Sled Hockey- Pushing to the Limits

This post is written in honor of the USA Sled Hockey Team who brought home the gold medal from this year’s 2018 Paralympics Games in PyeongChang, Korea with an overtime win defeating Canada, 2-1. GO TEAM USA!

 

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Team USA celebrates their victory over Canada for their third straight gold medal run. Photo Credit: Joe Kusumoto @TeamUSA.org

 

Since many families ask me how to get their children involved in adaptive sports, I wanted to highlight the power of local sled hockey teams. The Center for Human Development (CHD) hosts teams for juniors (ages 4-17), a recreation level and travel team (ages 17+) at a local accessible arena. Ryan Kincade, the CHD Outreach Coordinator and Captain of the Western Mass Knights, along with Kim Lee, Vice President of CHD, and Jessica Levine, CHD Program Manager, took some time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about their hockey program and the power of sports.

But before I share their insights, you should know a few basics about sled hockey: 

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  1. Most of the rules are the same as traditional stand-up hockey.
  2. The players use sleds with skates to maneuver on the ice.
  3. Players use two sticks about 3 feet long for passing and shooting. Picks on the end of the sticks enable players to propel themselves on the ice.
  4. Players wear body pads, helmets, and gloves. Goalies wear gloves that have picks on the backside to assist with movement.
  5. Most players have ambulatory impairments, but some players at the youth and recreation level are fully able-bodied.

So now is here is what Ryan, Kim, and Jessica have to say about the CHD sled hockey program…

What do you hope athletes will gain on and off the ice from your program?

It’s about a sense of community. For many of our participants, physical activity is not part of their normal routine. Through sled hockey, they realize that can do so much more than they imagined. Our athletes gain physical and mental strength. For our parents, they get the opportunity to root their child on and observe peer-social relationships through athletics. It is also unique because siblings with or without disabilities can participate. The program can benefit the whole family and lead to participation in other CHD family activities like rock climbing.

What do you love about sled hockey?

DSC_0902Ryan: I love the community. I love getting gritty on the ice and then after having fun together. Just being a part of a team and the physicality of it. I like being successful with other like-minded individuals. As captain, I try to motivate others. I try to be positive and teach them about the sport and how to be a good teammate. It’s about learning how to win and lose. It’s about being positive.

Sled hockey becomes and an outlet for athletes to talk about their journey and to learn from each other. In ways, it becomes a therapeutic group where athletes can share personal experiences. Sled hockey is altering for a lot of our players. For the first time, they are not being looked at as different.

What is your best training tip for interested athletes?

Ryan: Train off the ice,  just as hard as you do on the ice. Eat right and take care of yourself. Watch the sport, online or go to a game. Learn the positioning. Ask other players how to play and about the rules. Most importantly, be positive. Don’t implode and don’t show off.

How would you define ability?

Ryan: Ability is going beyond what you think is possible. It is pushing yourself just beyond your limit. It is individualized. Everyone has an ability and everyone needs to learn about their ability. Everyone can push a little harder to enhance their ability.

How would you describe your grittiest players?

Ryan: They have mental fortitude. They have a “Nothing can stop you attitude.” They take risks. They give hits and can take them. They don’t give up, not on the ice or in life.

How could community members support their local sled hockey program?

We believe everyone has the right to play and should have the accessibility to play. Therefore, we could always use hockey equipment. We accept donations of hockey pads, helmets, clothing and monetary donations to purchase sleds and sticks.

Check out these sites if you would like to learn more about local and national sled hockey programming: CHD Sled HockeyUSA Sled Hockey. You can also click here to watch highlights of Team USA’s gold medal win.

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CHD Sled Hockey Participants & Knights Sled Hockey Team Photo Source: CHD

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.

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                 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.

#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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.)

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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.

Malat Wei: Believer in the Power of Sports

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Malat with the flag of his birthplace, South Sudan. Photo Credit: Malat Wei

In honor of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I want to share Malat Wei’s story. It is a truly remarkable story that is full of hope and demonstrates the power of sports.

