Bryanna’s Bold Ride

Accomplished athletes have goals, determination, and a fire inside of them. Bryanna Tanase has all that and a reason to ride. She fell in love with horses when she was just 3 years old and visiting a farm with her sister’s preschool. She spent the next 14 years dreaming about riding and learning about horses by reading books and researching riding on the internet. It wasn’t until she typed in “disabled rider” did she finally see an image of a person with a disability riding a horse and learn about Para Dressage. Then, she knew her dream could be a reality.

When Bryanna was 17 years old, she finally had access to ride a horse through a therapeutic riding center that had a lift for her to mount and dismount a horse safely. Since then, Bryanna has been riding and training with plans to participate in Para Dressage at a future Paralympic Games.

Bryanna trains multiple times a week. Some training sessions focus on the highly technical movements of Para Dressage. Other sessions focus on developing her overall strength, stamina, and riding skills. Bryanna also trains at home doing exercises to stretch and tone her muscles. This is incredibly challenging work because Bryanna has cerebral palsy which creates spasticity and uncontrollable movements in her muscles. Therefore, she must approach every day with an open mind and dogged determination to her training.

Bryanna also has one training technique that gives her an edge. She watches and analyzes hours of riding videos. She will watch fully able-bodied riders and think about how to translate their moves to her own riding style. She also watches Para Dressage riders like Sydney Collier to see possible adaptations to movements. Combining this critical analysis with Bryanna’s ability to develop deep connections with her horse, she is making great strides toward her goals of riding in FEI competitions on her way to the Paralympic Games.

However, Bryanna does not ride for the ribbons or medals. She has a larger purpose for reaching the podium. 

“I ride because I want people in the disability community to see themselves represented. I want people in the able-bodied community to better understand people with disabilities. I want to be seen as more than just a person in a wheelchair. I have goals and I am working to reach them.”

Bryanna adds that the adaptive sport of Para Dressage has not only made her physically stronger but mentally tougher. It has also connected her with a community of riders, trainers, and horses. It has even enabled her to redefine “ability” for herself.

According to Bryanna, “Ability is the natural gifts and talents that you have, but it is also the work that you put into something. My abilities have grown because of horses and riding.”

At Team Possible, we look forward to cheering Bryanna on and watching her reach her goals. If you want to join her journey, follow her on Instagram @bt.paradressage.

A Mother’s Love Is Limitless

Teaching at a women’s college, I often find myself exploring gender issues with my students. When my students shared their desire to research the representation of women with disabilities in children’s literature, I was ecstatic about their curiosity and then devastated by their discoveries.

There are a growing number of picture books highlighting women with invisible and visible disabilities such as The Girl Who Thought in Pictures, The Story of Temple Grandin by Julia Mosca and Rescue & Jessica by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes.

This growing representation is essential and demonstrates progress. However, when one more closely examines motherhood, women with disabilities seem to disappear from the pages and bookshelves. 

Think about that for a minute…think about all the books that you have read as a child or have read to a child about a mother’s love, about families…how many included representation of women with disabilities? What does this say to children? You must be fully-able bodied to be a mother. What does this lack of representation say to a young girl with a disability? You are not worthy of being a mother. What does this lack of representation say to young boys? A woman with a disability is not capable of being a mother. If you have a disability as a man, you cannot be a father. 

These may not be the intended messages, but they are the implicit messages that our children are receiving. Here is one conversation among school children from a study in the British Journal of Sociology of Education (2014) focused on the assumptions young children have about people with disabilities, 

Interviewer: Do you think disabled people sometimes have children and families of their own? 

Boy 1: No, no, no, no, no!

Girl 1: No!

Interviewer: Why is that?

Boy 1: Because they’re disabled, they won’t ever look after them because…

Boy 2: (Interrupts) They can’t look after themselves! 
The only time that this assumption was questioned was when a child stated her uncle is a disabled person and father of three children, but this was an isolated comment and was ignored by her peers. (Beckett, 867).

The issue of mothers with disabilities missing from children’s literature becomes even more complex when we look at women of color. Where are women of all ethnicities and abilities represented on the bookshelves?  If you find them, please share them with me. I need them. My students, as future educators, need them. My daughter needs them. My sons need them. We all need them.

Because…a mother’s love is universal. A mother’s love is limitless.

Until I find those books (or write them), I will share and discuss inclusive images of motherhood like the ones above with my students, my children, and my readers.

If you have images of motherhood that represent the limitless ability of all mothers, please send them my way at jenstrattonandteampossible@gmail.com. And, keep believing in the Possible!

Work Cited & Other Related Resources

Beckett, Angharad E. (2014) Non-disabled children’s ideas about disability and disabled people. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35 (6), 856-875.

Pennel, Ashley E.; Wollack, Barbara; Koppenhaver, David A. (2018). Respectful Representations of Disability in Picture Books. Reading Teacher, 71 (4), 411-419.

