Abby Farrell will compete at the inaugural World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland on Aug. 3, 2017.
Abby Farrell is used to being in the spotlight.
Her mother is Olympic gymnastics silver medalist Michelle Farrell (née Dusserre). Her father is USA Swimming Chief Marketing Officer Matt Farrell. And the last three years, she’s been raising awareness for Paralympic sports single-handedly, as the only wheelchair racer competing at the high school level in the state of Colorado.
So when the 18-year-old competes at the inaugural World Para Athletics Junior Championships — her first international competition with U.S. Paralympics — from August 3-6 in Nottwil, Switzerland, she won’t be intimidated by the big stage.
“I never felt any pressure growing up. Anything I felt was just encouragement,” Farrell said of growing up in an accomplished sports family. “Obviously, it’d be really cool to have an Olympic-Paralympic duo in the family, so that’s the ultimate motivation for me, to continue the legacy of my mom.”
The new championships, for athletes ages 15 to 19, have been designed to provide the first step in the development of top young international athletes toward regional and world championships, as well as the Paralympic Games. More than 380 para-athletes from 50 countries will compete at Nottwil’s Sports Arena, which has been the setting for numerous IPC world records.
Farrell, who was born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado with spina bifida, will be one of 20 Team USA athletes competing. She’ll have a full plate of five events in Switzerland — the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,500-meter T54 events.
While Farrell would love to make the podium in one of her events, she wouldn’t be upset if she doesn’t, as traveling with Team USA overseas for the first time will be advancing her early career in its own right.
It’s the next step in her athlete development pathway to becoming a Paralympian.
“I think it’s just a great experience for me as a younger athlete who’s hoping to make the senior national team one day,” she said.
Ever since having to overcome six surgeries before her first birthday, Farrell’s been a go-getter and a social butterfly. From a young age, she was involved in every sport imaginable, including gymnastics, just like her mother, who competed alongside Mary Lou Retton at Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984.
“I grew up the daughter of an elite athlete, which I think is really important and helpful because some people don’t realize how much you have to work hard and sacrifice to be able to get to that point,” Farrell said. “It’s a great way to remind me of what needs to happen, and my parents have been a great support system the whole way.”
Five years ago, she began competing for the Denver Rolling Nuggets in wheelchair basketball, and three years ago she began competing in track and field, which led to her participation in last year’s International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation Under-23 World Games in the Czech Republic.
She dove into U.S. Paralympics competition on the track this year with the Desert Challenge Games in May and national championships in June, all while signing a scholarship letter to play wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois next season.
Throughout high school, Farrell’s been coachless; she’s had to seek out training and equipment advice on her own, with the help of her family.
But being the socialite that she is, that’s been no trouble at all.
Farrell befriended another dual-sport athlete in track and wheelchair basketball, five-time Paralympian and Rolling Nuggets co-founder Christina Schwab (née Ripp), who has been passing along the tricks of the trade. Farrell has also been mentored by eight-time Paralympic medal-winning wheelchair racer Cheri Madsen, who has already taught her what it means to be part of a national team.
Farrell’s methods have worked thus far, and she uses one sport as cross-training for the other, keeping in great cardiovascular shape.
She was recruited to join the University of Illinois’ program, which has already produced so many powerhouse Paralympians on the track and hardwood, including ESPY Award winners Tatyana McFadden and Steve Serio, respectively.
The World Para Athletics Junior Championships are the next major step in her career before she jets off to college, where she’ll have an official coach for the first time.
Her ultimate goal is really starting to appear within reach.
“I do want to make a Paralympic team,” she said. “Whether it’s wheelchair basketball or track and field, I don’t know that yet.”
The way things have been going, perhaps it’ll be both.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.