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.

Kanya Sesser: Adaptive Skier, Surfer, Skateboarder and So Much More

Introducing Kanya Sesser…Track and Field Athlete. Skier. Surfer. Skateboarder. Avid adaptive action sports athlete. She does it all!

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“I Just Do It”  Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

Hometown: Tualatin, Oregon

What sport or sports do you play? I do mono-skiing, track and field, skateboarding, wheelchair tennis, rugby, surfing, sled hockey, and wheelchair basketball. I do lots of sports. I like the ones that are more fast and driven.

Kanya Sesser Skate

Professional Skateboarder Photo Credit: Purpose2Play.com

Professional Surfer Photo Credit: Billabong

Professional Surfer Photo Credit: Billabong

What superpowers do you possess? Superpowers? Can you explain that. Sure, I believe people with exceptionalities develop complimentary superpowers like Nick said that he can come out of any situation with a smile. My son has an amazing memory. Okay, now I get it. I have a positive energy. I have a very good difference. I just give good energy in the room. I’m not hippy or anything like that, but my aura is very bright and calming. For example, whenever I lose in a game or competition I never get mad, I just keep trying. I have really positive vibes.

Track Star Photo Credit: ASMP.org

Track Star Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kanya Sesser

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? Track. Most of my accomplishments are in track including the London 2012 Paralympics Games. I like speed. So, I do the 100, 200, and 400. But I also do the 800, 3K and 5K. In 2011 (at the age of 18), I was nominated for the third fastest women’s wheelchair racer. In high school and college I was very happy with track and all of my accomplishments. However, when I was training for the 2012 Games, it became more of a job than what I loved. I am training in track for Rio 2016, but I am really passionate about adaptive action sports. I want to experience life and connect with nature through sports.

What books inspire you? It’s funny the one book I really remember reading is Bethany Hamilton’s book in elementary school for a book report. I loved her and looked up to her. It inspired me. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, I want to be like her.”  I admired how she adapted and was a survivor. And now, here I am surfing with no legs. I mean… I haven’t gotten bitten by a shark yet, so let’s hope I don’t.

What songs are on your workout playlist? I like Pop Off by Kevin Hart. Kevin Hart is one of my favorite people because he is funny and real. I mostly like listening to rap or something that keeps me going. I don’t really like techno. I like rap or hip-hop that is like “Yeah, I got this.” I like things with good sound and less lyrics. When I do yoga I listen to good streaming sounds like the ocean to keep my mind calm.

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“I Got This” Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? I’ve got this…I think of myself and imagine myself reaching the goal. I picture myself and think positive. For example, I have a photo shoot next week and I think about how I have to look good for myself. You want to eat right and be healthy. You need to take care of yourself and have a positive life style.

How would you define ability? Wait, let me look that up (she looks it up on her computer and reads the definition aloud… “ to do something.”)  Interesting… I think you can have different definitions of doing something. I just do it. No matter what it is, I don’t really care and I just go for it. Like if there is a big swell, I look at it and think, “I got this.”

What is your sports story? No legs no limits..I am doing all these sports and I am living my life freely with no legs.

Training in the Pool Photo Credit: Kanya Sesser

Training in the Pool Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kanya Sesser

What is your training schedule? My training schedule is usually six in the morning until noon. First, I do track for two hours. Then, I rest for an hour. Next, I either swim or do a low key gym work out depending on how intense I was in my track training. I do yoga when the sun sets, ideally on the beach. It is more calming when the sun is setting. Finally, I meditate or go for a walk and have a smoothie or eat a salad. I don’t know… I am very calm and like to just chill.

What advice do you have for other athletes? If you push yourself through the hard work, the effort, the time and have patience, you will get to your goals. Also, if I ever get badly hurt or injured doing a sport or in a competition, then I know I gave it whatever it takes to get to that next level. 

