Mackenzie Soldan: From Grit to Gold

Mackenzie Soldan has a long list of accomplishments for 2016. Completing her MBA at the University of Alabama, winning a gold medal with the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball in Rio and visiting White House are only three items that top the list. I was fortunate to catch up with Mackenzie as she took some time to reflect on her sports journey.

What moment from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio will stick with you? The moment before we got our gold medal. When I was pushing out to the podium with all of my teammates. I realized then that I had achieved my dream, and all of my family and old coaches were there to see it. All the people who had contributed to getting me to that moment were there.

team-gold-pic-1

                 Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball with their gold medals in Rio.                                Photo Courtesy of Mackenzie Soldan

What makes the Paralympic Games a unique sporting event? The Paralympics are unique because it brings so many athletes from different cultures together that wouldn’t meet except through sports. It also demonstrates the progress of disabled sports and helps to continue the movement forward.

What was your grittiest moment of the Games? As a team, we had a moment in the semi-finals where we played the home team. In the locker room the coaches let us have it. The whole team was down because we hadn’t play to our expectations. At our next practice, we pushed through it. We realized that one moment or one game was not going to ruin this for us. We decided to forget it and go with what we knew. We did just that and ended up with a great final game.

Who was an athlete at the Paralympic Games that embodied grit for you? His name is

Ahmed Shafik Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Ahmed Shafik. He was born in Iraq and contracted polio as a baby. After the Iraqi team had a poor performance at the Games, he was jailed for a year and beaten badly. He decided to leave the country and arrived in the US as a refugee. He then joined the US Army as a translator and served a tour in Iraq for three years. When he came back he returned to powerlifting and was the only American powerlifter at the Games in Rio. I think that story perfectly displays having grit. He was in a tough situation, and against all odds, he made his way through it. The way that happens is by making one decision. I think you can usually trace back someone’s success to one moment where the person consciously decides to either make a change or do nothing. Ahmed made the decision to make a change in a harder situation than most of us will ever encounter.

 

What do you hope people gained from watching the Paralympic Games? I hope people realized that the Games are a high level of competitive sports and they became fans. I hope they watched and became inspired by athletes who were following their dreams. I also hope that the Games humanized people with disabilities. And finally, I hope that people learned not to fear disabilities, but to simply see them as a part of an athlete’s life. Disabilities don’t make a person greater or lesser.

What’s next for you? Everyone has been asking me that question. I’m not sure. It’s hard. For four years you have a plan. Right now, I am going to take a break and think about starting my career.

No matter her decision, Mackenzie’s future is bright because we know she will always choose grit. Thanks, Mackenzie for being awesome and representing Team USA!

If you want to learn more about Mackenzie you can check out her  NWBA Athlete of the Week interview.

McKenna Dahl: On Target for Rio 2016

Introducing McKenna Dahl, the youngest member of the USA Shooting Team. She is on target for Rio 2016.

Hometown: I am from outside of Seattle, Washington. But, I currently reside at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado while I am training full time.

What sport or sports do you play? Shooting is my main sport now. Before I moved out here I was on a wheelchair basketball team, a disability baseball team, and I used to swim as well.

Why did you start focusing on shooting? I was into swimming originally, and my best friend was on the team. Our dream was to go to the London 2012 Paralympic Games together for swimming. She was in a different classification than me and she was improving, but with my disability I am missing some muscles. So I just was never as fast as some of the other swimmers.  Then, I was introduced to shooting and I fell in love with it. I finally realized that I could go further in shooting than I could in swimming.

dahl USShooting.org

McKenna Dahl is taking aim at reaching her Paralympic dreams. Photo Credit: USShooting.org

What is your sports story? I got started shooting through Camp Access, a camp for children with disabilities, in Washington.  The director of the camp took everyone who was over the age of 12  shooting. So the year I turned 12, I got to go shooting. A few months later, the camp director invited me to go to a competition and I ended up beating him.  Then, several months later, I was invited to Paralympic training center. There I caught the attention of the national coach and was eventually able to earn a spot on the national Paralympic development team which means I have the potential to medal at a World Cup.  In August 2014, I was the first female and the first American to earn a quoted spot for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? Earning the quoted slot was probably one of my biggest accomplishments. That means we can send an athlete to Rio, and I am proud I earned that for our country. It was pretty cool because I did that just three months after graduating high school. I am also the youngest member on the team.  Most members of the team are men who are at least 10 years older than me.

What is your workout schedule? On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I train from 8-12pm on the range shooting. Then, I brake for lunch. After lunch, I workout from 1-3 pm that is when I focus on strength and conditioning with the trainer. It might include weights, core work, and cardio. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t have an afternoon workout. So I try to get in another training session on the range. In the evenings I do school work because I take on-line classes. I am studying to get my BA in business and technical management with a specialization in criminal justice. I have been thinking about becoming a lawyer.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? My motivation comes from the desire to get to the dream I have been working toward since I was 12. (FYI: McKenna will be 20 on May 1st.)

McKenna Shooting

McKenna shooting for Team USA. Photo Courtesy of McKenna Dahl.

What superpowers do you possess? Determination is a big one. Also, knowing that I can do anything I set my mind to. It just may take me a little more time to do it. I have learned to never give up on anything.

How would you define ability? Let me think about that for a minute that is a good question… Ability is not letting limitations define what you can do. If you can’t do something, it’s about finding another way to do it. It is working around any challenges you have.

How would you define grit? The ability to keep pushing through any bumps in the road that life throws at you. It’s never going to be perfect, but to persevere through everything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? To never give up. There will be difficult situations that you will have to work through, but you will learn a lot about yourself as you keep pushing forward.

Who would you like to thank? I would love to thank my parents for getting me started in all of this. They bought me my first gun. My dad got me an electronic target system and pushed aside his woodworking shop to build me a range. I also want to thank all of the people who have helped me along the way.

To stay up to date on McKenna’s progress follow her on FaceBook. You can also show your support for her journey to 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio at Go Fund Me.