Malat was born in South Sudan during the second civil war. At the age of three, Malat contracted polio, which left him with paralysis in his lower limbs. At the age of five, Malat and his family had to leave their home in war-torn South Sudan to seek refuge in Ethiopia. During their journey, they walked hundreds of miles, slept in the jungle and crossed dangerous rivers. Once at the refugee camp, Malat started to create a new life- one that embraced the power of sports.

What is your sports story? 

My sports life started when I was in the refugee camp called (Dimma) in Ethiopia where all the South Sudanese families stayed because of the war that was going on in Sudan. The camp was full of so many tribes. The two biggest tribes were Dinka and Nuer. In order for us to get along in the camp, we had to learn each other’s languages.

I was the only “different” kid in the village, but not less.  I did everything with my friends from climbing fruits trees, to going to the river to fish, to building huts, and so much more. I got along with all the kids, and I spoke both languages, which made it easier to build friendships.

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Soccer ball made of plastic bags and twine. Photo Credit: pps.org

One day, I was bored and I saw all my friends playing soccer with a ball made out of plastic bags and twine. They played for hours in the hot sun. In the back of my mind, I said “If I go out there and join them, what will they think?” I had all kinds of questions going on in my mind at that moment, but I stopped overthinking it and went out. I yelled at my friend to pass me the ball, and he did. I hit the soccer ball back to him really hard with my hand.  He couldn’t believe what had just happened. From then on, I played soccer with my hands. For ten years, I would crawl in the dirt or mud and over rocks just to play. 

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This hut is similar to the hut Malat lived in with his family while at the refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Malat Wei

Growing up in the refugee camp, I didn’t feel alienated. All the kids knew who I was because I was the only kid that was on the ground playing soccer with able-bodied kids. Soccer was the only sport all the kids played in the village. We did not have everything we needed, but we appreciated what we had. We just kept on living and hoping one day something wonderful was going to happen to us. One of my biggest dreams was to come to America, and it came true.

In 2006, I came to America with my family not knowing any English. We struggled learning it, but eventually we wrapped our heads around it. Now, we speak and write it. In 2008, I started to hang out with some of the kids in my apartment complex and going to the park. At that time I had a big hospital chair with one broken leg rest. I started playing basketball with the kids at the park, and they kept telling me I should play wheelchair basketball. I told them that I didn’t know anything about wheelchair sports. One of my friends told me to go look it up on the internet. I did not have a computer or know how to use one. So I went to church one Sunday and asked my church friends if they knew anything about wheelchair sports. They said, “No.” But, they agreed to search online about it for me. The next Sunday, they told me that they had found a center near where I lived. It was about a 30 minute drive.

On Monday, one of my friends picked me up and we drove me to the center. I was very exited. I couldn’t wait! When we got there, I met Peggy Turner who welcomed me with open arms. I still remember everything like it was yesterday. She showed me pictures of all kinds of wheelchair sports on the wall. There were pictures of wheelchair basketball, wheelchair track, wheelchair ruby, and so much more.

Then, she saved the best for last! We headed down the hall to where the action was going down. Before we even got in the gym, I could hear the wheelchairs banging and the players yelling. Peggy opened the door, and I rolled in with my big hospital chair.  All the players stopped playing and greeted me. They couldn’t believe the chair I was sitting in. My chair was heavy and very wide. Their wheelchairs were light and fitted. One player let me try his sports chair.  When I got in it, I couldn’t stop pushing around the gym. The wheelchair was very light and fast. I had speed, but I didn’t know how to pick up the ball from the ground. One of the players leaned over and showed me how to pick up the ball. I practiced picking the ball up several times until it was easy.  That day, I knew this was where I belonged.  

What sports accomplishments are you most proud of? 

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Malat playing proudly for Team USA Photo Credit: FaceBook Malat Wei

I am mostly proud of helping my team bring the first National Championship to Houston, Texas. It was the first championship since the program started.

