Bryanna’s Bold Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Limits- A Wheelchair Basketball Dream for Malat Wei

Many young people have sports dreams. It may be to run the 100-meter dash in the Paralympic Games or to win a wheelchair rugby championship. Few have dreams like Malat Wei, and even fewer work tirelessly for years to see their dreams come true. However, Malat is no ordinary dreamer or average athlete. As a result, he has achieved what some once thought impossible. He brought the game he loves, wheelchair basketball, to the people of the country that he loves, South Sudan.

Malat Wei during his first trip back to South Sudan. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

Malat, who was born in the war-torn country of South Sudan, lost the use of his lower limbs due to polio at the age of three. He lived for years with his family in refugee camps before coming to the United States where he was outfitted with his first wheelchair and later exposed to adaptive sports. Through wheelchair basketball, Malat found confidence and strength that has empowered him to graduate from high school and become a premier player of the game. The transformative powers of sport led Malat to believe that if he could return to his home country he could share all that he has learned to help other individuals with disabilities to redefine how they see themselves and shift the perspective of community members on the value of people with disabilities.

Malat and Jess enjoying the game that transformed their lives. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

Jess Markt, a former wheelchair basketball player and current Diversity, Inclusion, and Sports Advisor for the  International Committee Red Cross (ICRC), also has a similar belief in the power of adaptive sports, due to a life-changing spinal cord injury and the introduction to wheelchair basketball during his rehabilitation process. In his role at ICRC, Jess has started numerous adaptive sports programs in countries caught in conflict. As a result, Jess visited South Sudan in 2017 and introduced the sport of wheelchair basketball in Juba.

When Malat saw a video on social media of the work that Jess was doing in his home country, he reached out to him. Jess understood Malat’s desire to become involved in the project and immediately saw the value in bringing Malat to South Sudan. Hence, he started advocating for him to join on the next trip as an assistant coach.

Malat demonstrating wheelchair basketball skills to new players. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

In 2018, for the first time since leaving South Sudan as a young boy, Malat returned home. Now, strong, educated, and empowered, Malat shared his passion for the game, belief in the power of adaptive sports, and hope for improved conditions for all people with disabilities. The pair spent their days teaching drills, wheelchair techniques, and the rules of the game. They also worked off the court to foster inter-tribal relationships and shift perspectives about the potential of people with disabilities by leveraging what was occurring on the court.

South Sudan wheelchair basketball players united through sport. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

The play taking place was a fulfillment of their dreams and a testament to all that they have overcome. It is also the true embodiment of the vision that the founder of the Paralympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Gutmann, had on the field of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948.

Players celebrating their successes on and off the court. Photo Credit: Niki Clark

In conclusion, at a time when many dreams have been deferred and hope may be hiding, one only needs to speak with Malat and Jess for a short time to believe again that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. These two inspire one to dream big, dig deep, and to keep moving forward to achieve the Possible.

Be sure to check out the award-winning documentary No Limits: Wheelchair Basketball in South Sudan which features Malat and Jess on their incredible journey to change the world through the game of wheelchair basketball. 

Some Impressive Sports Story Stats

Through the ICRC, Jess has brought wheelchair basketball to 19 war-torn countries with plans to expand to a total of 28.

Jess and the ICRC have worked to provide over 1,000 wheelchairs constructed by Motivation, a UK based organization that builds wheelchairs specifically for users in developing countries.

In 2018, there was 1 female wheelchair basketball player in South Sudan. In 2019, there were 25 female players with plans to develop more programming across the country.

Nevertheless, she persisted…the first female wheelchair basketball player in the South Sudan program. Photo Credit: Niki Clark