#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

6 Ways Team Possible Has Impacted My Life

Team Possible is dedicated to highlighting the abilities of athletes who play adaptive sports. The sports story of each athlete, coach or family is meant to EDUCATE, INSPIRE and EMPOWER readers. However, I cannot ignore the impact that meeting these incredible athletes has had on my own life. Here are six ways I have changed as a result of this research and writing:

Nick Blocking

Nick Springer playing against Japan in 2008 Paralympic Games. Photo Credit: CBS News/ U.S. Paraympics

1. I push myself harder than ever before. At 6 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, you can find me at spinning class. The instructor is an unrelenting, former Marine-type. You don’t talk. You just hop on your stationary bike and ride. When the music is loud and our drill sergeant screams, “Sprint!” you pedal as fast as you can. As I pump my legs furiously, I close my eyes and imagine myself racing Nick Springer down the court during a gold medal rugby match or

Cortney Jordan in the Womens 200m Individual Medley SM7 race on day 4 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Cortney Jordan in London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

pushing like Cortney Jordan swimming to break the world record.

When he orders us to crank it up and attack a huge hill, I take on Kanya Sesser’s confident attitude and say to myself, “I’ve got this!”

Kanya showing her “I Got This” attitude. Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

Kanya showing her “I Got This” attitude. Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

This becomes my mantra, and I repeat to myself over and over until he finally announces, “And, you are there.” Every time, I leave class sweaty, exhausted and totally ready for the day. 

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Nolan and Caitlin in a tree overlooking “The Bathtub” on Hermit Island, Maine. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

2. I take more risks. This summer when I was camping in Maine on Hermit Island, with Seth and our two kids, we went for a hike along the rocky shore when we discovered “The Bathtub,” a small cove that fills with water during high tide and empties out during low tide. Fortunately, it was almost high tide when we arrived at “The Bathtub.” So, Seth precariously positioned himself on a rocky ledge and jumped into the water claiming it was great fun. Nolan wanted to join in and made the plunge next.  Caitlin, who is always up for an adventure, nearly jumped on her brother as she entered the water. Then, all three looked back at me expecting me to say, “I’ll meet you at the shore on the other side.” But instead, I took off my shoes and did my best lifeguard-style jump into the brisk water. It wasn’t pretty. But, I did it! I took the risk, and it felt great!

Admitting Weakness

Photo Credit: Pinterest.com

3. I admit my weaknesses. In the past, I would try to hide my inadequacies. Now, I recognize my many weaknesses because I have finally realized that they are really just skills that I am working to develop into my strengths. I have been finding that when I actually openly discuss challenging areas with others that people want to help me improve. They want to see me succeed and are willing share some advice or even lend a helping hand.

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The Black Binder Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

4. I set goals every day. I write my goals down in a black binder on white-lined paper with colorful pens. I make sure there are no more than three goals on the list per day. Then, I check them off when I reach them. I love that feeling of accomplishment. The next morning, I reflect on my previous lists before crafting my new list. By reflecting on previous goals while also thinking about what I want to achieve in the future, I am able to write goals that keep me moving forward every day.

5. I listen more. I listen more to my children. Their insights are genuine and teach me a lot about myself and the world. I listen more to my friends. Their words are supportive and full of advice. Most importantly, I listen more to myself. My heart seems to know the way.

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Caitlin’s Thank You Note to God (Enjoy the inventive spelling.) Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

6. I keep a “Thankful Journal.” Every night before I go to sleep in a small hard covered journal, I write down what I am thankful for in my life. When I first started the journal, I made the rule that I had to  write at least three items down every night. Now, I can fill nearly half of a page. The other night, I was surprised to find Caitlin in her bed carefully writing on a small piece of note paper. When her pen stopped, she read softly to me: “God, I am thankful for everything.”

If you enjoy reading Team Possible blog posts, and they have impacted your life in some way, please share with me. You are encouraged to comment below or for more privacy you can email me at jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com. Thank you for believing in the possible!

