Nick Newell: MMA Fighter

Nick-Newell

MMA Fighter Nick Newell Photo Credit: http://orangectlive.com/

I will admit I was really nervous to do this interview with MMA Fighter, Nick Newell. I don’t know a lot of mixed martial arts fighters, but I do know it is one of the most brutal sports. When I watched Nick Newell’s matches on YouTube, it confirmed my fear. I was about to interview a fierce competitor that dominated his opponents in the ring. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself talking with a mild-mannered gentleman who presented himself as “an every day kind of guy.” However, what doesn’t make Nick, “the every day kind of guy,” is his extremely high expectations of himself and a whole lot of grit. Here is his sports story.

Where is your hometown? I grew up in Milford, Connecticut. I went to college at Western New England University in Springfield near where I train.

What sport or sports do you play? I train in mixed martial arts at the Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield and I will be opening a gym soon in Connecticut.

What is your sports story? When I was growing up around the age of five, I decided I wanted to play soccer. So, my mom signed me up.  I wanted to play soccer because you don’t need two hands to play soccer. Then in third grade, all of my friends were playing baseball.  So, I decided I wanted to play baseball. My first year was a little rough. But then, the next two years I made the all-star team.

When I got to high school I decided I didn’t want to do soccer or baseball anymore and I decided to wrestle. I lost my first 17 matches. I was wresting in the 103 pound class, but I was only about 97 pounds. By my senior year, I was All-State. I broke the school record for career wins because I made up for my first year over the next three years. And my senior year, I also set the state record with 53 wins.

WNEU

WNEU Photo Credit: WNE Wrestling

I went on to college where I wrestled for Western New England University. I was a two-year captain, but I was never an All-American or anything very prestigious. Although, I would have liked to reach that level. So I moved onto mixed martial arts (MMA), and the rest is history.

Did your wrestling background help you with mixed martial arts? Yes, tremendously. Not only did it help me skill wise, but wrestling also helps you determine where you want the fight, which is a huge advantage in MMA fighting. But, really it is the mental toughness and mindset you get from wrestling that is second to none.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? The thing that I am most proud of is that I have always strived to be the best version of myself. I never compared myself to anyone else or envied anyone else for what they accomplished. It’s just me competing against myself. I am always trying to be the best version of myself and I think that is what helped me be successful.

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Nick posing with his XFC champion belt. Photo Credit: 5thRound.com

Going 4-1 in the World Series of Fighting is certainly an accomplishment, as well as, winning the XFC title. But, I am simply proud of the person that I am.

What is your workout schedule? I train 11 times a week. I workout twice a day Monday through Friday. I train once on Saturday and I take Sunday off. My training consists of kickboxing, wrestling, grappling, and strength training. There are two different types of workouts. There are cardio workouts where I do rounds, and there are technique workouts where I go slower to improve my techniques. I also lift. You can check me out lifting on-line at #liftingonehanded or #newellworldorder.

What songs are on your workout playlist? I like alternative music the best. I am also a hip hop fan. I have a friend, Danny Evans, who does hip hop and he has an album out that I listen to a lot. I listen to everything, but country music. I don’t like country music. I’m not saying I don’t like people who like country music. I am just saying, personally, I just can’t stand it.

What books inspire you?  (Long pause…) I could read a little bit more; I definitely could. I am more of an audio-video guy. I was a communications major, so I like videos more. I did read The Hunger Games books because I liked the first movie.

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Nick with his opponent in a choke hold. Photo Credit: MMAjunkie.com

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? I  don’t like to lose. I am very hard on myself. I hold myself to pretty high standards which motivates me to work hard and to work through unpleasant situations that other people wouldn’t want to work through.

What superpowers do you possess? (Another long pause…) 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.

How would you define ability? Ability is the efficiency at which you can get something done. It is how well you can do something.

How would you define grit? Your willingness to push through. If you really have grit, you can push through anything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? Doesn’t matter what sport you are doing… if you want to the best in it, you have to earn it. You have to earn everything. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, just be the best you.