I am also proud of  being  selected to try out for the Under 23 USA National Team. Not too many players in the country get selected, but I ended up on the wood floor with the future Paralympic ball players. It was such an honor to wear those three letters on my chest. Hopefully, one day I will wear them again on the big stage to represent the greatest country on the planet, USA, and my home-country of South Sudan. 

What is your training schedule?  

Currently, I am playing professional wheelchair basketball in France. On Mondays, I shoot around for 2 hours and later do cardio. On Tuesdays, I shoot around in the afternoon and then practice with the team in the evenings for two hours. On Thursdays, I shoot around and lift weights. I practice with the team on Fridays and have games on Saturdays. 

What is on your playlist when you are working out? 

I have all kinds of music on my phone, but I don’t listen to it most of the time.  Instead, I listen to motivational speakers like Eric Thomas, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. I like to feed my brain with positive words.

What books inspire you?

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Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela Photo Credit: Amazon.com

I love to read. I have read many inspiring books. Some of my favorites are: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, The Power Of Thinking Positive by Normal Vincent Peale, Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and of course, The Bible.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going on tough workouts or bad days? 

What keeps me going in life is my family. My family is everything.  They are my weakness and my strength. Next is my country of South Sudan. There are so many disabled kids and wounded warriors there who are struggling to live each day. They are not enjoying life and playing sports like I am doing. I think is my responsibility to return to them and help them out. Lastly, all the people who are doubting me. I will prove them wrong.

How do you define ability? 

I think we all have an ability to be something in this world. It’s up to you to bring it out. When you find it, nothing can stop you whether it is in sports or life. Before we came out of our mother’s womb, we have the ability to be someone. But this world is full of people who want to bring us down and that is why it takes so long to become who we are meant to be.

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Malat showing his grit and his strength. Photo Credit: Malat Wei

How do you define grit?

Grit is something inside you that keeps you going, no matter what. Grit is when you tell yourself, “I can. Instead of, I can’t.” Basically, it is not giving up on your goal. William Hernandez is one of the grittiest individuals I know. When Willie was a college student, he had a vision to change the way the sport chair and everyday chair look. As an engineering student at UTA, he started Per4Max wheelchair Company where he designed these chairs and built them. In the first year, the company sold one chair. But, he never gave up because his “WHY” was bigger than him. He saw the vision clearly. His dream was to change the lives of people in the wheelchair community, and he finally made it happen with his partners. When you know your “WHY,” nothing can stop you.

What superpowers do you possess?

When you are having a bad day and you come around me, you will have a positive day! Ha!Ha! I think that is my superpower!

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Malat smiling on the court and in life. Photo Credit: Malat Wei

What advice do you have for other athletes?

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. Try all kinds of sports. If you don’t feel comfortable with that particular sport, then move on to the next one. Keep going until you find the sport that suits you best. Then, inspire other people to be positive and to be themselves. Appreciate every single moment in life. When people are doubting you, just handle the pressure like a diamond and shine on. Finally, don’t be amazed… be amazing and have lots of fun!

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Malat with his family. Photo Credit: Malat Wei

Who would you like to thank?

First of all, I would like to thank my mother who brought me and my four siblings to the land of opportunity to escape the war zone. I would not have made it to America without her. I put God first, but my mother is the next in line. That’s how much respect I have for her. I would also like to thank all the people who have supported me from the first day I landed in Houston. I would really like to thank my friends in the sports world who have helped me to develop my game.

Any other additional comments you want to share?

Yes, let’s make the world a better place for everyone. Let’s create a place where we all care about one another and treat each other with equality, respect and love.

Abby Dunkin: Wheelchair Basketball Champion and Texas Track Star

Abby Dunkin shooting for Team USA Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Abby Dunkin shooting for Team USA Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org

Abby Dunkin has proven herself on the track, and now she is working hard to prove herself on the court. This tough young woman keeps believing in her faith and herself to meet life’s challenges. Here’s her sports story…

What is your hometown? It is New Braunfels, Texas. 