Jen

My “I’m Not Going Back-to-School” To Do List

SCHOOL-HALLWAY

School Hallway

Everyone is back to school, and I’m not.

I figured it out and every September for 37 years I have been walking in a school door and down glistening hallways to either attend or teach a class. Do I miss it? No. Didn’t I love getting new textbooks to read or greeting my new students with a welcoming smile? Yes. I loved every minute. I will always love the smell of a new book and how the spine creaks when you open it for the first time. I will miss offering my hand to students and watching smiles slowly emerge across their faces. However, now I am doing what all of my teachers and former students taught me to do throughout those 37 years. This September, I am believing in myself and following my heart. So instead of putting on a new outfit and stepping out the door, I am home alone, writing and…loving it 😉

But…the student-teacher in me is a difficult beast to tame. Therefore, I did buy colorful new pens and made plans for the fall that include offering some new features with the blog. Don’t worry, I will continue to interview amazing athletes and share their sports stories. Additionally, I will also continue to share some of my own musings on adaptive sports, change, teaching, writing and my kids.

What’s new? I will share resources like books, films, organizations or other noteworthy items. I will also offer more perspective on the world of adaptive sports by interviewing family members and coaches who support athletes with exceptionalities. My hope is to create a site where athletes are celebrated, families are supported and readers are empowered.

So here is my “I’m Not Going Back-To-School To Do List”:

Endless Abilities

Endless Abilities Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

1. Watch the film Endless Abilities by Windy Films. I LOVE this film! I mean I REALLY LOVE this film! The documentary focuses on the journey of Zachary Bastain and his three friends who travel cross country meeting athletes who play adaptive sports. The people they meet are not elite athletes, but individuals who have found meaning in adaptive sports. What I admire about the film is how honestly Zack tells his story. His genuine desire to share adaptive sports with the world is evident in every scene. Also, the music is fantastic. The only request that Nolan, Caitlin and I have is that Zack and his friends make another film titled More Endless Abilities and include Team Possible members- Nick Springer, Kanya SesserCortney Jordan and Sydney Collier.

Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This book is a MUST read for all teachers. I hope when you read it that you get out-of-your-mind mad at some of the teachers in the book because all they can see is what a student can’t do based on her disability. Then, I hope you shed tears when eleven year-old Melody uses a communication device for the first time and she is able to share her thoughts with the world. Next, I hope you cheer, laugh and shout, “I knew she could do it!” when she competes to join the school quiz team. Finally, I hope you read Out of My Mind to your students, your children and share it with your friends. As Malala Yousafzai reminds us, “One child. One teacher. One book. One pen can change the world. ”

If you’re still not sure, I did recommend this to one of my absolutely fantastic Springfield College students, Abbie King, to read over the summer with her sister, Maggie. Here is what she had to say about the book:

Abbie & Maggie King

Abbie & Maggie King Photo Credit: Abbie King

Mags and I really enjoyed reading Out of My Mind this summer. She goes to the school that I work at in the summer so we would listen to it on our drives to and from work. When we finished the book she typed on her communication device “it was happy happy love.” She really seemed to enjoy the book…I felt like Maggie was really able to connect with this book since she had very similar abilities to Melody. Growing up she would always scream and cry over the simplest of things since she had no reliable way to tell us what she was thinking. Once she got her first communication device, she became a whole new person. It was as if she was just trapped inside her mind. Now, she is a sassy, independent, brave and fearless young lady.

3. Ask for help. The fall is overwhelming and busy for everyone. I am working on asking for help when I begin to flounder instead of waiting until I am over my head.  I will start now by asking you to share this blog with a friend on FaceBook, Twitter or via email. I would also love help finding resources. Please email me (jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com) your favorite websites, books, films, organizations, etc. Really, I need your help and want to share your stories. 

Believe in the Possible!

