A New Perspective Through the 2018 Paralympics

Read my blog for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation about "inspiration" and Paralympic sport at the below:

The Winter Paralympics are FINALLY here! NBC is providing unprecedented television coverage of the Games (find a schedule here), so there will be plenty of opportunities to watch, cheer, cry, celebrate, and be inspired! But as a three-time Paralympian myself, I caution those touting the “inspiration” factor of the Paralympics to tread carefully. The word “inspiration” leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many Paralympic athletes, and for good reason.

Incredible athletes are inherently inspiring based on their athletic performances alone. They display enviable fitness, skill mastery, stress management, and calm-under-pressure. In addition, every person comes with a story. People are dynamic; they triumph over adversity, break down barriers, and move beyond their personal struggles. They embody self-discipline, sacrifice, and internal motivation in ways most people can only dream of. 

It’s easy to look at Paralympians and find those inspirational stories - they’re staring you in the face. The media is inundated with stories about brave individuals overcoming their disabilities and beating the odds - from completing high school, to driving a car, to qualifying for the Paralympic Games. Oftentimes, these stories are about people defeating their disabilities to accomplish a basic daily task that the general population takes for granted. 

While it seems like a harmless, feel-good kind message or a reminder to be thankful for the small things in life, there’s some behind-the-scenes damage being done here. Stories like this are known as “inspiration porn” because they reduce individuals with disabilities to objects that exist for the benefit of those who look upon them with pity. By transforming everyday actions into grand, inspirational acts, it’s being recognized that the expectations for these individuals are significantly less than those for everyone else. And, to make it worse, they can only accomplish these activities if they “overcome” their disability. 

The stories are harmful because their purpose is inspiration, and inspiration alone. And unlike our Olympic counterparts who have the privilege of being see as an athlete first, Paralympians often lack the ability to exist beyond the narrative in the media. Athletic achievements take a backseat to the human-interest story of the athlete.

I challenge you to look at it from a new perspective. Let’s consider the idea of disability as functional diversity. And consider achievements as independent entities - not tied to the perceived limitations of a disability or the idea of conquering and overcoming those limitations in order to be capable of achieving. 

In this framework, each individual (not just those with disabilities) exists on a spectrum of functional ability, and each individual must push the boundaries and work within their abilities to achieve. There is no “overcoming” one’s disability in order to accomplish goals, or reaching goals despite one’s limitations. There is no reason an individual cannot be high achieving AND live with a disability. The two are not mutually exclusive. 

Let’s keep “inspiration” tied to athletic achievements, not daily activities. I want to read stories about game winning shots at the buzzer and the underdog sliding in for victory by 0.01 seconds. Those stories can, and will, be punctuated with anecdotes about the athlete’s life and their personal journey to get to the Games, but let’s not allow those details to overshadow the astonishing athletic ability that we should be celebrating.

Over the next two weeks, join me in cheering on some of the best athletes the USA (and the world) have to offer. Through struggles and triumphs, together we can all celebrate the achievements of these athletes and their unique experiences that led them to compete at the Paralympic Games. And remember, while inspiration may be a part of the story, it’s not the whole story.

See the original post here:


The Move I Love to Hate (from ESPNW)

"The Stairway to Hell"

"The Stairway to Hell"

The move: Technically it's an adapted stair climb, but some of my more dramatic teammates like to call it "The Stairway to Hell."

How to do it: I start suspended from the ceiling by my ankles on a cable that is attached to a track. Starting from the bottom of the stairs, I climb up and back down on my hands, usually as fast as possible, for a set amount of time. There are also a few variations of the exercise, including one where I stop and do a push-up on each step.

When I do it: During the marathon season, most of my training is done in my racing chair. I get a lot of mileage in doing very sport-specific sessions. I save the majority of my gym workouts for the off-season (from November-February). During that part of the cycle, I do a lot of strength and power workouts, and that's where the stair climbs fit in. Oftentimes, I do it as a part of a circuit workout where the climbs are timed. For example, I'll do 4 by 30 seconds with 1 to 2 minutes of recovery.

Why I do it: Getting into the gym is a great break from the stress that the racing chair puts on my body. It's also an opportunity to focus on core strength and specific lifting exercises that will translate well to racing chair performance -- and a chance to mix up my workouts and keep things interesting. It allows me to focus on the skills and strength-building that is difficult to accomplish in the racing chair, and to come out of off-season ready to perform on both the track and road.

Why it's so killer: Have you ever tried climbing stairs on your hands while suspended from the ceiling by your ankles? It might look easy, but I promise, it HURTS.

Check out the video and the original post at the link below:


London, here I come!

I'm pleased to announce I've been named to Team USA for the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London, England. See the original press release from US Paralympics below:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Fifty athletes and three guides were selected for Team USA competing at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships today by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee. The event being held in London from July 14-23 will be the first major international track and field competition since the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 where Team USA won 42 medals.

