Reaching the highest echelon of disabled sports and becoming a Paralympian is without a doubt an amazing feat and huge honor, but it also opens up many doors away from sports in which Paralympic athletes can make an even bigger impact. Since becoming a U.S. Paralympian, I have had countless opportunities to share my story and my accomplishments, and to share the Paralympic Movement with hundreds of people. These opportunities have allowed me to change people’s perceptions, not only in regards to disabled sports, but also their perception of the disabled community as a whole. Representing my country and competing at the highest level is definitely a dream come true, but as the years have passed, I have realized that the opportunity to change people’s mindsets, their perceptions, and possibly their lives is almost, if not just as, rewarding as being a Paralympic champion! For me, the most rewarding opportunity is to talk and interact with children, those who haven’t fully developed their own perceptions of the disabled community and/or disabled sports. The opportunity to mold and change their perceptions before they become misconceptions is truly priceless.
|Skyping with one of my Classroom Champions classes|
One of the more recent opportunities I have had the honor of being a part of is the Classroom Champions program. This program pairs Olympians and Paralympians with classrooms all over the world to help teach life lessons to the students in various grade levels. I have four classes (kindergarten- second grade) throughout the U.S., and I film monthly video blogs about a specific life lesson and send it to the class to watch. The teachers use the videos to bolster their lesson plans and really get students engaged and excited about learning. Not only are they excited to hear from a Paralympian who is preparing for Sochi, but I am just as excited to share my stories and life lessons with them to help supplement their learning. Like I said above, to have the opportunity to mold their perception of the disabled community at such a young age is priceless. To be able to show them that disabled individuals are just like them, and have/pursue the same kinds of dreams and goals as they do, can change their lives forever. They no longer look at disabled classmates differently. They don’t exclude them from group activities because they think they are different and can’t do the same things as they can. Their entire mindset and perception has been altered, and that will have a positive impact on them for the rest of their lives. To be able to have that kind of impact on a person is a remarkable feeling!
|Visiting a Boy Scouts troop|
|Fun times at the Dallas Stars|
In addition to the Classroom Champions program, I have also had the opportunity to speak at various schools, churches and even Boy Scout troops pursuing their disability awareness patches. Just as with my classrooms, I am able to share my story with these various groups, and show them what is possible, and to show them that anything is possible with a positive attitude, an open mind, and hard work and dedication. To show them that no matter what life throws their way, if they set their mind to something, they can achieve anything. To show them that despite their differences, whether it is a disability, their race, religion, or gender, we all have dreams, and we can all pursue and achieve great things in life.
This also carries over into having the opportunity to introduce disabled people to the great sport of sled hockey! I am fortunate enough to be able to help run the sled hockey division of the Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Association, and put people out on the ice for the first time in their lives, or put them out there for the first time since a tragic accident such as being injured in the war overseas. This is extremely rewarding because we get to show people that there is a way to play hockey, despite their disability, and open their eyes to a whole new side of disabled sports that they might not ever heard about before. Another exciting role I have with SWAA is taking families from the disabled community here in Dallas to Dallas Star’s games, courtesy of Dallas Star player Tyler Seguin, who donated a suite to SWAA for the entire season! We get to provide a few hours of joy and excitement with various families throughout the whole season! For some families, it is the first time they have ever been to an NHL hockey game, while others are avid fans and taking in a game from a suite is a dream come true. It also gives us the opportunity to talk to people a little bit about sled hockey and the Paralympic Games as well. But best of all, after the game, we get to take them down to meet Tyler Seguin and the other players to take pictures and get autographs! It truly has been an amazing thing to be a part of!
Having these opportunities to share these messages, to change people’s lives with my story and my journey, and to introduce them to sled hockey and the Paralympic Movement is what being a Paralympian really means to me. Being a Paralympian away from the ice is the real privilege. Being a U.S. Paralympian 24 hours a day, seven days a week is really what I am most proud of!