We Need Diverse Books

Many Ways to Be Mighty: 35 Books Starring Mighty Girls with Disabilities

Catch Katie If You Can

Meet Katie Eddington, an 11-year-old who was born to run. If you are looking for Katie, you can find her running around her neighborhood or practicing with her local track team. Katie loves to move fast, really fast. She is so fast that she has set the national record for 8-11 year-olds in both the 100M and 200M at the Endeavor Games. However, her goals are loftier with her eyes on the Paralympic Games.

We caught up with Katie and her mom, Samantha, after their recent trip to Florida. It wasn’t a regular vacation in the middle of a pandemic. It was an important trip for Katie to get fitted for her new running blade. As a young and growing athlete, Katie needs to be fitted every 6 months for her running blade.

Katie’s mom also runs, but she doesn’t run to set records. Samantha runs to raise funds for the non-profit, 50 Legs, which provides prosthetic devices to individuals who have experienced leg or foot loss. Despite the Boston marathon being canceled for 2020, a major fundraising event for this mom from Kentucky, she has still raised over $18,000 for 50 Legs on her webpage. Knowing personally the importance of adaptive sports for youth, Samantha has a desire to raise even more stating, “That amount will be enough to get lots of kids running blades.”

Like her mom, Katie is trying to make a difference in the world for people with disabilities. With the goal of increasing the representation of people with exceptionalities in the media, Katie is a model for Athleta Girl. It was a photo of her running in a recent catalog that led us to pursue her sports story. Despite COVID-19, you will see Katie donning Athleta’s newest fall gear soon via photos and videos from home.

My daughter, Caitlin, who drafted the questions for our interview and co-authored this post wants to be sure you know one more very cool thing about this strong and fierce athlete. During her trip to Florida, Katie recently got a tattoo. Well, to be more accurate, her plastic molded foot on her every day prosthetic leg got a tattoo. There are advantages to being an amputee.

So you can catch Katie on the pages of an Athleta catalog, but don’t try to catch her on the track because she will leave you behind. Keep running, Katie! Keep believing in the Possible!

Fun Side Note: When I saw Katie’s photo in the Athleta catalog, I was inspired to write the post, Representation Matters. Fortunate for us, Samantha came across the post and reached out to Team Possible. Now, we get to share her sports story and watch her achieve her dreams.

Representation Matters

Being a professor of education for over a decade, I have read lots of children’s books. Over the past five years, I have focused my reading on children’s books representing people with disabilities, and you might be shocked at what I found or maybe not…

  1. You can find many picture books about disabilities, but few picture books where the main character has an exceptionality.
  2. You can find the sports stories of athletes who play traditional sports, but you cannot find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports. 
  3. You can find lots of pirate picture books featuring amputees holding weapons or bottles, but you cannot find books about going back to school that include children with limb differences. 
Pirate Pete by Kim Kennedy

When I reflect on what I can and cannot find for young readers, I wonder what messages they are getting from the books that do and do not appear on our shelves. Are these the messages we intended?

  1. You can talk about disabilities, but you can’t talk with people who have exceptionalities.
  2. You can hear the sports stories of traditional athletes, but the triumph of athletes who play adaptive sports are not as valuable. 
  3. You can read about amputees as villains, but they shouldn’t be included in your classroom.

Fortunately, there is a growing representation of people with exceptionalities in the media. You can see a young boy in a wheelchair on a poster at Target. In my Athleta catalog, a young girl who is an amputee is running across the page. So now, I simply wonder when children’s literature will catch up and include everyone on the shelf. 

Oliver Garza Pena gets that representation matters. Photo Credit: Ollie’s World Facebook Page

Until then, I will blog, teach, and present the sports stories of athletes who redefine ability and believe in the possible because I know representation matters. Don’t believe me. After a group of third graders, heard my son, Ian, and I share the sports story of wheelchair rugby champion, Nick Springer, and they asked to write him letters.

Nick Springer, two-time wheelchair rugby Paralympian. Photo Credit: Christopher Griffith for Vanity Fair

Dear Nick,

“You showed me that anything is possible. You showed me that there are no limits to what I can do.” -Sierra

“I think you are brave and I know you are strong.” -Olivia

“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do and what you can.” -Emerson

“Everyone loved how you persevered.” -Grace

“I think you are brave like a superhero. I like the way you do wheelchair rugby.” -Ahmed

“I bet you liked crashing, slamming, banging, and helping your team. I think it would be fun to play wheelchair rugby.” -Logan

“It felt good telling your story to the class. I was proud of you and Mom and me. It also felt good to talk about someone else who has a disability like me. The best part was doing it with Mom. Love, Ian”

I told you REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Ian representing his story at Shriner’s Hospital. Photo Credit: Shriner’s Hospital