Nick Springer on the Move Hits Readers Hard

“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…

The Sports Wheelchair: A (Very) Brief History

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!

Tristan Carroll Loves to Run & Encourage

Most of us remember our kindergarten teacher, but how many of us left such a positive impression on our teacher that s/he would nominate us years later to be featured on a sports blog? Tristan Carroll is that type of student athlete. He is in fifth grade now and still sees his kindergarten teacher, Judy Bates, regularly.

For Tristan’s interview Nolan, Caitlin and I met up with him and his family at a local park. Instead of getting right to work, the kids first played on the playground together and then after a while gathered on a picnic table to talk about sports and life.

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Tristan with his brothers Spencer, Porter and Carter. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

How old are you? I am eleven.

Do you have any pets? No. We had some pets in the past, but they all died.

What foods do you like? Pizza!

What do you like on your pizza? Just cheese.

What books do you like to read? I like to read My Weird School series. They are funny.

What movies do you like to watch? I like action movies and superhero movies.

What is your favorite movie? Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

This led to a big debate about the ending of the movie and the reviews. The kids told me that I can’t share the details of their conversation on the blog because it would spoil the movie for everybody.

What sports do you play? I do speed skating. I play soccer through the Special Olympics*. I do track again through the Special Olympics*.

*Tristan actually plays on unified teams through the Special Olympics because there are limiting offerings in his area for youth with physical exceptionalities. Since many of you may be wondering about the similarities and differences between the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics. I plan to discuss them in an upcoming blog post. I will also talk about unified sports and the access to adaptive sports programs for youth. Because we know, everyone has a right to play!

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I was so proud when I stood up ice skating. I was always falling down, but I finally stood up all by myself. It took a couple of years to learn.

With admiration Nolan confesses he is still learning to stand up on ice skates. Tristan and his younger brother, Porter, then start giving ice skating tips to Nolan about pushing his feet out to the side and the importance of gliding. Tristan concludes with the best advice, “You need to be determined.”

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Tristan competing in track. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

What are your ultimate sports goals? To run a marathon.

Who will you run the marathon with? Porter will run it with me.

What about your mom? Oh my goodness, are you kidding me?

What makes a good teammate? They need to be encouraging. They need to be like, “Go! You can do it!”

What makes a good coach? That they help you improve. They tell you how to get better.

What advice do you have for other young athletes? To never give up. Don’t be afraid to fail. Trust me, I have failed tons of times.

Caitlin responds, “That is really good advice!”

How do you define ability? Something you are really good at.

Porter then asks to share his definition, Ability means you are physically and mentally able.”

A deep conversation starts with the kids discussing their views on ability, and if people need to be able to do things in the same way. They discuss Rio Woolf running with his prosthetic leg. They discuss Nick Springer playing wheelchair rugby and Tristan learning to ski. Then, Tracey captures all of our ideas in one statement: “If you are mentally able to do something, then you find a way to physically do it. If you think you can’t, you won’t.”

What superpowers do you have? I encourage people. Encouragement is energy.

Porter can’t help but add, “He laughs at everything. He will fall down and laugh.” Tracey agrees, “Yes, he has a good sense of humor. He has always had a good outlook on life.” Tristan smiles proudly and nods.

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Tristan writing about running in kindergarten. Photo Credit: Tracey Carroll

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.

Nick Springer: Two-Time Wheelchair Rugby Paralympian

This post is the first in a series that will focus on athletes who redefine ability in sports. The first profile is on the athlete who has had the biggest impact on my life and who has greatly influenced what my children believe is possible.

Nicks Profile Pic

Name: Nick Springer  

Hometown: Croton-on-Hudson, NY; but currently lives in Phoenix, AZ.

What sport or sports do you play? I play wheelchair rugby. I also scuba dive. I will do just about anything and everything that I get the opportunity to do.

What superpowers do you possess? I have the ability to look at any situation and come out of it with a smile.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? Definitely, winning the gold beijing flowersmedal in 2008 Paralympics. But, I am even more proud of helping the people who are newly injured and getting them back on their feet by building up their confidence. It is better than winning any championship.

What books inspire you? I mostly like fiction where the characters overcome great obstacles. I am drawn to historical fiction. In college, I read the memoirs of generals from WWII. I liked their mindset. Even though they didn’t want to be in their situation, they did what they had to do. I’m a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut. I got to know him when I was in the hospital. I like Slaughterhouse 5 and how he talks about death simply being an existence in another time and space.

