#RoadtoRio

As the athletes train hard preparing for Rio, I thought I would share five bits of information about the Paralympic Games and Team Possible to help you get ready for Rio.

#1 The Paralympic Games were founded by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor born in Germany who sought refugee in England during World War II. “Poppa,” as he was called by his patients and staff, Guttmann was in charge of the spinal cord injury unit for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he revolutionized care for patients and introduced sports into the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. He shared his vision of the “Paralympic Games” with the world on July 28,1948. It was the same day King George VI opened the post-war 1948 Olympic Games in London. During this first adaptive sports competition, 14 athletes (12 men and 2 women) competed in archery.

Guttmann paralympics.org.uk

Dr. Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann    Photo Credit: paralympics.org.uk

#2 This year 22 different sports will be played at the Rio Games. Many sports are also played by able-bodied athletes such as track, swimming, triathlon, archery, and table tennis. However, some are unique to the Paralympics like wheelchair rugby, boccia, and goalball. To learn more about the classification of athletes, rules of the sports and to view video highlights on each sport. Check out the Rio Paralympic Games website.

Goalball telegraph.co.uk

Paralympic Goalball  Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk      

#3 Over 4,000 athletes from more than 170 countries will compete in the Games which begin on September 7th and run until September 18th. For the first time in Paralympic history the Games will be televised by NBC and NBCSN for over 60 hours of coverage. To learn more about viewing hours in the US, check out Team USA’s website.

#4 Team Possible Update: Sydney Collier will be riding for Team USA. McKenna Dahl will be shooting in Rio, and Cortney Jordan hopes to be swimming her way to the podium.  Mackenzie Soldan and Abby Dunkin will be playing together on the women’s wheelchair basketball team.

#5 Team Possible Hugs: Para-equestrian rider, Sydney Collier, recently hugged First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the 100 Day countdown to Rio. Blade runner and aspiring Paralympian, Rio Woolf , got a huge hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Rio and Prince Harry dailymail.co.uk

Rio gets a big hug from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Orlando. Photo Credit: Getty Images 

Now, get ready to cheer on all of the amazing athletes who are on the #RoadtoRio. 

Remember, keep believing in the possible!

Jen

Believing in Team Possible

Hello Everyone!

I wanted to start the new year with thanking the many athletes who have shared their sports stories with me. All of you have provided me with new insights and greater motivation to write. I also wanted to thank all of the readers who support Team Possible by sharing posts or leaving comments. According to my “end of year report” from WordPress, your enthusiasm for stories of athletes who redefine ability has fueled this blog to be read by over 8,000 viewers in 77 countries. Although I will not use numbers to define my writing success, it certainly is validating to have nearly 500 followers. However, what encourages me the most are the comments from friends of Team Possible like:

I share all of your posts with my colleagues who are working on an inclusion task force.

I shared your post with my students.

I am designing a playground at work, and because of your posts I am truly integrating the accessibility features for all the children to play together.

I shared your post with a family member who has a child that is exceptional.

My son loves the post about Winter. Now, he has me read it to him at bedtime.

When I get the email about a new post, I save it until I have some time in my day to sit back and read it. They always make me think and reflect.

Think and reflect…I do lots of thinking and reflecting. It is simply part of the writing process. After rereading every interview from 2015, I selected the words from Team Possible members that have truly made me sit back, think and then get moving:

Nick Springer: Strength has nothing to do with what you can do when you are at your best, but what you can do when you are at your worst.

David Yates: They saw Winter and thought, “If this little dolphin can lose her tail and still live a dolphin life, then I can handle my problem.”

Jesse Billauer:  Ability is following your passion and being active in life.

Mackenzie Soldan: Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it.

Zack Bastian: I’ve noticed that in my life when things get really bad I have an ability to turn the situation into something positive, and that is my super power. When things get bad, I get inspired to work harder and be better.

Greyson Cage: I wish I had invisibility, teleportability, flight and super speed.

Jim Abbott: We have to challenge ourselves each and every day. You need to ask yourself if you are pushing the limits of your own abilities.

Abby Dunkin: Ability is what you can do and not letting anything hold you back, no matter the circumstances.

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

Kanya Sesser: I think of myself and imagine myself reaching the goal.

Sydney Collier: Don’t get discouraged. It seems like a long journey and it really is. There are all these ups and downs along the way. Just keep your eye on the goal.

Cortney Jordan: Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of.

Malat Wei: Always have a positive attitude around your teammates. A positive attitude will get you wherever you want to go in life, and not just in sports.

Nick Newell: I am more of a Batman type guy. I take what I have and make it work.  Then, I go about it the smartest way possible. No superpowers. Just always working with what I have.

Rio Woolf: You can do anything.

Impressive, I know! Those wise and inspiring words have motivated me to keep going and to interview more athletes in the upcoming months. In 2016 you can look forward to meeting more athletes on the Road to Rio and beyond. Since I LOVE children’s book, you can plan for some book reviews, and I may even sneak in a documentary or movie review. Finally, I will weave in a personal essay or two throughout the months. It should be an exciting year. Thanks for joining me.

Keep Believing in the Possible!

Jen

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

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.