Who would you like to thank? I want to thank Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield and my coaches- Jeremy Libiszewski and Scott LeBrie.

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Instructors at Fighting Arts Academy Photo Credit: fightingartsacademy.com

For a little more on Nick check out this video: A Day in the Life of MMA Amputee Fighter Nick Newell by STACK

Jim Abbott: MLB Baseball Pitcher

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Jim Abbott playing for the California Angels. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

It was a hot summer day when I convinced my parents to let me drive to a Red Sox game at Fenway with some friends. I desperately wanted to make the 90 mile trek to cheer on one of my favorite players and to see in person his unique pitching technique. It wasn’t Roger Clemens, but Jim Abbott from the California Angels who I admired and wanted to see play.

I don’t remember all of the details of the games, but I do remember sitting at the edge of my seat every time Abbott took the mound. I was amazed at how he threw the ball, managed his glove and kept his composure throughout every inning. I remember feeling stronger, more capable and inspired by his performance. He had mastered every aspect of a traditionally two-handed game with one hand.

Recently, when I was reflecting on sports moments that have shaped my life, and I thought of that game. It led me to emailing Jim Abbott in hopes to do an interview with him after all of these years. And to my amazement, Jim agreed.

What impressed me about the interview with Jim was his humility and belief in the human spirit to grow from challenges. I gained a lot of insight about life on and off the field from this well-read, articulate and compassionate man. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to see him play, and after all of these years to speak with him about his sports story.

What is your sports story?

Jim Abbott Hitting

Jim batting for the Angels. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

My story is simple, yet probably a bit complicated. I loved sports. I loved to play. I loved to compete, and I grew up in the midwest where sports were an important component of my hometown. Also, all of the people I looked up to were athletes- either at the high school, college, or professional level. And, I wanted to be like them.

I was born missing my right hand.  There were a lot of aspects to being different that, maybe consciously or unconsciously, developed my love for sports. I just wanted to compete and fit in on a team. I was fortunate enough to do it for a long time and play at the highest levels. All the while, I was learning from those many experiences.

Growing up I had a lot of insecurities. I had a lot of moments that I didn’t know if I could do what was being asked of me. But, I was surrounded by great teachers, parents and coaches who put me on the teams. And when I came across a situation that I hadn’t dealt with before like maybe holding a bat a little bit differently or switching the glove on and off, they helped me find ways and devise strategies. For all the credit I have received for my accomplishments, those folks probably deserve as much or even more.

What sports accomplishments are you most proud of?

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Jim pitching for University of Michigan Photo Credit: Baseball Almanac.com

I am very proud of growing up in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. It was tough town. But, it was a great town to grow up in because I was presented with a diverse set up experiences that helped me gain many different perspectives. I am proud I played sports there. Flint has a great athletic history, and I am really proud to be a part of that history.

Going to the University of Michigan was a huge accomplishment and is probably one of my proudest affiliations. I am fortunate to have attended school there and to have been part of a Big Ten championship team. It  meant a lot to me.

I am also proud to have played on the1988  United States Olympic Team. It was an incredible moment. And I am even proud of my pre-major leagues play, where you are fighting and grinding to make it. When I look back at those times, I am really proud of those moments.

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Jim leads Team USA to Gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea over Japan. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

You’re response surprises me. Your answer has to do more with your roots, who you are and where you come from, and it is less about your professional career or the fact that you pitched a no-hitter when playing for the Yankees.

I’m not trying to be disingenuous. Maybe I am just getting sentimental as I get older, but really those things just mean a lot to me. Without that foundation, the rest of it just doesn’t fall into place.

How would you define ability?

Literally, I would define it as what you are capable of doing. In the context I would like to think about it, I would say, “Are you making the most of what you are capable of doing?” We have to challenge ourselves each and every day. You need to ask yourself if you are pushing the limits of your own abilities.

I was recently reading a new book released by Thaler and Koval, Grit to Great. They mention you and the role of grit in your career as a baseball player. How would you define grit?

Wow, that’s great. I didn’t know that I was mentioned in that book.