Jen

Jr. Team Possible: Emilia Scovel

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

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

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

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

How old are you? I’m eight years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disney Pixar Inside Out Characters

Disney Pixar Inside Out Characters

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

Caitlin jumps in to ask an important follow up question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caitlin interrupts, “He still does.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow!” replies Nolan.

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

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

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

“I love those words!” exclaims Caitlin.

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

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

Cortney Jordan: Two-Time Paralympian Swimmer & World Record Holder

Cortney Jordan Flag

Introducing…Cortney Jordan, a two-time Paralympian. Medalled in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. Set a  new world record in the mile. Training for Rio 2016, while holding down three jobs, and studying for her master’s in education.

What is your hometown? My dad was in the military. So, I have had 13 hometowns. I was a military brat, but I lived in Nevada from the age of 12-17. I like to think of America as my hometown.

 What sport or sports do you play? I only swim. I swim everyday, except Sunday. Swimming is all I have time for because I am studying for my master’s degree and I work three jobs. (Cortney is studying to be an elementary teacher. Cortney Jordan SelfieShe says she has wanted to be a teacher since she was four, which is longer than she wanted to be a swimmer.)

Pause in the interview due to technical difficulty. Cortney is speaking with me from the university library. It is the one hour she had free. She just finished two of her jobs and is now on campus for class.

What is your training schedule? Right now, it is a little tricky because I am trying to balance training and school. I usually wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I then swim from 6:00-8:00. I work from 9:00-12:00. If I can, I will work out again with weights or some sort of land training. Then, I will head to class. If I don’t have class, I coach swimming. I eventually get home around 7:00 p.m., and then I do it all over again. 

What superpowers do you possess? I like to think that I am very kind. I think being kind is a good super power to have because a good attitude can change someone’s day. I am also insanely patient. It is a good trait for teachers or swimmers to have. I am really stubborn, too. I get it from my dad and my grandpa. It runs in my family. The stubborn power may seem negative, but it is not. When I really want something, I set a goal and work hard until I achieve it- whether it is in the Paralympics or school.

What books inspire you? I love books! I have to read at least a chapter of a book every night. It is so hard to choose my favorite, but I do love Khaled Hosseini’s books- The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. His books are amazing. I’ve read each of them at least three times. I love the way he portrays humanity.

Since you51HoHYJv6TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ will be a teacher, what children’s books do you like? For children’s books, I like The Day the Crayons Quit. Each color is such a strong character, and the illustrations make you think outside the box. It is a great book to use when you’re teaching.

What songs are on your workout playlist? I don’t listen to music when I swim, but I may have a song in my head as I train. I do really like Blink 182 from the 1990’s-2000’s. My favorite is The Rock Show. During a meet, I first listen to Miranda Lambert’s Makin’ Plans to stay calm and remind myself that swimming is just one part of my life. Swimming is a great part of my life, but it is only one part of my life. Lambert’s song reminds me to focus on my family and reminds that they will love me no matter my performance. One race does not define you. Then, when I’m in the “ready room” just before I swim, I like to get pumped up. I switch gears and listen to Blink 182.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I am proud of three things. First, the gold medal I won in Beijing. I was only 17 years old and I wasn’t supposed to medal. Going into the race I was ranked fourth, and I took two seconds off my time in the 50 to win the gold. Second, I was nominated for NCAA Sportswoman of the Year. I was the first ever disabled sportswoman to ever be nominated in any sport and was one of the top 30 finalists. I Cortney Jordan Poolsidewas so proud to be representing the Paralympics. Third, I am really proud of the influence I have on younger athletes. I try to inspire them to keep going in the sport and reach the goal of the Paralympics. At invitational meets where the younger kids are competing against me, it’s not fair. I always win. So, I give the younger swimmers in my events my medals to inspire them. I tell them that I see potential in them and they can go somewhere with the Paralympics if they just keep training hard. From giving my medals away, I now have a little “mini-me.” Her name is Emilia. She has the same disability and looks just like me. Now, I’m known as the team “mom” because I always have these little girls following me around the pool deck. During the meets, I guide them to their lanes to make sure everyone gets to their events. Sometimes, I will even wait for them at the other end of the pool so they can focus on swimming to me and not worry about the race. I think that is what it is all about…helping out others.

