Silver medalist Amanda McGrory poses on the podium at the medal ceremony at he Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Sept. 13, 2016 in Rio.
Three-time Paralympian Amanda McGrory was working on a project as an intern with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s archives department a couple of years ago when she pulled a box down from the shelves.
Her job was to go through the collection of artifacts and make sure that the contents of the containers matched what was catalogued in the computer, and she liked allowing herself to be surprised.
“So I opened this one box and there was a signed shoe from Serena Williams from the 2008 Beijing Games and I pretty much lost my mind,” said McGrory, a seven-time Paralympic medalist in track and field. “That was the first artifact I pulled out that was super, super cool and incredibly valuable and that’s one that’s now on display at the (United States Olympic & Paralympic) Museum. I took a tour of the museum last night and it was cool to see the artifacts I processed or came across as an intern on display there now.”
McGrory now has access to the entirety of the USOPC’s collections as its newest archivist and collections curator. In her new position she’s responsible for not only items such as Serena Williams’ shoes but also documents, photos, paintings, flags, posters, artwork and other pieces that tell the history of the Olympics and Paralympics in the U.S. It’s a role that suits McGrory perfectly, combining her passion for the USOPC movement, her experiences as an athlete and her education with a master’s degree in library and information science.
Her interest in the latter goes back to when she was young. Her mom used to tease her, McGrory said, because if she was bored or grounded, she’d start reorganizing and categorizing her books and CDs.
“This has been a lifelong passion of organizing things,” she said.
Although her undergraduate degree is in psychology, McGrory decided to pursue her masters at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while training for Rio in 2016 and initially wanted to be an academic librarian. Once she took a class in special collections, however, she found her true interest came in archives and special museum collections.
“That’s when I decided my career goal was to not only get to look at the cool stuff but also touch the cool stuff,” she said.
McGrory never knew the USOPC even had an archives department until she learned about it from Cathy Sellers, who was then the high performance director for the U.S. Para track and field program, and that’s also how she learned about the internship she’d eventually get.
Her work included processing and storing the physical artifacts that came into the department. Such items can come from a number of sources, she said, including the athletes themselves, families of athletes, employees and others with ties to the Olympic and Paralympic movement and private collectors.
With the recent opening of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, the public will now have the chance to view pieces of history before seen only by a select few.
“One of the things that’s unique about the USOPC archives is that it holds more physical artifacts than traditional archives, and really until the opening of the museum we didn’t a place to view them,” McGrory said. “Many of the artifacts were displayed around the headquarters or lent out to sponsors or set up for displays but there was no permanent collection and nowhere for the public to really see them because the archives are toured by request only. So that’s exciting that this is the first time the public’s going to get to see these artifacts that have been held by the USOPC, some of them for decades.”
One hitch, if it can be called that, is that McGrory’s new career as USOPC archivist may mean the end of her longtime career as a Paralympic athlete.
The 34-year-old from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, had said going into this year that she planned to try for one more Paralympic team in 2020. After losing her ability to walk at the age of 5, she discovered wheelchair sports at a young age and earned a scholarship to the University of Illinois playing both wheelchair basketball and racing on the track and field team.
In her three Paralympic appearances as a track and field athlete, she’s won the gold medal in the 5,000 meters, silver in the 1,500, 5,000 and marathon and bronze in the 800, 4x100 and marathon.
Now, she said, her future in racing is up in the air.
“When I accepted this position it automatically became my priority,” she said. “My goal is to continue training and I hope to do a few more road races but I’m also aware that working full-time and training full-time can be a tricky setup. I’ve been considering retirement for a couple of years now and it’s always been my No. 1 priority to be in control of that decision, to select my retirement date and make it a choice versus being forced out by injury or something out of my control. I had a lot of time to think during that application process and I decided it’s OK if it turns out this is the end of my career.”
For now, she said, she’s like many others just taking things day by day and seeing where this year, already full of surprises and twists, takes her with her own athletic pursuits.
In the meantime, she’s thrilled to be telling the stories of those who came before her, and has a special goal in mind as she digs into the task at hand.
“There are so many incredible stories of so many incredible athletes that aren’t told,” she said. “It’s really cool to come across the artifacts and stories of some of the lesser-known athletes and one of my big goals, piggybacking off the recent USOPC name change to include Paralympics, is to really work to bring the collection to a level where it’s more equitable. Para history has been a little harder to find but working to add some artifacts to bring to the collection is one of my biggest goals.”