in the world. Visit International Paralympic Committee and Team USA for more information.
Actions to Take
Donate a copy of Nick Springer on the Move to your local library or classroom to start filling the the shelves with books that feature the abilities of people with disabilities.
#6 It challenges readers to think differently about what is possible.
#7 It will have you cheering for Nick Springer and Team USA.
#8 It will inspire you to persevere against all odds.
#9 Nick Springer on the Move will change you forever.
Be strong and push hard!
If you are looking to purchase Nick Springer on the Move for a reader you know or to donate to a local library, you can visit Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. If you are looking for more about the book, check out these posts…
Many young people have sports dreams. It may be to run the 100-meter dash in the Paralympic Games or to win a wheelchair rugby championship. Few have dreams like Malat Wei, and even fewer work tirelessly for years to see their dreams come true. However, Malat is no ordinary dreamer or average athlete. As a result, he has achieved what some once thought impossible. He brought the game he loves, wheelchair basketball, to the people of the country that he loves, South Sudan.
Malat, who was born in the war-torn country of South Sudan, lost the use of his lower limbs due to polio at the age of three. He lived for years with his family in refugee camps before coming to the United States where he was outfitted with his first wheelchair and later exposed to adaptive sports. Through wheelchair basketball, Malat found confidence and strength that has empowered him to graduate from high school and become a premier player of the game. The transformative powers of sport led Malat to believe that if he could return to his home country he could share all that he has learned to help other individuals with disabilities to redefine how they see themselves and shift the perspective of community members on the value of people with disabilities.
Jess Markt, a former wheelchair basketball player and current Diversity, Inclusion, and Sports Advisor for the International Committee Red Cross (ICRC), also has a similar belief in the power of adaptive sports, due to a life-changing spinal cord injury and the introduction to wheelchair basketball during his rehabilitation process. In his role at ICRC, Jess has started numerous adaptive sports programs in countries caught in conflict. As a result, Jess visited South Sudan in 2017 and introduced the sport of wheelchair basketball in Juba.
When Malat saw a video on social media of the work that Jess was doing in his home country, he reached out to him. Jess understood Malat’s desire to become involved in the project and immediately saw the value in bringing Malat to South Sudan. Hence, he started advocating for him to join on the next trip as an assistant coach.
In 2018, for the first time since leaving South Sudan as a young boy, Malat returned home. Now, strong, educated, and empowered, Malat shared his passion for the game, belief in the power of adaptive sports, and hope for improved conditions for all people with disabilities. The pair spent their days teaching drills, wheelchair techniques, and the rules of the game. They also worked off the court to foster inter-tribal relationships and shift perspectives about the potential of people with disabilities by leveraging what was occurring on the court.
The play taking place was a fulfillment of their dreams and a testament to all that they have overcome. It is also the true embodiment of the vision that the founder of the Paralympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Gutmann, had on the field of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948.
In conclusion, at a time when many dreams have been deferred and hope may be hiding, one only needs to speak with Malat and Jess for a short time to believe again that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. These two inspire one to dream big, dig deep, and to keep moving forward to achieve the Possible.
Be sure to check out the award-winning documentary No Limits: Wheelchair Basketball in South Sudan which features Malat and Jess on their incredible journey to change the world through the game of wheelchair basketball.
Some Impressive Sports Story Stats
Through the ICRC, Jess has brought wheelchair basketball to 19war-torn countries with plans to expand to a total of 28.
Jess and the ICRC have worked to provide over 1,000 wheelchairs constructed by Motivation, a UK based organization that builds wheelchairs specifically for users in developing countries.
In 2018, there was 1 female wheelchair basketball player in South Sudan. In 2019, there were 25 female players with plans to develop more programming across the country.
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…
You can find many picture books about disabilities, but few picture books where the main character has an exceptionality.
You can find the sports stories of athletes who play traditional sports, but you cannot find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports.
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.
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?
You can talk about disabilities, but you can’t talk with people who have exceptionalities.
You can hear the sports stories of traditional athletes, but the triumph of athletes who play adaptive sports are not as valuable.
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.
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.
“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”
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:
#1Modeling 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.
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?”
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.
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!
#3Valuing 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.
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 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:
NubAbility Coaches teach athletes to block out the doubters and to listen to their inner voice saying, “You can do it!”
NubAbility Coaches teach campers to embrace failure. They know that when we fail, we learn.
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.
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.
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.
ToSam and all the Nubablitiy Coaches, thank you for all of your great work and believing in the Possible! -Jen
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…
“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.”
“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, worrying 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.