I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I grew up near Boston, Mass., and acquired my disability at a very young age. I was adopted from Calcutta, India. and at four months of age, I became sick and was diagnosed with transverse myelitis which left me paralyzed from the waist down.
I am one of the lucky ones, because at the ripe age of 5 years old, I have distinct memories of sitting alongside the curb with my family watching wheelchair racers go flying by, and many of them were Paralympians. I knew that the Paralympics existed for almost as long as I can remember. I was first exposed to sport at age six, and started competing in the National Junior Wheelchair Games for wheelchair track, field events, table tennis and others at age 9 and later was competing in ski racing throughout middle and high school as well. As I sit here writing this, I am now a two-time U.S. Paralympian in the sport of track and field.
However, I will be honest, I always thought the Paralympic Games were the “big leagues” so to speak, and that it was a dream that may never come to fruition for me. I set goals, worked with local sport clubs and adaptive sport organizations around Massachusetts and New Hampshire but it was more of this vague idea in my head, until I became a teenager. It was through the experiences of meeting other Paralympians, who helped me to realize that this dream could become a reality. They believed in me. They shared their stories, and mapped out what my next steps needed to be — getting internationally classified, for one, and working with my coach to not just set season goals, but also long-term goals and they gave me practical tips on how to juggle my life at the time as a student with sport. I began to realize that making a transition from recreational sport to elite sport could become a reality.
I was lucky to have exposure to Paralympic sport and access to mentors at an early age. This is not always the case. I am always blown away when I meet individuals who have never heard of the Paralympic Games or who are unaware that persons with disabilities can participate in sport.
For me, it was through the opportunities with local sport clubs that helped to pave my way to becoming a U.S. Paralympian. While I was competing and training in winter sports, life took it’s twists and turns and I found myself in Illinois for college. I took a break from competing in sports during my undergraduate career and decided to return to the track in January 2007. With an incredible coach, team and training center, I was named to my first national team that summer and competed in the Parapan American Games in Rio. I then went on to compete in Beijing and most recently in London.
I hope that other youth have the opportunity to dream at a young age and have access to similar Paralympic Sport Clubs and supporters to help them make it to Team USA.
Anjali Forber Pratt represented the United States at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games, winning two bronze medals in wheelchair racing. A 2011 world champion, she is also the 2012 recipient of the Amazing Mentor Award, given by the United States Olympic Committee to an influential member of the Paralympic Movement who has served as a role model and shared their own experiences to motivate, inspire and promote excellence in sport and in life.