Para Powerlifter Ashley Dyce smiles during a competition.
One of Ashley Dyce’s favorite sayings is “adapt or perish.”
It’s part of her Instagram heading, just below where you learn she’s a Para powerlifter for Team USA, a graphic designer and the owner of Random Ware Tees, and just above a Bible verse, Isaiah 43:19.
The motto certainly describes Dyce, a Paralympic hopeful, and her journey so far.
“Honestly, I used to watch WWE wrestling a lot and one of the wrestlers, it was on his shirt,” said the 33-year-old from Colton, California. “I was just thinking about that, that either you adapt to your situation or perish in your spirit. For me it kind of means that even though I have physical limitations I can adapt and figure out what I can do versus sitting back and not doing anything.”
Born with spina bifida, Dyce has figured out plenty that she not only can do but also do very well.
Dyce began going to sports camps where she played primarily wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis at a young age. It wasn’t until years later, however, when she was watching the Olympic Games London 2012 that she learned about the Paralympic Games.
“I was seeing advertisements for it thinking, ‘What is this?’” she said.
That same year she went to a sports camp where she met three-time Paralympian Angela Madsen, who won the bronze medal in shot put in 2012. It was Madsen, who recently passed away while attempting to row solo from California to Hawaii, who introduced her to the throwing sports.
“As soon as I started throwing the discus I was like, ‘Wow, I love this,’” Dyce said. “It felt natural. I did discus, shot put and javelin. Javelin wasn’t my favorite, but it was my best sport.”
Dyce went on to compete in the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials and did not make the team, but that same year she happened to see a Para powerlifting competition on Facebook and was enthralled.
She made some phone calls and was invited to a camp to give it a try.
“That kind of started that fire, knowing I can lift more than I ever thought,” she said. “I had that moment where I was like, ‘I think this is where I should really be.’”
Dyce continued with both track and field and lifting for a while, winning the gold medal in javelin and silver in shot put at the national championships in 2017, but after making the world championships in powerlifting in the +86 kg. bodyweight category that same year, she decided to make that her focus moving forward. That competition, which included more than 350 athletes from 65 countries, marked the first major event after Rio, and the start of the new Paralympic cycle.
“It was very rewarding and fulfilling just knowing you’re representing your country,” she said. “I didn’t expect how big it was going to be and how many countries were represented that year. It was kind of mind-blowing that I could be from California, from this small town, and represent my country among so many other countries.”
Dyce is currently ranked No. 13 in the world in her weight class with a personal best lift of 112 kg., she said, or about 247 pounds. She’s working toward the next Paralympic Games, postponed until 2021, although as a Black woman the idea of representing the U.S. after the events of the past few months is something that now gives her pause.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” she said of the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police and the circumstances that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Usually my concern was more in my own community, worrying about my own brother or my cousin and knowing they have to go out and be part of society, go to work, and worrying about them driving around and stuff like that.
“Seeing how this country is so divided at some point made me question what I’m doing, do I want to represent this country and be up there in the future competing for the U.S. but when I come home I’m not respected as a Black person or taken care of the same as other people. Those are some things I’ve had to think about and wrap my mind around.”
It’s still something that Dyce thinks about, she said, and she still isn’t quite sure how she feels. Right now, however, she still wants to pursue her Paralympic dream.
“Thinking about people who are racist, all I can do is pray for them and hope their heart changes and things get better,” she said.
While Dyce has dealt with people assuming things about her before they know anything about her, many times it’s been because of her wheelchair and not her skin color, she said.
“Just recently I had a doctor’s appointment and the nurse was shocked that I live on my own, or that I can travel, or push my own wheelchair,” Dyce said.
Little did that nurse know.
In addition to being a former national champion in track and field and a Paralympic hopeful in powerlifting, Dyce is also a graphic designer who has her own clothing company and also ministers at her church. She’s also involved in her community and has visited schools to share her story with students.
The unexpected break because of COVID-19 has been weird, she said, because since 2013 her life has revolved around training and competition. Even now with restrictions lifting it’s still hard to know how to design a program, she said, because no one knows when they’ll compete again.
But she can also see a bright side of the Tokyo postponement.
“I can get more training and be able to get stronger mentally and physically and be more prepared,” she said. “You don’t really know how things are going to go because everything can change tomorrow, but you have to be mentally strong and prepare no matter what comes. I can still do what I need to do and be ready.”
Logan University is a chiropractic and health sciences university located in Chesterfield, Missouri. As the high-performance management organization for USA Paralympic Powerlifting (USAPP), Logan manages all aspects of the sport, from serving as a site for competitions and coaching summits, to being a resource to USAPP athletes and their coaches who have access to an array of Logan’s health care experts for chiropractic care, nutrition and biometric analysis, and sports rehabilitation, among other services.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.