What songs are on your workout playlist? It depends on the day and the workout, but I usually listen to punk rock and some heavy metal. It has to be fast paced.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? Keep pushing!

How would you define ability? I would change how “ability” is defined and that it is not an ability that makes you strong, but your ability to push past your weaknesses that make you strong. 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.

What is your sports story? Since a story usually has an ending and I know sports will always be a part of my life whether I am playing or not, I don’t think of it is a story. It is more of a journey.

What advice do you have for other athletes? It’s not about the impact on the game itself, but the impact you have on the lives of the people you play with and the people you inspire. Success is about the impact you have on others. 

Impact

If you know an athlete who you think should be profiled because s/he believes in the possible and redefines ability, please contact email me (jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com). 

Be the change you wish to see in the world. –Gandhi

This is my mantra. This is the foundation from which I teach my students and my children. However, change is challenging, uncomfortable and at times frightening. But is the challenge real or perceived? Is the discomfort physical or mental? And is my fear grounded in fact or fiction?

For me the challenge is often perceived. The discomfort is usually only mental, and the fear is grounded in more fiction than facts. Therefore, I force myself to move forward outside my comfort zone into the realm of “CHANGE.”

Unexpectedly, the push to change my career path came to me on my short drive to work this fall. It wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to teach. In fact, I was excited to share my love of teaching reading with a fantastic group of pre-service teachers. They were discovering for themselves that supporting early readers is the merge of magic and science.

So what happened? It was an epiphany of sorts resulting from critical reflection on an incident that occurred last year when my daughter, Caitlin, was in kindergarten.

It started over dinner when she was deciding what to bring in for “show and tell” at school. Remembering her recent visit to my office, she asked if she could bring in the poster of her cousin that hung on my door. Excited about her decision, I agreed and told her that I would get it for her the next day.

The following afternoon, I carefully pulled the tape from the back and rolled up the poster of Nick in his Team USA uniform with gold and silver medals hanging around his neck. I, then, tucked it into my bag and headed home. That night after dinner, the kids argued which one of them would get to share the poster first. My son, Nolan, who was in third grade, stated that he wanted to take the poster to school on Thursday because Caitlin did not have “show and tell” until Friday. This seemed a reasonable request, but I said I would email their teachers and wait to hear back from them.

I sent their teachers links to articles about Nick’s accomplishments and video clips from the Beijing Games, along with a photo of the poster. Nolan’s teacher responded that night saying she had shared Nick’s story with her family and how they were all inspired by his success. Yes, like many world-class athletes, his story is inspiring.

I didn’t hear from Caitlin’s teacher until the next morning. She explained that she had forwarded my email to the principal and that she was concerned the poster would “scare” the children. I was appalled.

Nick Springer is Caitlin’s cousin. Nick Springer is a gold and silver medalist in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics. Nick Springer is a world-class athlete who plays wheelchair rugby. Nick Springer is a survivor of meningococcal meningitis. Nick Springer is a quad amputee.

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Unfortunately, the only label her teacher could see was the last, and she found it frightening.

The next day, I received a call at work from the school principal. Here is a bit from my side of the conversation:

“It is not if Caitlin will share the poster, but when.”

“How can we be okay with sharing images like Captain Hook with young children, yet we are afraid to share a photo of someone who represented our country in the Paralympics?”

“I find it more frightening that we have an educator who feels unprepared to embrace diversity in her classroom. If she can’t handle this conversation, what other conversations are not occurring?”

On the following Friday, with the support and guidance from the principal, Caitlin shared the poster. And, how did her classmates react? They thought her cousin was totally awesome!

Proud Cousin

However, I never found peace with the situation. Well… until this fateful car ride to work.

A book. A tool. That was it, I would write a children’s book celebrating Nick’s story, and it would be a tool for Caitlin’s former teacher and every educator to discuss, embrace and celebrate differences.

Thus, my journey began and I started researching picture book biographies. Over the past three months, I have read 44 picture book biographies. So far, only two have featured a person with a disability, Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull (1996) and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant (2014). Of the 44 picture book biographies, 10 have been about athletes, but not one has featured a Paralympian. According to the CDC and the 2010 census, approximately 20% of adults in the US are disabled. Yet, individuals with disabilities remain a vastly underrepresented group in children’s literature.

My plan is to change this. I will be the “CHANGE” (or at least be a part of it). I will research and write the amazing life stories of people with disabilities or more accurately stated, “people with exceptionalities.” Yes, I will write stories of people who lead exceptional lives that educate, empower and inspire others.

If you have an amazing story to tell, please share it. Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.

Believe in the possible,

Jen