Who would you like to thank? I would like to thank my mom. Without her, I wouldn’t get this far. To be honest, my mom was the person who looked up all of these different sports. In fact, that woman is lucky because she did travel with me all over the world in high school because of my sports. However, she did do all of my fundraising. If I ever get an ESPY, she is the number one person I will thank. And then, my coaches.

Beauty Defined by Kanya Photo Credit:

Beauty Defined by Kanya Photo Credit: Craig Solomon

Do you have any other additional comments? The thing I have been thinking about during this interview and that I want to change is how beauty and body image are defined. Being beautiful needs to be defined in your own way. I want people to understand love, relationships and beauty for people with disabilities.

This final thought sparked a longer conversation. In fact, throughout the interview there were many side conversations from prosthetics, to not buying shoes, to how girls develop their understanding of body image. This interview even led to further conversations about writing a book to fully tell Kanya’s story. It is remarkable story of strength, beauty and ability. Give us some time and we will reveal all of it to you. Until it is on the bookshelf, you can check out these interviews and articles.

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Sydney Collier: Para-Equestrian Rider and Against All Odds Award Winner

Welcome Sydney Collier to Team Possible! She is riding her way to Rio 2016 with her horse, Wentworth, service dog, Journey, and the support of her incredible family. 

Hometown: I am from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Temporarily, my mother and I live in Millbrook, New York while my dad and brothers still live in Ann Arbor. This enables me to train with my trainer, Wes Dunham. My two younger brothers are Simon (almost 13) and Alex (almost 15). It’s not your traditional family living situation, but I have an amazing family that supports me. Even my grandparents moved from North Carolina to Michigan to help raise my brothers because they understood what was needed for me to reach my goals. It means so much to me to have my family supporting me, and it makes all the hard work and sacrifice worth it.

What sport or sports do you play? I just do para-dressage. It is all I have time for right now. When I was younger I did play

Sydney riding May.

Sydney riding May. Photo Credit: Proud Mom, Anna Collier

recreation soccer and baseball, but I was always the kid in the outfield picking the flowers. Then, one day when I was seven years old I sat on a pony named May. This pony taught me that anything is possible. In shows, May would win first place against all these big fancy horses. Riding her, I found a place where I really belonged. It was the best moment of my life. When you ride with horses, they evolve into your best friends.

What superpowers do you possess? Positivity. No matter what life throws my way, I can swing it into an opportunity. For example, last year my horse, Wentworth, got injured while playing in the pasture. His injury led to a required nine months of stall rest. This became a really difficult situation for me because I needed to continue training without my horse. Fortunately, I was able to get loaned two horses while Wentworth recovered. However, one horse was in Texas and one was in New York. My mom and I then had to travel back and forth between New York and Texas for me to train and show on the two horses. It was exhausting and really hard work, but it definitely made me a better rider. It also seemed to make Wentworth a better and stronger horse. When he was finally allowed to get back in the show ring he was really excited, and we picked up right where we left off. This past weekend we had a show and we got our best scores yet. It seems I  have the ability to keep going no matter what happens. I believe it’s called perseverance. 

Sydney with a healthy and happy Wentworth.

Sydney and Wentworth displaying their positivity superpowers. Photo Credit: Proud Mom, Anna Collier

An Interesting Side Note…

During our conversation, Sydney mentioned that she will be traveling to Kentucky for the Nationals with Wentworth. I was intrigued with the idea of her traveling with horses which led to a side conversation about trailers that allow the horses to move around when going long distances. She also explained that last year when she traveled with the team to the World Games in France that for the first-time she traveled on a plane with horses. They all flew on a double decker plane that didn’t look much different from an ordinary plane, and most of the passengers had no idea there were horses on board. While the passengers sat up front, all of the horses were in a cargo area with stalls. During previously flights the stalls had been used to hold various animals including zebras, polar bears and even a dolphin.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? This past year representing the U.S. at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France was amazing. I was the youngest competitor in the entire World Games. Then, in October when we returned home I found out I was awarded the prestigious honor of the FEI Against All Odds Award. I traveled with my mom to Baku, Azerbaijan to receive the award at the annual FEI Awards Gala. I have to admit that I didn’t even know