Grit is resiliency. I think of grit as toughness. It is the edginess that it takes to believe in yourself in moments of doubt and difficulty.

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Imperfect: An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

I know you have co-authored a book with Tim Brown titles, Imperfect: An Improbable Life,  about your life experiences in sports. What books have inspired you throughout your career?

Oh gosh, there are a lot of great books that have inspired me. I have a whole bookshelf full of books that are dog-eared and have highlighted pages. The biggest one to me is probably not something you would guess, and it might surprise you. It was suggested by a great mentor in my life, Harvey Dorfman. He was wonderful at providing perspective on and off the field. His way of teaching often included giving books, and usually they had nothing to do with sports. In fact, most of them were novels. One time he gave me the book, All the Pretty Horses written by Cormac McCarthy. I loved the book, but in particular there was a passage about three-quarters of the way through the book where this older lady was engaged in a conversation with the protagonist of the book and she talked about losing a hand later in her life. She was telling this younger kid what this experience meant to her and how it shaped her world view. When Harvey gave me the book, he never mentioned the scene. But when I read it, I knew immediately why he had given it to me. Forever, I have been impacted by what Cormac McCarthy wrote and I agree with it. It has even been a real guiding point in my life. I am amazed he was able to write that piece having had two hands. He showed an incredible amount of empathy for that woman. It really stuck with me, and it still does.

What advice do you have for young athletes?

Love it. Embrace it. That love and passion can be a driving force to getting better at whatever it is you do or play. Find what it is you love to do. Then, work, practice and lose yourself in it. Don’t worry so much about the results. Embrace it, learn from it and try again tomorrow.

What advice do you have for their parents and coaches?

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Jim Abbott meeting a young player. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

Well… I have all kinds of advice, but if I follow any of it myself is another story. I actually think my parents were better at this stuff than I am. I can’t really articulate how they did it, but the greatest thing they taught me or helped me to believe was that I was up to the challenge. I was different and it was challenging, but I was up to it.

My dad would say, “What was taken away once will be given back twice.” I think he really encouraged me to look at the blessings as opposed to the negatives. It was that repetitive message that helped me believe that I could do anything. Having one hand did not have to define me, and I could do whatever I set my mind to accomplishing.

Helping your kids to believe that they are up to the challenge is a fantastic gift. Challenge comes to all of us, day in and day out, and the confidence to face it is a gift.

All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy Photo credit: Amazon.com

Any additional comments or thoughts? No, I feel like I’ve been going on and on…Well, there is one quote I want to share from the Cormac McCarthy book. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but he states, “Those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart. It is just that misfortune that is their gift and their strength.” And I believe that… I truly believe that. I believe misfortunate and being set a part can be tough, but it can be a gift. It can be a strength.

I agree and in our house when I talk with my kids about challenges we also discuss how they create complimentary gifts or superpowers. So do you have any superpowers? No, I don’t have a super power, but that is an interesting question. You know…when I think about it, the resistance that I have faced from having one hand has given me empathy. Empathy is my superpower. I really feel for people and their struggle. I have empathy for what people go through in life. I give people credit for their struggles.   

Who would you nominate to be featured on Team Possible? You know who is really cool and I admire is a young MMA fighter, Nick Newell.

Nick-Newell

MMA Champion Nick Newell Photo Credit: http://orangectlive.com/

Great news! Nick trains in my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and has already agreed to be featured in an upcoming blog. So keep reading and believing in the possible!

Mackenzie Soldan: Wheelchair Tennis and Basketball Champion

Mackenzie Soldan is a fierce competitor. Her athletic abilities have led her to gold medals on the tennis and basketball courts. In the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Mackenzie was on the USA Wheelchair Tennis Team. Now, she has her eyes set on the 2016 Rio Paralymics and being a part of the women’s wheelchair basketball team. Here is her awesome sports story…

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Mackenzie winning the gold in tennis. Photo Credit: PBS Video

Name: Mackenzie Soldan

Hometown: Hemlock, Michigan 

What sport or sports do you play? I play wheelchair tennis and basketball.