What sports do you play? I focus on wheelchair basketball. I have competed in wheelchair track and shot put in the past.

What superpowers do you posses? Good Lord, I don’t know. That’s a good one. Through out this whole journey, it has been my strength.

How would you define strength? Are you talking about mental, emotional or physical? All of them. I think my mental and emotional strength have come a long way. Physically, as any athlete, you always want to get stronger. I have a lot of work to do in that area.

Abby Dunkin smiling after finishing first in the 400m at the Texas State Championship. Photo Credit: reporternews.com

Abby Dunkin smiling after finishing first in the 400m at the Texas State Championship. Photo Credit: reporternews.com

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? When I won three events at the state meet. It was such a blessing. It was definitely one of my top ten coolest moments.

In 2014, as a senior, Abby competed in the first state track championship to include wheelchair events in Texas. It was an important moment for Abby and all high school track athletes in Texas. It demonstrated great progress and further inclusion of adaptive athletes in interscholastic sports.  At the championship, Abby won the 100m, 400m and shot put.  However, the highlight of the meet was when Abby stopped after she crossed the finish line in the 400m and waited for the three other female track athletes to finish. They then marked this triumphant moment together with a victory lap. The crowd responded with a standing ovation while the coaches and officials wiped tears from their faces. Reminding us of the power of sport and the Paralympic mission “To make for a more inclusive society for people with an impairment through para-sport.”

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

Just recently in August, Abby had another incredible sports moment. She represented the United States at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto. Since it was her rookie year, she saw most of her play time in the early playoffs which eventually led Team USA to the gold medal game against Canada. It was an intense final match up. Fortunately, Team USA pushed hard and earned their way on to the podium. Abby reflected, “People tell you that it is an amazing experience to have the national anthem play for you after you win a gold, but no words can express the feeling. We were all tearing up.” 

She also shared stories about all of the excitement that surrounded the Parapan Games and playing at an international level like being escorted by security guards, trading apparel with athletes from other countries, and using phones to communicate with athletes who spoke languages other than English. For Abby, all of the energy and excitement of the Parapan Games have created a more intense focus on achieving her goal of playing wheelchair basketball in Rio at the 2016 Paralympic Games. She stated, “I am now ready to work even harder. I want to get to the gym more and push harder.” 

Abby Dunkin Post Toronto 2015 Parapan Games Pride Photo Credit: Abby Dunkin

Abby Dunkin Post Toronto 2015 Parapan Games Pride Photo Credit: Abby Dunkin

What books inspire you? The book I mostly read is The Bible. I am also really into war and military type books.

What is on your playlist when you train? I am into acoustics. I like Voice Avenue, James Bay, and Ed Sheeran.  When I am practicing free throws I listen to the band, Explosions in the Sky. The songs don’t have any words. I’m weird like that because before a game I try not to get too hyped up. Instead, I try to stay calm. I like to get focused and more into “the zone.”

Abby's favorite quote from 2 Timothy 4:7. Photo Credit: BibleGodQuotes.com

Abby’s mantra. Photo Credit: BibleGodQuotes.com

What is your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? In high school before a game, we would write our goals on our wrist. It could be something like to get more rebounds or score more points. But I would write, 2T4:7 which is a quote from The Bible. It says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” In college, I decided to have that quote tattooed on my wrist. Now in a game, I can look down at it and it is a quick reminder and pick me up.

How would you define ability? Ability…I haven’t really thought about that. (Pause.) It is what you can do and not letting anything hold you back, no matter the circumstances.

How would you define grit and relate it to yourself? Grit is really how bad you want something. Like when you have all of these obstacles facing you, and you need to decide if you are willing to push past them or are you willing to just let it play out. I have learned to push through them.