Sydney and Journey receiving FEI Against All Odds Award

Sydney receiving FEI Against All Odds Award with her service dog, Journey. Photo Credit: Liz Gregg/FEI

where Azerbaijan was in the world before going; it’s near Russia. There I met the President of FEI, Princess Hya of Dubai. I also went to some cocktail parties where I spoke with the Prime Minister of Syria and danced with the President of Azerbaijan.  At the time, I didn’t realize it was the President of Azerbaijan until afterwards when someone taking video of us dancing told me. It was an incredible honor.

After we returned home from the FEI Awards Gala, I was named the USEF Jr. Equestrian of the Year. I was the first  para-equestrian to be honored with this award. The award ceremony was held in Kentucky allowing my whole family to come.  It was really amazing because they deserve the credit, too. They have been incredibly supportive in helping me reach my goals.

(We did have another side conversation here about her incredible interview upon receiving the FEI Against All Odds Award and her beautiful dress for this black tie event. Sydney confessed to being more comfortable in her barn clothes, but she does daydream of other events that she could wear the dress to in the future.)

What books inspire you? I actually don’t have much time to read, but I do read as much as I can.The best book I read recently, was Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.

Andrew Solomon Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Scribner

Andrew Solomon Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Scribner

I was listening to a TEDTalk by the author and thought this would be a good book to read and learn from. I was amazed at the perspective of the book. It exposes  many people to a perspective they don’t think of very often: being an able-bodied parent raising a child with a disability. Since I want to be a special education teacher, I connected in many ways with the book. Through the book, I heard about a place in New York called the Cook Center where I would like to volunteer at some point. Currently, I volunteer twice a week with children who have behavior disorders and previously I have worked with children who have cognitive disabilities.

(I couldn’t resist another side conversation about becoming an educator and creating change regarding awareness of people with disabilities. Sydney then quotes an Aimee Mullins’ TedTalk about adversity which leads to mutual excitement for Mullins’ work and a shared love for TEDTalks. I then explain how I would love to turn Mullins’ talk on her 12 pairs of legs into a beautiful picture book for children. Sydney loves this idea and says, “Yes, then kids wouldn’t be afraid of someone who has had a leg amputated, but instead would say ‘Hey, that’s a really cool leg.’” She continues, “It is amazing the impact books can have along with parents teaching their children differently about people with disabilities.”)

Any suggestions for children’s book? I really like The Perks of Being a Wall Flower by Stephen Chbosky. It is a more alternative book about going through high school. The main character is a boy who at first just blends in and then he  breaks free finding friends who embrace him for who he is. It is a really good and fast read.

Falling in Reverse Concert

What songs are on your workout playlist? I listen to music all the time when I work out. I mostly like punk rock and some heavier metal. Actually, I like lots of hard rock. It has to be fast paced. There are two bands that I really love. One is Falling In Reverse and the other is Black Veiled Band. These two bands inspire me with their lyrics and keep me going when I am working out. In May I actually got to see and meet Falling In Reverse; it meant a lot to me.  Because a rock concert is not somewhere you are expecting to see someone in wheelchair, the band noticed me and lifted my wheelchair on to the stage. It felt great to be included and seen. I didn’t get into the mosh pit as much as I wanted to be, but I still had a good time. I love going to concerts.

What is your training schedule? Six days a week I ride Wentworth for an hour. Every day I use an exercise horse which I ride for an hour or an hour and a half. It is a great core workout. Then, I workout at the gym three days a week.  I also volunteer two days a week. I am a really busy person and I love it that way.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? Just keep going. Don’t get discouraged. Stay positive.

How would you define ability? That’s a difficult one…I would define “ability” as having the strength to accomplish anything that you want to accomplish. No matter who you are or what your goals are, we all have this inner strength to accomplish our goals.

