#RoadtoRio

As the athletes train hard preparing for Rio, I thought I would share five bits of information about the Paralympic Games and Team Possible to help you get ready for Rio.

#1 The Paralympic Games were founded by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor born in Germany who sought refugee in England during World War II. “Poppa,” as he was called by his patients and staff, Guttmann was in charge of the spinal cord injury unit for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he revolutionized care for patients and introduced sports into the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. He shared his vision of the “Paralympic Games” with the world on July 28,1948. It was the same day King George VI opened the post-war 1948 Olympic Games in London. During this first adaptive sports competition, 14 athletes (12 men and 2 women) competed in archery.

Guttmann paralympics.org.uk

Dr. Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann    Photo Credit: paralympics.org.uk

#2 This year 22 different sports will be played at the Rio Games. Many sports are also played by able-bodied athletes such as track, swimming, triathlon, archery, and table tennis. However, some are unique to the Paralympics like wheelchair rugby, boccia, and goalball. To learn more about the classification of athletes, rules of the sports and to view video highlights on each sport. Check out the Rio Paralympic Games website.

Goalball telegraph.co.uk

Paralympic Goalball  Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk      

#3 Over 4,000 athletes from more than 170 countries will compete in the Games which begin on September 7th and run until September 18th. For the first time in Paralympic history the Games will be televised by NBC and NBCSN for over 60 hours of coverage. To learn more about viewing hours in the US, check out Team USA’s website.

#4 Team Possible Update: Sydney Collier will be riding for Team USA. McKenna Dahl will be shooting in Rio, and Cortney Jordan hopes to be swimming her way to the podium.  Mackenzie Soldan and Abby Dunkin will be playing together on the women’s wheelchair basketball team.

#5 Team Possible Hugs: Para-equestrian rider, Sydney Collier, recently hugged First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the 100 Day countdown to Rio. Blade runner and aspiring Paralympian, Rio Woolf , got a huge hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Rio and Prince Harry dailymail.co.uk

Rio gets a big hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando. Photo Credit: Getty Images 

Now, get ready to cheer on all of the amazing athletes who are on the #RoadtoRio. 

Remember, keep believing in the possible!

Jen

Believing in Team Possible

Hello Everyone!

I wanted to start the new year with thanking the many athletes who have shared their sports stories with me. All of you have provided me with new insights and greater motivation to write. I also wanted to thank all of the readers who support Team Possible by sharing posts or leaving comments. According to my “end of year report” from WordPress, your enthusiasm for stories of athletes who redefine ability has fueled this blog to be read by over 8,000 viewers in 77 countries. Although I will not use numbers to define my writing success, it certainly is validating to have nearly 500 followers. However, what encourages me the most are the comments from friends of Team Possible like:

I share all of your posts with my colleagues who are working on an inclusion task force.

I shared your post with my students.

I am designing a playground at work, and because of your posts I am truly integrating the accessibility features for all the children to play together.

I shared your post with a family member who has a child that is exceptional.

My son loves the post about Winter. Now, he has me read it to him at bedtime.

When I get the email about a new post, I save it until I have some time in my day to sit back and read it. They always make me think and reflect.

Think and reflect…I do lots of thinking and reflecting. It is simply part of the writing process. After rereading every interview from 2015, I selected the words from Team Possible members that have truly made me sit back, think and then get moving:

Nick Springer: Strength has nothing to do with what you can do when you are at your best, but what you can do when you are at your worst.

David Yates: They saw Winter and thought, “If this little dolphin can lose her tail and still live a dolphin life, then I can handle my problem.”

Jesse Billauer:  Ability is following your passion and being active in life.

Mackenzie Soldan: Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it.

Zack Bastian: I’ve noticed that in my life when things get really bad I have an ability to turn the situation into something positive, and that is my super power. When things get bad, I get inspired to work harder and be better.

Greyson Cage: I wish I had invisibility, teleportability, flight and super speed.

Jim Abbott: We have to challenge ourselves each and every day. You need to ask yourself if you are pushing the limits of your own abilities.