If you’re wondering Abby’s age, she is 19. She now plays wheelchair basketball for University of Texas Arlington (UTA). This past year was the first season UTA had a women’s wheelchair basketball team, and Abby hopes for a great second season. She is studying kinesiology and plans to go into coaching or working with wounded soldiers through adaptive sports. She explains that her desire to work with wounded warriors stems from being a “military brat.” She proudly states, “My dad was a marine officer. My grandfather was a general in the Marines. We are a Marine family.”

Abby Dunkin Getting Ready for Parapan Games Photo Credit: herald-zeitung.com

Abby Dunkin Getting Ready for Parapan Games Photo Credit: herald-zeitung.com

What is your sports story? I was playing basketball in the able-bodied way, and God decided, ‘No, that is not what you are supposed to do.’ He put me in a chair and was like, ‘Here is what you are going to do.’ I could write a short story about what I have lost, but a novel about what I have gained in life. I have gained a totally new perspective not only on the game, but on life. I have a perspective now that I could never have had if I stayed able-bodied, and I don’t regret it.

When you were playing able-bodied ball, did you know about wheelchair basketball and the Paralympics? Not really. I really had no idea what it was and now that I play it. I love it way more than I did able-bodied basketball. It’s more contact. It’s more everything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? You can talk all you want about how bad you want it, but it does’t matter unless you do something about it. If you want it, go get it. Nothing is holding you back.

What are your workouts like? We do weights which is pretty much all upper body. For conditioning, we push around the gym a lot. We do mostly sprints. The worst are when we do a 12 minute push. It is when you sprint around the gym for 12 minutes. It sucks.  And, we practice lots of shooting.

Abby Dunkin at Texas State Championship

Abby Dunkin at Texas State Championship Photo Credit: Melissa Dunkin

Who would you like to thank? My biggest supporter is my mom. She has been awesome. I want to thank everyone at UTA. All of my teammates at UTA and in New Braunfels. My whole community in New Braunfels has been amazing. They have been there since I got in a wheelchair. I really want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. It has been a huge blessing.

To learn more about Abby you can read these articles:

Dallas News “A year ago I was in deep depression,” she said. “Not where I needed to be. But God has opened so many doors, and I’ve realized there’s more out there for me.”

Yahoo News “We can accomplish the same goal,” she said. 

Washington News “Being able to compete with them was special. We’re just laying the foundation for something bigger.”

Cortney Jordan: Two-Time Paralympian Swimmer & World Record Holder

Cortney Jordan Flag

Introducing…Cortney Jordan, a two-time Paralympian. Medalled in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. Set a  new world record in the mile. Training for Rio 2016, while holding down three jobs, and studying for her master’s in education.

What is your hometown? My dad was in the military. So, I have had 13 hometowns. I was a military brat, but I lived in Nevada from the age of 12-17. I like to think of America as my hometown.

 What sport or sports do you play? I only swim. I swim everyday, except Sunday. Swimming is all I have time for because I am studying for my master’s degree and I work three jobs. (Cortney is studying to be an elementary teacher. Cortney Jordan SelfieShe says she has wanted to be a teacher since she was four, which is longer than she wanted to be a swimmer.)

Pause in the interview due to technical difficulty. Cortney is speaking with me from the university library. It is the one hour she had free. She just finished two of her jobs and is now on campus for class.

What is your training schedule? Right now, it is a little tricky because I am trying to balance training and school. I usually wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I then swim from 6:00-8:00. I work from 9:00-12:00. If I can, I will work out again with weights or some sort of land training. Then, I will head to class. If I don’t have class, I coach swimming. I eventually get home around 7:00 p.m., and then I do it all over again. 

What superpowers do you possess? I like to think that I am very kind. I think being kind is a good super power to have because a good attitude can change someone’s day. I am also insanely patient. It is a good trait for teachers or swimmers to have. I am really stubborn, too. I get it from my dad and my grandpa. It runs in my family. The stubborn power may seem negative, but it is not. When I really want something, I set a goal and work hard until I achieve it- whether it is in the Paralympics or school.