What is your sports story? Like Nick said in his interview, a story has an ending, and I don’t see this ending. I see myself always having a horse and a goal in my life. I don’t see myself ever not wanting a horse or working towards a goal. I also want to give the horses credit here. I couldn’t do it without them. They deserve more credit than me because it takes a special kind of horse to tune out the things my body does normally and to adapt to how I ride. I feel very lucky to have such amazing horses in my life.

Sydney with Journey at the 2014 World Games. Photo Credit: Luc Percival Photography

Sydney with Journey at the 2014 World Games. Photo Credit: Luc Percival Photography

What advice do you have for other athletes? 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. In 2010 when I went to watch the EquestrianWorld Games, I said to myself, “I want to do this.” Since then, even when Wentworth went lame and I was traveling back and forth between New York and Texas, I have stayed focused on my goals. Then, when I was actually competing at the 2014 World Games I was like, “Wow, I did all this no matter what life threw my way.” What really counts is how you face these challenges. You have to keep going no matter what. Also, don’t think your success at a local show is nothing. Every level is important. You have to say to yourself, “I am proud of myself for what I have done.”

Who would you like to thank? My horses. I want to thank all of the horses who have lent me their legs over the years. My family for all of their sacrifices. If I could thank everyone, I really would. I would thank everyone who has made this possible from my service dog, Journey, to the groomers…everyone. It’s not only me. I am lucky to have such a supportive family and team. I owe all of my successes to them.

The interview finally ends with Sydney inviting me and the kids to see her ride in Millbrook, New York. She wants us to meet Wentworth, Journey, her mom and some of the ponies at the stables. It looks like we will be going on a road trip soon and will share the adventure with all of our readers.

To learn more about Sydney and to stay up to date on her quest for Rio 2016, please visit her webpage at sydsparaquest or on Facebook at Syd’s Paraquest.

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

Rio Woolf (Part 3)- The Finish Line

9:18 a.m. US/ 2:18 p.m. UK

Caitlin starts…

What sports do you play? Mostly like, every sport. I play eight sports: football (soccer), tennis, basketball, wheelchair basketball, table tennis. Let’s see…Swim. Run. Rio SoccerThat’s seven. Football…Yeah, I play eight sports and I do all of them about 8 to 9 times week.

What are your favorite foods? Chocolate. I love fruits and vegetables. I eat tons of them. I eat up all the mango (Juliette explains that Rio is on a health kick).

Do you have any pets? In about 1 hour and 35 minutes, we will have a dog. (Juliette explains that they will be taking care of Rio’s grandparents’ dog for the night. The puppy makes a brief appearance later in the interview. It’s a cute little poodle. Caitlin tries to talk to it via FaceTime using her superpowers. See below.)

What books do you like to read? I’ve got tons of books. I like Gruffalo (Rio proceeds to show us at least five titles in the Gruffalo series), Curious George (Caitlin is thrilled with this selection) and Horrid Henry. (Caitlin shares one of her favorite books, Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson. It is the true story of how a boy born with a limb difference changes the world.)Gruffalo

What movies do you like to watch? Well, I was about 5 minutes into the Cars 2 movie before you called. I like the Rio movies. I like all the Cars movies, Monsters Inc., Monster University and Big Hero 6. (“Oh, I love Big Hero 6!” exclaim Nolan and Caitlin simultaneously.) Then, Rio parades all of the Monster University characters from his bed past the screen. Nolan and Caitlin try to remember some of the characters’ names. This leads to Caitlin running to her room and returning with a bag of TY Beanie Boos to share. When both parades are over Nolan announces that it is time for the next question, and they get back to the interview.)

9:50 a.m. US/ 2:50 p.m. UK

Nolan’s turn…

What are your superpowers? I don’t really know what to say for that question. What are yours? (Caitlin responds, “Oh, I can talk to animals. And I’m good in the ocean. I have nature superpowers.” Nolan and Rio say they need to think about it more. Juliette says she thinks Rio’s superpower is that he always gets up and keeps going. Rio agrees and shows us a recent injury on his finger to prove her point. Nolan says he has the same superpower and shows off his cut and bruised knee from a recent fall on his bike. Once all injuries have been shared, we get back to the interview.)