“Coming off one of our most successful Paralympic performances in recent Games history, the team representing our country at world championships is a true reflection of the how strong our track and field program is,” Cathy Sellers, U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High Performance Director said. “With a mix of stars who have already established themselves as the best in the world and a new generation of young and exciting talent, we are thrilled to showcase our talent on the world stage again in London.”

The U.S. will send an experienced team to London with 43 Paralympians on the roster. Twenty of the athletes wearing the red, white and blue this summer combined for 38 of Team USA’s 42 medals in Rio. Headlining the U.S. team are multi Games-medalists and world record-holders Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Maryland), Lex Gillette (Raleigh, North Carolina), and Mikey Brannigan (East Northport, New York). McFadden, who won six medals in Rio, will return to world championship action after missing 2015’s edition with sights set on owning every world record in the women’s T54 class.

 “I’m so happy to be representing Team USA and returning to London this summer,” McFadden said. “The London Games is where I won my first gold medals on the track so it’s a really special place to me. After a difficult stretch since Rio, I can’t wait to go full speed and compete on the world stage again against the best at world championships.”

Six athletes will return to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in hopes of repeating the success they had at the 2012 Games like gold medalists Ray Martin (Jersey City, New Jersey) and Jeremy Campbell (Perryton, Texas).

A crop of young Rio medalists including Deja Young (Mesquite, Texas) and Sam Grewe (Middlebury, Indiana) will look to defend their world titles from Doha, Qatar while Alexa Halko (Williamsburg, Virginia) and Hunter Woodhall (Syracuse, Utah) are seeking to convert their world silver medals to gold. Several newcomers will be also making their international debut, including Jaleen Roberts (Spokane, Washington) and Isaac Jean-Paul (Grayslake, Illinois) who set a high jump world record last weekend at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships.

Team USA won 39 medals at the 2015 world championships in Doha. This year’s event is already making history as the first time that the World Para Athletics Championships and the IAAF World Championships will be held in the same city. London will host approximately 1,300 athletes contesting 213 medal events across 10 days of competition.

See the original article (and the full team!) here: http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Features/2017/June/08/Team-USA-Named-For-2017-World-Para-Athletics-Championships-In-London

U.S. Olympic Committee Announces Best Of April Honors For Team USA Awards

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Standout performances during April earned equestrian McLain Ward (Brewster, New York), wheelchair racer Amanda McGrory (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania) and the U.S. Women’s World Championship Ice Hockey Team Best of April honors for the Team USA Awards presented by Dow, the United States Olympic Committee announced today. Ward, McGrory and the IIHF world champions are among the qualified athletes and teams that are eligible for Best of the Year honors in 2017.  

Ward clinched the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final with HH Azur at the FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha, Nebraska. In his 17th appearance at the Final, Ward won all three legs with HH Azur on his way to winning the overall title.

McGrory placed second and set an American record in the women's wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon with a time of 1:33:13. She mirrored her finish six days later at the London Marathon, taking second in 1:44:34 to win back-to-back medals en route to her fourth Abbott World Marathon Majors podium this year. In Boston and London, she was the top American finisher in the women’s push rim races.

The U.S. went undefeated in five games at the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship to claim its fourth consecutive world title – its longest streak – and its eighth in tournament history. The world title marked the first for the U.S. women on home ice as Team USA defeated rival Canada, 3-2, in front of a standing-room-only crowd at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. Team USA’s five tournament victories included three shutouts against Canada (2-0), Russia (7-0) and Germany (11-0). Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker, the tournament MVP, led all players with 12 points, including a tournament-high five goals for Coyne and a tournament-high nine assists for Decker. Goalie Nicole Hensley started three games for Team USA, including the final, and finished with a tournament-high 96.43 save percentage and 0.63 goals-against average.

In addition to Dow, the presenting sponsor, the Team USA Awards are supported by DICK’S Sporting Goods and USG.


About the Team USA Awards
Each National Governing Body may nominate one female, one male and one team per discipline. An internal nominating committee selects five nominees from both the male and female categories, and three from the team category to advance to the voting round. Votes received from NGB representatives and select members of the media account for 50 percent of the final tally, with the other half determined by online fan voting via TeamUSA.org/Awards.

Each of the five monthly men's and women's finalists, and three team finalists automatically qualify for consideration for the 2017 Team USA Awards presented by Dow Best of the Year. Visit TeamUSA.org for a complete list of monthly finalists from the 2016-17 qualification period, which runs from September 2016-August 2017. The 2017 Best of the Year Awards will be held in December.