What books inspire you? I love books! I have to read at least a chapter of a book every night. It is so hard to choose my favorite, but I do love Khaled Hosseini’s books- The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. His books are amazing. I’ve read each of them at least three times. I love the way he portrays humanity.

Since you51HoHYJv6TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ will be a teacher, what children’s books do you like? For children’s books, I like The Day the Crayons Quit. Each color is such a strong character, and the illustrations make you think outside the box. It is a great book to use when you’re teaching.

What songs are on your workout playlist? I don’t listen to music when I swim, but I may have a song in my head as I train. I do really like Blink 182 from the 1990’s-2000’s. My favorite is The Rock Show. During a meet, I first listen to Miranda Lambert’s Makin’ Plans to stay calm and remind myself that swimming is just one part of my life. Swimming is a great part of my life, but it is only one part of my life. Lambert’s song reminds me to focus on my family and reminds that they will love me no matter my performance. One race does not define you. Then, when I’m in the “ready room” just before I swim, I like to get pumped up. I switch gears and listen to Blink 182.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I am proud of three things. First, the gold medal I won in Beijing. I was only 17 years old and I wasn’t supposed to medal. Going into the race I was ranked fourth, and I took two seconds off my time in the 50 to win the gold. Second, I was nominated for NCAA Sportswoman of the Year. I was the first ever disabled sportswoman to ever be nominated in any sport and was one of the top 30 finalists. I Cortney Jordan Poolsidewas so proud to be representing the Paralympics. Third, I am really proud of the influence I have on younger athletes. I try to inspire them to keep going in the sport and reach the goal of the Paralympics. At invitational meets where the younger kids are competing against me, it’s not fair. I always win. So, I give the younger swimmers in my events my medals to inspire them. I tell them that I see potential in them and they can go somewhere with the Paralympics if they just keep training hard. From giving my medals away, I now have a little “mini-me.” Her name is Emilia. She has the same disability and looks just like me. Now, I’m known as the team “mom” because I always have these little girls following me around the pool deck. During the meets, I guide them to their lanes to make sure everyone gets to their events. Sometimes, I will even wait for them at the other end of the pool so they can focus on swimming to me and not worry about the race. I think that is what it is all about…helping out others.

What’s your mantra on tough days? It’s a quote from an Elizabeth Berg book, where a mother with MS who is raising her young daughter shares the idea that, “If you act like it is the last time you will do anything, then it will feel like the first time.”  Therefore, if you think it is the last time you are going to do something, then it becomes more precious to you. Then, you put everything into it.

How do you define ability? That’s a good one. Usually, I am asked to define “disability.” Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of. 

This question leads to a discussion on how she is often asked by others, “what is your disability?” People will say to her that she doesn’t look “disabled.” Some people will even ask, “What’s wrong with you?” Cortney said she replies, “Nothing. What’s wrong with you?”

What’s your sports story? I come from a swimming family. My grandfather is one of the founders of the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Ocean City Beach Patrol. He was a big influence in my career because he was a tremendous advocate for disabled swimming. When I was born with cerebral palsy, he told my parents just to get me in the water and that I would be fine. He was right.

My father and older sister also swam. I wanted to do anything my older sister did because she was so cool. When I was younger, I would swim, and swim, and swim. I was so bad at it. I was always the worst swimmer in the pool. When I swam all the other swimmers would be done with the event, wrapped in their towels at the side of the pool and eating nachos, while I kept swimming until I finished. You know, I was the swimmer that everyone does the pity clap for at the end of an event. When I swam, I even scared the lifeguards. They were watching and  thinking, “Is this kid going to make it?” But, I loved it and I still do. I love swimming. When I am in the water, it is the one time I am not in pain. With my disability, I am in pain almost all the time. It feels good to be in the water. I feel free. It is such a blessing. I’m lucky I was born into a swimming family.