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I’m not sure. IMG_0756(Rio is being modest. He shows us lots of medals that he has earned and a recent certificate from an adaptive sports camp program. Juliette helps out with the question and talks about how since 2013 Rio proudly participates in an annual run around London’s Olympic stadium. Conversation about this event leads Rio to move towards the cabinet above his bed. There he shows us the pictures displayed. They include him standing with his Paralympic heroes like Jonnie Peacock, Alan Fonteles and Richard Whitehead, except one where he is with Prince Harry. Yes, THE Prince Harry. Rio has many accomplishments to be proud of and he is only 7 years old.)

Back to Caitlin…

What makes a good teammate? Someone who tries hard. I’m very fit. (Rio is known for his hard work and shows us his muscles to prove it.)

What makes a good coach? Someone who makes it fun. (Here’s some video of his coach, Hayley, making it fun Track & Samba.)Rio Run

10:12 a.m. US/ 3:12 p.m. UK

Puppy Showing & Impromptu Snack Break

Nolan’s turn again…

How would you define ability? You can do anything. You are still the same. You can play sports. Just if you have a straight leg on, you can’t bend it. (Juliette adds challenged athletes will get to the same place they may just take a more scenic route by doing it differently.)

What is your ultimate sports goal? I want to be in the Paralympics or a footballer (a professional soccer player).

10:24 a.m. US/ 3:24 p.m. UK

Quick Virtual Tour of Houses & Back Yard or Garden

10:38 a.m. US/ 3:38 p.m. UK

Interview resumes with Nolan asking final question.

What advice do you have for other young athletes? To keep trying.

10:50 a.m. US/ 3:50 p.m. UK

“Goodbye” everyone shouts at the screen and waves to each other.

Rio w: Harry

What’s Next for These Super Kids?

Our one hour interview lasted nearly two hours and was filled with stories, laughs and surprises. As life sometimes creates unexpected opportunities, Rio, Nolan and Caitlin will have a chance to play together this summer in Maine when he comes to the US to attend Camp No Limits. They can’t wait to explore the rocky coast and see Rio try out his new water leg. Although Rio is on a health kick, eating some ice cream and trying a famous Maine Wicked Whoopie Pies are part of the plans. Eating lobster will not be a part of the menu. Despite encouragement from Nolan and Caitlin, Rio remains a bit reluctant to eat lobster because as he states “it could pinch me in my stomach.”

Thank you Rio & Juliette for your time. We can’t wait to see you in July. Until then, keep believing in the possible!

Nolan, Caitlin & Jen

P.S. Rio nominates track and field stars, Jonnie Peacock, Alan Fonteles, and Richard Whitehead to join Team Possible.

If you want to learn more about Rio Woolf you can visit his FaceBook page, Twitter or website Run Rio Run.

Rio Woolf (Part 2)- The False Start & New Leg

8:00 a.m. US/ 1:00 p.m. UK

Now dressed, Nolan sits down to eat his breakfast. He takes a bite of his blueberry muffin. “Mom, what do you think Rio is doing right now? I bet he is playing a lot of sports…It’s not fair. He’s had like 3 hours to play, and I just got up.”

8:30 a.m. US/ 1:30 p.m. UK

IMG_0774Nolan and Caitlin review their interview questions. They divide them equally. They each get to ask six questions.Nolan highlights his questions in yellow. Caitlin highlights her questions in green. To practice they FaceTime their dad from the porch to the living room and ask him the interview questions. Everything goes smoothly.

9:00 a.m. US/ 2:00 p.m. UK

I dial the Woolf family in London.

9:02 a.m. US/ 2:02 p.m. UK

“I knew we would have technical difficulty,” Nolan states as I bumble over how to make an international call via FaceTime. I struggle to make it all work.