Abby Dunkin: Ability is what you can do and not letting anything hold you back, no matter the circumstances.

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

Kanya Sesser: I think of myself and imagine myself reaching the goal.

Sydney Collier: Don’t get discouraged. It seems like a long journey and it really is. There are all these ups and downs along the way. Just keep your eye on the goal.

Cortney Jordan: Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of.

Malat Wei: Always have a positive attitude around your teammates. A positive attitude will get you wherever you want to go in life, and not just in sports.

Nick Newell: I am more of a Batman type guy. I take what I have and make it work.  Then, I go about it the smartest way possible. No superpowers. Just always working with what I have.

Rio Woolf: You can do anything.

Impressive, I know! Those wise and inspiring words have motivated me to keep going and to interview more athletes in the upcoming months. In 2016 you can look forward to meeting more athletes on the Road to Rio and beyond. Since I LOVE children’s book, you can plan for some book reviews, and I may even sneak in a documentary or movie review. Finally, I will weave in a personal essay or two throughout the months. It should be an exciting year. Thanks for joining me.

Keep Believing in the Possible!

Jen

Mackenzie Soldan: Wheelchair Tennis and Basketball Champion

Mackenzie Soldan is a fierce competitor. Her athletic abilities have led her to gold medals on the tennis and basketball courts. In the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Mackenzie was on the USA Wheelchair Tennis Team. Now, she has her eyes set on the 2016 Rio Paralymics and being a part of the women’s wheelchair basketball team. Here is her awesome sports story…

MacKenzie Tennis pbs.org

Mackenzie winning the gold in tennis. Photo Credit: PBS Video

Name: Mackenzie Soldan

Hometown: Hemlock, Michigan 

What sport or sports do you play? I play wheelchair tennis and basketball.

Team USA Women's Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? The most recent one was in Toronto with the US Women’s Basketball Team, and we won the gold at the 2015 Parapan Games. It was cool being a part of a team and having worked toward that goal for the past three years. Another accomplishment I am proud of was in the 2011 ParaPan Games when I won two golds for tennis. I wasn’t even supposed to go, which made it even more amazing. One of the players had to drop out last minute, and I got a call to play. At the time, I wasn’t even playing tennis because I was focusing on basketball. When I first got there, I was playing terribly. Then, somehow I ended up working through it. Each match was less ugly than the one before.

Mackenzie Tennis Medal usta.com

On the podium. Photo Credit: USTA

How did you pull through to win the gold? I think it was my competitive drive. I just don’t like losing at all. Even though, I was not in the best tennis shape that I could have been in, I have very high expectations for myself and it pushed me past any excuses I could have made.  Then, I just took it point by point.

Mackenzie BBall Team Spirit twitter.com

Team USA rallying to win the gold at 2015 Parapan Games. Photo Credit: Christian Academy

How does that competitiveness work when you are a team player? It is hard. In an individual sport like tennis, it allows for you to get frustrated with yourself because you are only letting yourself down. In basketball, you have your team.  So you have to have that competitive drive, but you can’t let your frustration take you away from your role on the team. You have four other players on the court working hard, and you can’t let them down. It is definitely a balance.

Mackenzie BBall TeamUSA.org

Pushing hard. Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

What is your sports story? My sports story is still continuing on right now. I’m just an average little girl that grew up in Michigan. My parents have guided me through this entire journey. Sports are simply something that I have always done and needed to do. They are a part of who I am. I do sports because they feel right.  I’m just going with what I think I am supposed to be doing.

What is your current workout schedule? I practice every day. I play tennis three times a week, and I play basketball every day. Plus, we lift weights three times a week with a schedule from the US strength and conditioning coach. That is my typically schedule, unless we are getting close to a competition. Then, we practice for about four hours each day. Note: Mackenzie is also a full-time graduate student at University of Alabama! Roll Tide.

God Has A Plan spiritualinspiration.tumblr.comWhat books inspire you? I’m not a huge reader because of my studies I don’t have a lot of time. But, the Bible is probably the one book that I have read and that has inspired me the most.  Passage Jeremiah 29:11 really sticks with me: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? One day at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you look too far ahead. You need to focus on one moment and do the best you can in that moment. Then, you do the best you can in the next moment.