Team USA Women's Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball showing off their gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Photo Credit: NWBA (@NWBA) twitter.com

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? The most recent one was in Toronto with the US Women’s Basketball Team, and we won the gold at the 2015 Parapan Games. It was cool being a part of a team and having worked toward that goal for the past three years. Another accomplishment I am proud of was in the 2011 ParaPan Games when I won two golds for tennis. I wasn’t even supposed to go, which made it even more amazing. One of the players had to drop out last minute, and I got a call to play. At the time, I wasn’t even playing tennis because I was focusing on basketball. When I first got there, I was playing terribly. Then, somehow I ended up working through it. Each match was less ugly than the one before.

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On the podium. Photo Credit: USTA

How did you pull through to win the gold? I think it was my competitive drive. I just don’t like losing at all. Even though, I was not in the best tennis shape that I could have been in, I have very high expectations for myself and it pushed me past any excuses I could have made.  Then, I just took it point by point.

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Team USA rallying to win the gold at 2015 Parapan Games. Photo Credit: Christian Academy

How does that competitiveness work when you are a team player? It is hard. In an individual sport like tennis, it allows for you to get frustrated with yourself because you are only letting yourself down. In basketball, you have your team.  So you have to have that competitive drive, but you can’t let your frustration take you away from your role on the team. You have four other players on the court working hard, and you can’t let them down. It is definitely a balance.

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Pushing hard. Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

What is your sports story? My sports story is still continuing on right now. I’m just an average little girl that grew up in Michigan. My parents have guided me through this entire journey. Sports are simply something that I have always done and needed to do. They are a part of who I am. I do sports because they feel right.  I’m just going with what I think I am supposed to be doing.

What is your current workout schedule? I practice every day. I play tennis three times a week, and I play basketball every day. Plus, we lift weights three times a week with a schedule from the US strength and conditioning coach. That is my typically schedule, unless we are getting close to a competition. Then, we practice for about four hours each day. Note: Mackenzie is also a full-time graduate student at University of Alabama! Roll Tide.

God Has A Plan spiritualinspiration.tumblr.comWhat books inspire you? I’m not a huge reader because of my studies I don’t have a lot of time. But, the Bible is probably the one book that I have read and that has inspired me the most.  Passage Jeremiah 29:11 really sticks with me: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? One day at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you look too far ahead. You need to focus on one moment and do the best you can in that moment. Then, you do the best you can in the next moment.

How would you define ability? I would say everyone has ability. Ability is taking what you have been given and using it to the fullest potential. There are no restrictions on anyone’s ability because there is always a way to adapt. It is just a matter of finding a way to do it.

Mackenzie Intense henriettkoosz.atHow would you define grit? Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it. Sometimes you have to fight for a long time, and sometimes it’s for shorter periods of time. Grit is having a drive to achieve something you want and not letting anything stop you. Even if it takes beating down the same problem or obstacle again and again. To have grit you don’t have to be a tough person, it is just a choice that you can make for yourself.

What superpowers do you possess? This is the tough question. I don’t think I really have a superpower. I feel pretty average. I do have a real knack for picking winners of award shows, does that count? When in doubt, go with Meryl Streep. 

What advice do you have for other athletes? If you’re interested in doing a sport, just go out and try it. Then, you can see how you like it. If you like it, then you can take it to the next level. Sports are a great way to meet people. They also help you gain perspective and see what else is out there. They help you see what is possible. Sports are important for your self-confidence and finding out that you can do something independently. Any athletes who are just starting out should go for it. It is totally worth it!

Who would you like to thank? First, I want to thank my parents. When I was seven years old, my parents drove me two hours to a suburb of Detroit to try wheelchair basketball. I loved it. So, every week my parents would drive me two hours each way to practice for three years. I don’t think I would be here without them. I also want to thank my coaches from throughout the years. They have always pushed me to be better.

Learn more about Mackenzie’s story, and watch her win the gold in PBS Medal Quest.