“Let me try it again,” I say as I hold my breathe and push the video icon. We wait as we imagine the familiar triple beep sound making it’s way across the Atlantic, and then Juliette, Rio’s mom, appears on the screen.

9:05 a.m. US/ 2:05 p.m. UK

“Hello!” everyone shouts and waves at once, except Rio. He’s missing. 

“I’m sorry,” Juliette says. “Rio is in the bathroom. Bad timing.” 

In a flash, Rio appears “I have three legs,” he explains as he attempts to hold his three prosthetic legs up to the screen (his “bendy leg” or knee-jointed day leg, his running blade for sports, and his water leg for swimming in the pool and ocean).IMG_1596
He immediately starts talking about his brand new water leg. He carefully turns it around in front of the screen. It is covered in colorful decals. Rio explains each picture. First, he shows us the logo from the Rio 2 movie. Next, he turns his leg to display his own personal logo Run Rio Run, the Brazilian flag, the 2016 Paralympic Games and two pictures of his favorite dolphin, Winter from Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Nolan and Caitlin look in awe, even a bit envious. Rio’s water leg marks a major milestone for him because it is for his upcoming trip to the United States where he will attend Camp No Limits in Maine and then travel to Florida to meet the famous dolphin, Winter, who uses a prosthetic tail.

“Rio wants to show you how he puts his leg on,” Juliette adds while Rio moves around on his bed in the background.

“Hello!” Rio smiles as he waves his residual limb at the screen. Nolan, Caitlin and Rio chuckle. He then takes them through all the steps to putting on his water leg. For a moment the dads poke their heads on to the screens to say “hello.” Rio finishes putting on his leg, and then everyone is ready to start the “formal” interview.

Jr. Team Possible: Rio Woolf (Part 1)- The Anticipation

Sunday, June 14

7:00 a.m. US/ 12 p.m. UK

Caitlin arrives in the kitchen unusually early dressed and ready for the day. She is wearing her new pink t-shirt that reads, “Girls can change the world.” IMG_0770

“Good morning,Cait…” I start to say when she interrupts me. She has more important things on her mind this morning.

“Mom,” she says as she looks down at her t-shirt. “I think they should make shirts that say, ‘Future Paralympians can change the world’.”

“I agree, Caitlin. We should make shirts that say…” she interrupts me again.

“Mom, they should make shirts that say, ‘Paralympians can change the world’, too.”

7:30 a.m. US/ 12:30 p.m. UK

Nolan bounds into the kitchen still in his pajamas. “I can’t believe it! Today, I get to interview a future Paralympian.”

Introduction to Jr. Team Possible

Dear Readers,

When I was researching the 2012 London Paralympic Games, I came across this photo of a young boy named Rio holding up aIMG_0738 mini Lego figure that he had built. The top of the figurine featured a brawny man with the typical rectangular torso, but it was his lower limbs that made me smile. Rio had created running blades for his Lego man. He had built one of his heroes, British Paralympic track and field star, Richard Whitehead. In the photo Rio’s eyes glistened with pride His little Lego “mini-me” figure and joyous smile reminded me that if you don’t see yourself in the world you can build it (especially with Legos).

I reflected on the photo and thought I should follow Rio’s lead and start building what I wanted to see in the world. Like Rio, I want to see a more inclusive world that celebrates ALL abilities. However, I am not as imaginative as Rio with Legos. Therefore, I knew I would have to build my vision with words. Jr. TeamPossible: Young Athletes Who Redefine Ability is my attempt to build a world where ALL young athletes are celebrated for how they redefine play, sport and ability and through their words we will shift perspectives and create change in our world.

Since I know adults can sometimes get in the way, my children (Nolan and Caitlin) will be conducting the interviews for the Jr. Team Possible. The interviews will be kids talking to kids about sports, life, and other important stuff. I encourage you to get involved by sharing the stories of our featured athletes. Let’s start building a more inclusive world together!

Believe in the Possible,

Jen

P.S. Check out a preview of things to come with theses super kids!

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).