What’s your mantra on tough days? It’s a quote from an Elizabeth Berg book, where a mother with MS who is raising her young daughter shares the idea that, “If you act like it is the last time you will do anything, then it will feel like the first time.”  Therefore, if you think it is the last time you are going to do something, then it becomes more precious to you. Then, you put everything into it.

How do you define ability? That’s a good one. Usually, I am asked to define “disability.” Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of. 

This question leads to a discussion on how she is often asked by others, “what is your disability?” People will say to her that she doesn’t look “disabled.” Some people will even ask, “What’s wrong with you?” Cortney said she replies, “Nothing. What’s wrong with you?”

What’s your sports story? I come from a swimming family. My grandfather is one of the founders of the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Ocean City Beach Patrol. He was a big influence in my career because he was a tremendous advocate for disabled swimming. When I was born with cerebral palsy, he told my parents just to get me in the water and that I would be fine. He was right.

My father and older sister also swam. I wanted to do anything my older sister did because she was so cool. When I was younger, I would swim, and swim, and swim. I was so bad at it. I was always the worst swimmer in the pool. When I swam all the other swimmers would be done with the event, wrapped in their towels at the side of the pool and eating nachos, while I kept swimming until I finished. You know, I was the swimmer that everyone does the pity clap for at the end of an event. When I swam, I even scared the lifeguards. They were watching and  thinking, “Is this kid going to make it?” But, I loved it and I still do. I love swimming. When I am in the water, it is the one time I am not in pain. With my disability, I am in pain almost all the time. It feels good to be in the water. I feel free. It is such a blessing. I’m lucky I was born into a swimming family.

However, I was going to quit swimming when I was 13. At that point, I had only swam in able-bodied meets. But then, I went to my first swim meet for physically challenged swimmers. I won everything. Afterwards, I was invited to join the US team and go to the World Games. It changed my life. Until that point, I didn’t know about the Paralympics. It wasn’t on television, and it wasn’t well publicized in the US. Fortunately, it will be in Rio 2016. We really need to raise awareness around the Paralympics and shift the stigma around disabled people.

Recently, I was in Panera bread and this older man asked me why I limp. Cortney-Jordan-MedalsI told him I was disabled and had cerebral palsy. He responded that I was too pretty to be disabled. This demonstrates how people don’t think you can be attractive and disabled. Another challenge some of my teammates and I face is that people think we are cognitively disabled because we are physically disabled. Also, they don’t see us as athletes. We need to change their perceptions. The most beautiful  people I know are disabled.

(Cortney and I then discuss how we will work together to change these perceptions. She will teach and I will write lots of books. She thinks we should start a library. I agree.)

What advice do you have for other athletes? Stay positive and keep it fun. There is no point in doing it if you are not having fun. I couldn’t imagine getting up at 4:30 every day and doing what I do if I didn’t love it. Do what you love and give it 100 percent. Then, you will be successful.

Who would you like to thank? I have a million people to thank. There are so many good people in my life. I have my family: my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandpa, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles…I have a huge family. I also want to thank my teammates and coach. They create the best training environment right now. There are so many more people. I think I have too many really amazing people in my life.

(Personally, I think all of amazing people in her life are a direct reflection of Cortney and her super powers. On a final note, Cortney has invited me to visit her in her future class to read my books aloud and to co-teach. I look forward to learning from her in the classroom. )

To hear more from Cortney Jordan, you can view the following interviews:

Cortney Jordan Wins Silver in London 2012

Cortney Jordan on the Morning Swim Show

You can also follow her as she trains for Rio 2016 on Twitter @CortneyJordan24.

To learn more about other members of Team Possible you can visit: Profiles of the Possible or Jr. Profiles of the Possible