Find the original article here: http://www.teamusa.org/News/2017/May/09/US-Olympic-Committee-Announces-Best-Of-April-Honors-For-Team-USA-Awards-Presented-By-Dow

The BAA Has Nothing to Fix

Several days ago, this article began making the rounds on social media feeds (http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/04/06/please-just-fix/QsG2wh6kWBuwsemcxFbzmJ/story.html?event=event25) causing Tom Grilk, the chief executive officer of the Boston Athletic Association to issue a public apology to Achilles International, the governing body of the Boston Marathon handcyclists – an apology many athletes with disabilities feel is unwarranted and unnecessary. As athletes competing in the professional wheelchair division, and advocates of the disability rights movement, Brian Siemann and I feel compelled to represent the other side of the argument. With nearly 30 years of combined wheelchair racing experience, we have traveled the world racing road and track events on five continents and competing in three Paralympic Games as members of Team USA Track and Field.


The author of the piece above frames his opinion in a manner to make readers believe that the BAA is discriminating against individuals with disabilities through their lack of recognition of the handcycle division. He uses wounded warriors and victims of the Boston Bombing in an attempt to strengthen an argument riddled with logical fallacies. The issue here is not about wounded veterans, victims of the Boston Marathon bombing or unequal treatment of individuals with disabilities. The issue is straightforward – handcycles are bikes with gears, and any athlete who chooses to use a handcycle in a running event does not deserve the same recognition as an athlete using a pushrim chair. 


To the credit of the Boston Globe, they reported on assumed discrimination by the BAA against athletes with disabilities. While people with disabilities face some of the highest rates of discrimination compared to other marginalized populations, this is NOT one of those instances. The reason the winner ofthe handcycle division has never received a victory ceremony for finishing the Boston Marathon, or any other major marathon, is that their division exists as an exhibition and quite frankly has never belonged in ANY marathon event.  Pushrim racing and handcycling are two distinct sports with major differences – the largest being that handcycles are bikes with gears, whereas a pushrim chair has no gears. The only similarity between the two is that they both are adapted pieces of equipment used for competition. It’s absurd to envision a situation where an able-bodied runner, unable to compete in the Boston Marathon due to injury, demand race directors allow him/her to complete the course on a bike. And if for some reason hell were to freeze over and the athlete were allowed to compete on a bike, the race definitely would not recognize the finish of the athlete with a special ceremony. 


Articles like this reinforce a systemic problem that does nothing to advance the disability rights movement. It reaffirms the idea that people with disabilities are “special” and deserve rewards for anything they do. It is an outdated, patronizing attitude built on pity that is being bolstered by these handcycle athletes. 

The inclusion of victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and veterans who compete in handcycles is troubling in that plays on the public’s emotions attached to this population, and distorts the purpose of the piece. If either group chose to participate in racing wheelchairs – the sport equivalent to running - they would receive the same support and accolades as pushrim athletes. It should be noted that ALL finishers of the race receive a finisher medal upon successful completion of the course. Instead, the article uses emotion in place of facts, to distract from the real issue. 


The BAA and World Marathon Majors have been more than accommodating in their willingness to allow handcycles to compete in a running event. Achilles International and other handcyclists are asking for, and expecting, special treatment merely because they are a group of athletes with disabilities. Marathons represent an easy target for groups like Achilles International to shout discrimination as they rely on uninformed media coverage to push their agenda. Many marathons in the professional racing circuit allow sub-elite handcyclists to compete as an exhibition, but do not formally acknowledge the division. Official recognition leads to legitimacy; removing the performance cap, growing the field size, and further complicating the issue of whether or not bikes belong in a running event. The handcycle division then requires formal results, podium ceremonies, and a prize purse. There is no middle ground on this issue – the event is either an exhibition, or competitive event. 


There are plenty of competitive cycling events that handcyclists are allowed to compete in under the International Cycling Union (UCI). Historically, handcycles have been welcomed with open arms at cycling events – where they belong. If organizations like Achilles International focused their efforts on building relationships with other major cycling events in the United States, rather than forcing their way into established running events with claims of discrimination, their athletes could receive the accolades they deserve for completing an event within their chosen discipline. By trying to force their way into the major marathons, Achilles International and other like-minded organizations are diluting one sport in favor of their own. We’ve reached a point where the exhibition bike event is detracting from the pushrim competition. The BAA is being hammered in the press for their inability to recognize handcycle finishers, when handcyclists shouldn’t even be competing there in the first place. They are allowed to run the course as an exhibition, which is more than appropriate and generous.


The issue with Achilles International is not that athletes with disabilities are being excluded, but rather, that they are demanding special treatment. Disability or not, one cannot claim discrimination any time they are told no. Athletics and handcycling are two different sports with different rules and equipment, and to ask either governing body to adjust to accommodate the other is unfair to the athletes who have worked to be treated and measured the same as their able-bodied peers in their respective sports.


Getting Personal with the News Gazette

I've been very busy celebrating my teeny tiny off-season with lots of sleeping in and plenty of catching up on schoolwork. 

Last week, I had the incredible honour of serving as Grand Marshal for the Champaign Parks Dept's Parade of Lights. Below, you can read up on my experience and learn a few other interesting-ish tidbits about me.