Videos to Make You Believe ANYTHING is POSSIBLE

Thank you Kanya Sesser and Zack Bastian for introducing me to Jesse Billauer and Life Rolls On. Yes, they will surf again because ANYTHING is POSSIBLE!

Thank you Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham for your persistence and showing the world how you can land a double-back flip in your chair. Yes, ANYTHING is POSSIBLE!

Thank you Seth Schaeffer for sharing“Renegades” by X Ambassadors and believing it should be theTeam Possible theme song. Yes, ANYTHING is POSSIBLE!

If you have a video of awesomeness that makes you believe ANYTHING is POSSIBLE, please send it to me.

Keep believing in the possible!

Jen

Zack Bastian: Believer in Endless Abilities

Endless Abilities Crew Photo Credit: RI Monthly

Endless Abilities Crew Photo Credit: RI Monthly

Introducing Zack Bastian, an adaptive sports enthusiast, who stars in the documentary film, Endless Abilities. In the film, Zack introduces the audience to athletes across the country and demonstrates how sport can be a equalizing and unifying force for people of all abilities.

Name: Zack Bastian

Hometown: Kingstown, Rhode Island

Zack's ski jump Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

Zack’s catching some air while skiing. Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

What sports do you play? Well…I don’t play any sports, but I do sports. The first adaptive sport I got into was surfing. But recently, I have gotten into stand-up paddle boarding. Obviously, I sit-down.  So, it is sit-down paddle boarding, but it is the same SUP board. I got into it because the waves here in New England are just not that consistent for surfing, and there is so much coastline to explore. I also downhill ski. You can see that in the film.

Zack preparing for 10 mile road race in Rhode Island. Photo Credit: Rhode Race

Zack preparing for 10 mile road race in Rhode Island. Photo Credit: Rhode Race

This summer I got into pushing to get into shape. I haven’t technically been in a wheelchair race yet, but I did just do a 10 mile road race here in RI. I never imagined myself getting into push-rim racing. I was into way cooler sports like downhill skiing and stuff. Then, I got into running for exercise and now I am addicted to it. I love the release of endorphins and the feeling of speed.

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Zack shredding it. Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

Zack’s Reflection on Surfing: Surfing is an expression, not just a sport. It is an expression of yourself. And when you get to the beach, your disability is really highlighted. You know, you don’t usually see lot of wheelchairs on the beach. Then, you have to have people help you swap out of your chair. Next, you drag yourself out until the water gets a little deeper. Once the depth of water covers the fin of the board and you can hop on, it all changes. All of sudden, you’re like “Bam!,” my disability is gone. You’re paddling out into the waves, and then shredding it. Now, everybody who has been watching you as a “handicap”person has their perspective shifted. They see you as a surfer now and are like “Whoa!” 

What superpowers do you possess? I don’t think I have superpowers. But let me think about it… I’ve got one. I think a lot of people have this one, but it does’t mean it isn’t a superpower. There are also a lot of people who don’t have this superpower. It’s resilience. 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.

The Crash Reel Photo Credit: Amazon.com

The Crash Reel Photo Credit: Amazon.com

What films inspire you? The Crash Reel is a film that totally inspired me. It is documentary about  Kevin Pearce, an extreme snowboarder, who had a crash that changed his life. The film documents his rehab process, and it directly reflected the process I went through when I slowly learned that I would never walk again. 

What songs would be on a film playlist? It all depends on what the film was about. The emotions always need to match the music. A good film has happiness, defeat, sadness, and triumph. I would pick the best song for each emotion.

What songs are on your workout play list? I have been listening to a lot of hip hop when I run. You know, it is fast moving. I really like this question… so are you ready?

1. Lykke Li’s “I know Places” and “No Rest for the Wicked.” These songs are in The Crash Reel.

Reckoning Song/ Song Day Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Reckoning Song/ Song Day Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Santigold’s “Radio.” She’s just awesome, and I’m really into her music right now.

3. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “10,000 Hours” 

4. “One Day (Reckoning Song)”* by the Mojos This one is awesome! Put a BIG star next to that one.