How would you define ability? I would say everyone has ability. Ability is taking what you have been given and using it to the fullest potential. There are no restrictions on anyone’s ability because there is always a way to adapt. It is just a matter of finding a way to do it.

Mackenzie Intense henriettkoosz.atHow would you define grit? Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it. Sometimes you have to fight for a long time, and sometimes it’s for shorter periods of time. Grit is having a drive to achieve something you want and not letting anything stop you. Even if it takes beating down the same problem or obstacle again and again. To have grit you don’t have to be a tough person, it is just a choice that you can make for yourself.

What superpowers do you possess? This is the tough question. I don’t think I really have a superpower. I feel pretty average. I do have a real knack for picking winners of award shows, does that count? When in doubt, go with Meryl Streep. 

What advice do you have for other athletes? If you’re interested in doing a sport, just go out and try it. Then, you can see how you like it. If you like it, then you can take it to the next level. Sports are a great way to meet people. They also help you gain perspective and see what else is out there. They help you see what is possible. Sports are important for your self-confidence and finding out that you can do something independently. Any athletes who are just starting out should go for it. It is totally worth it!

Who would you like to thank? First, I want to thank my parents. When I was seven years old, my parents drove me two hours to a suburb of Detroit to try wheelchair basketball. I loved it. So, every week my parents would drive me two hours each way to practice for three years. I don’t think I would be here without them. I also want to thank my coaches from throughout the years. They have always pushed me to be better.

Learn more about Mackenzie’s story, and watch her win the gold in PBS Medal Quest.

Abby Dunkin: Wheelchair Basketball Champion and Texas Track Star

Abby Dunkin shooting for Team USA Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Abby Dunkin shooting for Team USA Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Abby Dunkin has proven herself on the track, and now she is working hard to prove herself on the court. This tough young woman keeps believing in her faith and herself to meet life’s challenges. Here’s her sports story…

What is your hometown? It is New Braunfels, Texas. 

What sports do you play? I focus on wheelchair basketball. I have competed in wheelchair track and shot put in the past.

What superpowers do you posses? Good Lord, I don’t know. That’s a good one. Through out this whole journey, it has been my strength.

How would you define strength? Are you talking about mental, emotional or physical? All of them. I think my mental and emotional strength have come a long way. Physically, as any athlete, you always want to get stronger. I have a lot of work to do in that area.

Abby Dunkin smiling after finishing first in the 400m at the Texas State Championship. Photo Credit: reporternews.com

Abby Dunkin smiling after finishing first in the 400m at the Texas State Championship. Photo Credit: reporternews.com

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? When I won three events at the state meet. It was such a blessing. It was definitely one of my top ten coolest moments.

In 2014, as a senior, Abby competed in the first state track championship to include wheelchair events in Texas. It was an important moment for Abby and all high school track athletes in Texas. It demonstrated great progress and further inclusion of adaptive athletes in interscholastic sports.  At the championship, Abby won the 100m, 400m and shot put.  However, the highlight of the meet was when Abby stopped after she crossed the finish line in the 400m and waited for the three other female track athletes to finish. They then marked this triumphant moment together with a victory lap. The crowd responded with a standing ovation while the coaches and officials wiped tears from their faces. Reminding us of the power of sport and the Paralympic mission “To make for a more inclusive society for people with an impairment through para-sport.”

Team USA Women's Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

Just recently in August, Abby had another incredible sports moment. She represented the United States at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Since it was her rookie year, she saw most of her play time in the early playoffs which eventually led Team USA to the gold medal game against Canada. It was an intense final match up. Fortunately, Team USA pushed hard and earned their way on to the podium. Abby reflected, “People tell you that it is an amazing experience to have the national anthem play for you after you win a gold, but no words can express the feeling. We were all tearing up.” 