However, I was going to quit swimming when I was 13. At that point, I had only swam in able-bodied meets. But then, I went to my first swim meet for physically challenged swimmers. I won everything. Afterwards, I was invited to join the US team and go to the World Games. It changed my life. Until that point, I didn’t know about the Paralympics. It wasn’t on television, and it wasn’t well publicized in the US. Fortunately, it will be in Rio 2016. We really need to raise awareness around the Paralympics and shift the stigma around disabled people.

Recently, I was in Panera bread and this older man asked me why I limp. Cortney-Jordan-MedalsI told him I was disabled and had cerebral palsy. He responded that I was too pretty to be disabled. This demonstrates how people don’t think you can be attractive and disabled. Another challenge some of my teammates and I face is that people think we are cognitively disabled because we are physically disabled. Also, they don’t see us as athletes. We need to change their perceptions. The most beautiful  people I know are disabled.

(Cortney and I then discuss how we will work together to change these perceptions. She will teach and I will write lots of books. She thinks we should start a library. I agree.)

What advice do you have for other athletes? Stay positive and keep it fun. There is no point in doing it if you are not having fun. I couldn’t imagine getting up at 4:30 every day and doing what I do if I didn’t love it. Do what you love and give it 100 percent. Then, you will be successful.

Who would you like to thank? I have a million people to thank. There are so many good people in my life. I have my family: my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandpa, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles…I have a huge family. I also want to thank my teammates and coach. They create the best training environment right now. There are so many more people. I think I have too many really amazing people in my life.

(Personally, I think all of amazing people in her life are a direct reflection of Cortney and her super powers. On a final note, Cortney has invited me to visit her in her future class to read my books aloud and to co-teach. I look forward to learning from her in the classroom. )

To hear more from Cortney Jordan, you can view the following interviews:

Cortney Jordan Wins Silver in London 2012

Cortney Jordan on the Morning Swim Show

You can also follow her as she trains for Rio 2016 on Twitter @CortneyJordan24.

To learn more about other members of Team Possible you can visit: Profiles of the Possible or Jr. Profiles of the Possible

Nick Springer: Two-Time Wheelchair Rugby Paralympian

This post is the first in a series that will focus on athletes who redefine ability in sports. The first profile is on the athlete who has had the biggest impact on my life and who has greatly influenced what my children believe is possible.

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Name: Nick Springer  

Hometown: Croton-on-Hudson, NY; but currently lives in Phoenix, AZ.

What sport or sports do you play? I play wheelchair rugby. I also scuba dive. I will do just about anything and everything that I get the opportunity to do.

What superpowers do you possess? I have the ability to look at any situation and come out of it with a smile.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? Definitely, winning the gold beijing flowersmedal in 2008 Paralympics. But, I am even more proud of helping the people who are newly injured and getting them back on their feet by building up their confidence. It is better than winning any championship.

What books inspire you? I mostly like fiction where the characters overcome great obstacles. I am drawn to historical fiction. In college, I read the memoirs of generals from WWII. I liked their mindset. Even though they didn’t want to be in their situation, they did what they had to do. I’m a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut. I got to know him when I was in the hospital. I like Slaughterhouse 5 and how he talks about death simply being an existence in another time and space.

What songs are on your workout playlist? It depends on the day and the workout, but I usually listen to punk rock and some heavy metal. It has to be fast paced.

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? Keep pushing!

How would you define ability? I would change how “ability” is defined and that it is not an ability that makes you strong, but your ability to push past your weaknesses that make you strong. Strength has nothing to do with what you can do when you are at your best, but what you can do when you are at your worst.

What is your sports story? Since a story usually has an ending and I know sports will always be a part of my life whether I am playing or not, I don’t think of it is a story. It is more of a journey.

What advice do you have for other athletes? It’s not about the impact on the game itself, but the impact you have on the lives of the people you play with and the people you inspire. Success is about the impact you have on others. 

Impact

If you know an athlete who you think should be profiled because s/he believes in the possible and redefines ability, please contact email me (jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com).