5.  “I Can’t Stop” by  Flux Pavalion It’s a dub step song. It’s like a snowboarding song.

6. “Intro” & “Outro” by M83

That’s my stuff, right there.

Henry Ford Quote

Henry Ford Quote

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? My mantra is to be the best that I can be. One of the things I tell myself a lot and is on my dad’s gravestone is: Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.  So, I try to realize when I am having negative thoughts and get them out of my head.

“Just do it.” I know it sounds cliche like the Nike saying, but really just go out there and do it. Don’t make excuses. You have to have positive thoughts. I’m not sure if this is a mantra, but it is definitely the way that I live. I focus on the present and the future. The present and the future are what keep you going.

How would you define ability? I would define ability as a state of mind. My dad had it right, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t– you’re right.” He was totally right. If you put it into your head that you can do something, then you can do it. Ability is in your mind and in your soul. And really, there are endless abilities!

Endless Abilities Poster Photo Credit: EndlessAbilties.org

Endless Abilities Poster Photo Credit: EndlessAbilties.org

What do you hope the audience will gain from your film? Inspiration. I know there are conflicting views on inspiration when associated with disabilities, but there is inspiration in the adaptive sports movement. As Judge Richard Bernstien recently said at a viewing of Endless Abilities in NYC, “Civil rights movements have always needed inspiration. You need inspiration and education.”

So, I hope the film does two things: First, it inspires someone in a hospital bed beginning the rehab process to keep going. Second, since it is viewed by more people without disabilities, I hope the film shifts how they view disabilities and that they are inspired by what they see. When you see people overcoming adversity, it is inspirational.

What advice do you have for others? I was asked to mentor this young guy because he recently got hurt in a dirt bike accident. I told him in one of our first meetings that this would be a give and take relationship because we both can learn from each other. But some of the things I like to share with him is to help him look at all the things he CAN do. You need to find things you love and you can do. For anyone facing adversity in life, you need to stop thinking “This is where was I,” but, “Where am I now? And, where am I headed?”

Jesse Billbauer Article Photo Credit: Ability Magazine

Jesse Billbauer Article Photo Credit: Ability Magazine

Who would you like to thank? Oh, my gosh…The list goes on and on and on… Really, the list goes on and on….Well, there are so many people who have contributed to who I am like my parents, family, friends from childhood, and others like Jesse Billauer, whose article inspired me. I don’t want to leave anyone out, but the ones I need to thank the most are my producers in the film, Tripp Clemens, Harvey Burrell, and Will Humphrey. When they saw that I had a story to tell, they helped me develop it. It was the biggest break or piece of luck that I have had in my life. Not only did it give me the opportunity to be  part of something so great in the film, but it created in me the desire to help and to be a part of something bigger.

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A running “zelfie” with a message. Photo Credit: Zack Bastian

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

Jr. Team Possible: Greyson Cage and His Family

Greyson Cage Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson Cage Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

“This interview will not be like all of the others,” Nolan stated, as he and Caitlin prepared for their first double interview with their friends, Greyson and Emersynn Cage. He was right. This double interview turned into a family affair.

It all started when I sent the blog to Greyson and Emersynn’s mother, Rhonda, because she is a special education teacher, and I thought she would appreciate the stories being told. Excited by the stories, she read the blog aloud to her kids and to her surprise Greyson asked if he could be interviewed. Here’s the interesting piece… we had no idea that Greyson is a person with an exceptionality and for the first time he wanted to tell us his story.

So we arranged for a interview/playdate. Everyone met at our house and gathered around the table on the back porch. The girls on one side, and the boys on the other. Nolan and Caitlin sat smiling with their highlighted questions in front of them. Greyson and Emersynn sat posed and ready to handle anything.

Emersynn ready to play soccer. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Emersynn ready to play soccer. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What sports do you play?

Greyson: Basketball. Soccer.

Emersynn: Same. Basketball. Soccer.

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Greyson enjoying his favorite food! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What are your favorite foods?

G: Lobster and crab.

Nolan and Caitlin let Greyson know that they too love lobster.

E: Crab legs, lobster and shepherd’s pie.