She also shared stories about all of the excitement that surrounded the Parapan Games and playing at an international level like being escorted by security guards, trading apparel with athletes from other countries, and using phones to communicate with athletes who spoke languages other than English. For Abby, all of the energy and excitement of the Parapan Games have created a more intense focus on achieving her goal of playing wheelchair basketball in Rio at the 2016 Paralympic Games. She stated, “I am now ready to work even harder. I want to get to the gym more and push harder.” 

Abby Dunkin Post Toronto 2015 Parapan Games Pride Photo Credit: Abby Dunkin

Abby Dunkin Post Toronto 2015 Parapan Games Pride Photo Credit: Abby Dunkin

What books inspire you? The book I mostly read is The Bible. I am also really into war and military type books.

What is on your playlist when you train? I am into acoustics. I like Voice Avenue, James Bay, and Ed Sheeran.  When I am practicing free throws I listen to the band, Explosions in the Sky. The songs don’t have any words. I’m weird like that because before a game I try not to get too hyped up. Instead, I try to stay calm. I like to get focused and more into “the zone.”

Abby's favorite quote from 2 Timothy 4:7. Photo Credit: BibleGodQuotes.com

Abby’s mantra. Photo Credit: BibleGodQuotes.com

What is your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? In high school before a game, we would write our goals on our wrist. It could be something like to get more rebounds or score more points. But I would write, 2T4:7 which is a quote from The Bible. It says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” In college, I decided to have that quote tattooed on my wrist. Now in a game, I can look down at it and it is a quick reminder and pick me up.

How would you define ability? Ability…I haven’t really thought about that. (Pause.) It is what you can do and not letting anything hold you back, no matter the circumstances.

How would you define grit and relate it to yourself? Grit is really how bad you want something. Like when you have all of these obstacles facing you, and you need to decide if you are willing to push past them or are you willing to just let it play out. I have learned to push through them.

If you’re wondering Abby’s age, she is 19. She now plays wheelchair basketball for University of Texas Arlington (UTA). This past year was the first season UTA had a women’s wheelchair basketball team, and Abby hopes for a great second season. She is studying kinesiology and plans to go into coaching or working with wounded soldiers through adaptive sports. She explains that her desire to work with wounded warriors stems from being a “military brat.” She proudly states, “My dad was a marine officer. My grandfather was a general in the Marines. We are a Marine family.”

Abby Dunkin Getting Ready for Parapan Games Photo Credit: herald-zeitung.com

Abby Dunkin Getting Ready for Parapan Games Photo Credit: herald-zeitung.com

What is your sports story? I was playing basketball in the able-bodied way, and God decided, ‘No, that is not what you are supposed to do.’ He put me in a chair and was like, ‘Here is what you are going to do.’ I could write a short story about what I have lost, but a novel about what I have gained in life. I have gained a totally new perspective not only on the game, but on life. I have a perspective now that I could never have had if I stayed able-bodied, and I don’t regret it.

When you were playing able-bodied ball, did you know about wheelchair basketball and the Paralympics? Not really. I really had no idea what it was and now that I play it. I love it way more than I did able-bodied basketball. It’s more contact. It’s more everything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? You can talk all you want about how bad you want it, but it does’t matter unless you do something about it. If you want it, go get it. Nothing is holding you back.

What are your workouts like? We do weights which is pretty much all upper body. For conditioning, we push around the gym a lot. We do mostly sprints. The worst are when we do a 12 minute push. It is when you sprint around the gym for 12 minutes. It sucks.  And, we practice lots of shooting.

Abby Dunkin at Texas State Championship

Abby Dunkin at Texas State Championship Photo Credit: Melissa Dunkin

Who would you like to thank? My biggest supporter is my mom. She has been awesome. I want to thank everyone at UTA. All of my teammates at UTA and in New Braunfels. My whole community in New Braunfels has been amazing. They have been there since I got in a wheelchair. I really want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. It has been a huge blessing.

To learn more about Abby you can read these articles:

Dallas News “A year ago I was in deep depression,” she said. “Not where I needed to be. But God has opened so many doors, and I’ve realized there’s more out there for me.”

Yahoo News “We can accomplish the same goal,” she said. 

Washington News “Being able to compete with them was special. We’re just laying the foundation for something bigger.”