Emersynn shares that her aunt makes the best shepherd’s pie.

What books do you like to read?

G: Action and adventure. I like books by Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling and Brandon Mull.

E: Non-fiction animal books.

Caitlin smiles at Emersynn’s response. She is also a non-fiction animal book lover.

Captian America

Captain America Photo Credit: Disney Parks

What movies do you like to watch?

G: Action, action, action and adventure.

Nolan says with a questioning face, “You said action three times.” Greyson responds confidently, “I know. I just really like action movies.”

E: I like all movies except superhero movies.

Nolan stands up and shouts across the table, “Oh! We guessed that! We thought you would like any movies, BUT superhero movies because Caitlin hates anything I like.” Siblings.

Greyson thinking about teleportability. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson thinking about teleportability. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What superpowers do you possess?

G: None. I wish I had superpowers. I wish I had invisibility, teleportability, flight and super speed.

Nolan reflects on Greyson’s response and then asks a follow up question, “Why would you need to fly if you could just teleport?” Greyson explains, “If I was battling someone, I would need to fly and not teleport.” Nolan nods in agreement.

E: My superpower is that I never give up.

Greyson's Awards Collection Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson’s Awards Collection Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of?

G: My trophies from sports and having fun.

E: Having fun and doing my best.

What’s your ultimate sports goal?

G: Play in the NBA.

E: Playing in the World Cup.

Greyson playing basketball. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Greyson playing basketball. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What makes a good teammate?

E: They pass the ball.

G: Same. She’s right.

What makes a good coach?

G: They build up the players confidence by making them work hard.

E: When the coach is a good teacher, like my mom.

It should be noted that her mom, Rhonda, has many superpowers like being an excellent teacher and Emersynn’s basketball coach.

The Dynamic Duo Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

The Dynamic Duo Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What makes a good friend?

G: They are nice. They usually say, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they are nice to guests…like Nolan for example.

FYI: While Greyson is answering this question Nolan is pointing at himself repeatedly.

E: They are nice, respectful, and they play with you.

Playing the guitar is one of Greyson's many abilities. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Playing the guitar is one of Greyson’s many abilities. Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

How would you define ability?

G: Something you can do or something you are trying to work hard at to make it one of our abilities.

E: Yeah, I agree.

What advice do you have for other young athletes?

G: Try hard and do your best.

E: And have fun.

Later, I followed up with their parents, Rhonda and Thomas, to ask them a few questions in hopes to gain a family perspective.

Can you tell me about Greyson’s exceptionalities?

Rhonda: Greyson was diagnosed with lipomyelomeningocele (spina bifida) at birth.  It is a neurological disorder. Greyson’s spine is tethered when it should be free flowing. His exceptionality affects his lower extremities (leg discrepancy, foot deformity, scoliosis, and gait abnormality). He also has neurogenic bladder and neurogenic bowel.

Working together Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

Working together Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

As a family, what superpowers do you possess?

Rhonda: We believe that our superpowers are strength (of mind) and resilience. I would love to say patience but to be honest, I’m running low lately.

What is your family’s sports story?

Rhonda: Our sport story, hmm…I would say that our story begins with me. I started off playing basketball and fell in love with the game. I am a strong believer in team sports and what they have to offer in character development. Greyson has been to soccer games, baseball games, and basketball games since birth. He was BORN a fan! I coached my nephew for years and transitioned to Greyson’s coach. I never thought that Greyson couldn’t play sports, and most importantly he didn’t either. I just made sure that I was there to encourage him and support him as his coach and his mother.

The Cage kids are even models! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

The Cage kids are even models! Photo Credit: Thomas Cage

What advice do you have for other families who have a child or children with exceptionalities?

Rhonda: My advice would be to be your child’s strongest advocate and to encourage your child to advocate for him/herself. Learn as much as you can about his/her exceptionality, and talk about your feelings with family and friends. To truly view your child as exceptional, and not disabled.

What Change Is in Your Pockets?

Piles-of-Coins

Piles of Coins Photo Credit: stratejoy.com

Growing up, my dad would collect his change and encourage my sister and me to do the same. Every six months or so, we would all sit down in the kitchen and pour our collections on to the center of the table.  We would then each go about sorting the change into piles- pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Once we completed the sorting, we began creating piles of ten around the table with each type of coin- 10 pennies, 10 nickels, 10 dimes, and 10 quarters. Eventually, the kitchen table would be lined with delicate towers of coins, and we were ready for the next challenging step of sliding the piles into the small six-inch paper sleeves from the bank. Once a sleeve was filled with the correct amount, we would pinch the ends and fold them down to make a solid heavy tube of money. Finally, the most exciting step was counting up the tubes to find out the total amount of money we had collected. I was always amazed at how much money we had in the end. Of course, there was usually some loose change left over that my dad would have us go back and put back into our piggy banks reassuring us that we could look forward to the process occurring again.

When I decided to make a career shift and focus on writing in an attempt to create change with my words, I had no idea how much it would be like collecting coins with my sister and dad. Although it is much less tangible than a pile of coins, creating change is about small moments that may seem insignificant like a penny in your pocket, but when piled up and tallied with others they surprise you with their worth. Therefore, I thought I would share with you the small pocket of change that I have collected over the past month. 

Ocean Park Memorial Library

Ocean Park Memorial Library Photo Credit: Jon Hannaford

Change #1: As we walked across the street to enter one of our favorite summer time spots, the public library in Ocean Park, Maine, Nolan announced with excitement, “Mom, do you see the new accessible ramp to the library? Now, everyone can get books.”

Coach Hooper Photo Credit: PBS Kids

Coach Hooper Photo Credit: PBS Kids

Change #2: During a lazy summer morning, Caitlin and Nolan were cuddled on the couch watching their favorite shows on PBS when Coach Hooper appeared encouraging viewers to get up and move. Ignoring his instructions to stand and reach up high, the kids continued to stay huddled on the couch until Coach Hooper was done. Then, Caitlin popped up and turned away from the television. Concerned, she said, “Mom, they didn’t show any kids who move in different ways. They should include kids who move differently.”

Nolan and Caitlin talking about an upcoming interview. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Nolan and Caitlin talking about an upcoming interview. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Change #3: I was sitting at my desk writing when I was interrupted for the third time in five minutes by Nolan. Annoyed, I explained to him I was writing and I needed to focus for the next 30 minutes to finish up an interview. He responded, “Mom, I want you to be successful. This is really important work. I will play with Caitlin and make sure you get that story done.”

Mosaic Bowl on My Desk Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Mosaic Bowl on My Desk Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Change #4: “It’s one of a kind,” my colleague proudly stated as I carefully unwrapped the glass bowl she gave me for a parting gift. “It is a mosaic,” she explained further. Shaped from glass and mosaic tiles, the colorful bowl carries a hidden message. It is a reminder of a conversation we had a few years ago, and one I have had with many of my former students. It is a reminder that we are not seeking a melting pot, but instead we want to celebrate what makes all of us unique to create something that would be not be possible alone- a beautiful mosaic.

The Other Side of the Sky by Ahmedi Photo Credit: Amazon.com

The Other Side of the Sky by Ahmedi Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Change #5: This excerpt is from an email sent by a former student… I am reading the book you lent me, The Other Side of the Sky and on page 78, I read this passage and loved it. It is such a strong passage for me…It brought to mind Team Possible, and all the stories you have written about, and all the others to come.

“I didn’t want pity. If less is expected of me, less was thought of me. That’s how I saw it. I refused to concede that stepping on a land mine had made me any less than I used to be or could be. I refuse to scale back my ambitions or reduce my expectations of myself.” 

Coin in Hand Photo Credit: http://desertofziph.ca/

Coin in Hand Photo Credit: desertofziph.ca

I still have some change to share. However, I will keep them in my pocket for now. They will encourage me to keep collecting and remind me that small change can be significant. So… what change is in your pockets?

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.

Billabong Sponsored Trip to California

News Coverage about Photo Shoot

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.