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Transcending sports - Adaptive Sports USA
making a difference in lives
Motivated despite a lack of opportunity in Wisconsin
Hi...my name is Joshua Myers and I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I am
35 years old and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth. I am also a husband of
almost 11 years; a father of two boys (ages 4 & 9); a college graduate; a Fortune
500 employee; and a small business entrepreneur. My entire life, I have been
doing the very things people told me I could never do. I attribute my “will do”
attitude to my participation in competitive sports. Like many of my “normal”
peers, as early as 5 years of age I developed a love for sports and fitness of any
kind by watching professional wrestling on Saturday mornings.
Growing up in Green Bay, WI there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to compete in sports back in those days. We had a wheelchair basketball team in middle school that I had a hand in starting but my Cerebral Palsy made it difficult for me to do anything but “ride the bench”. This did not satisfy my competitive desire so, in middle school, I went in another direction. I started wrestling against able body kids. I became the first 'wheelchair bound' wrestler in my high school's history, leading a successful career, becoming a team captain in my senior year and finishing with a life-time record of 1-100+ (that's right, one win and over 100 losses)! For me the sport of wrestling was my passion and was never really about the wins and losses… it was to inspire others and make them aware that anything is possible with enough drive and determination.
There was not much opportunity for competitive sports in Wisconsin in those days but it didn’t deter my love for the competition. However, the lack of opportunity did make it extremely difficult to demonstrate my skills in competitive sports. I did not have the opportunity to compete in a single Junior National event growing up. It wasn’t until college and the birth of the internet that I was able to find a sport that, not only could I compete against others with disabilities but do so with success! As an adult athlete I have been able to succeed on a National level in both Powerlifting and the Shot Put event in Athletics.
These Junior athletes are all under 23 years of age and don’t have the means to “make their own way.” As a young athlete growing up I would have given anything to have a Junior National Tournament in my own backyard in Wisconsin. Finances or disability should never be reasons a child doesn’t get to participate in competitive sports. If you have the means (or know someone who does), please consider donating either your time or your money to the Adaptive Sports USA movement. It would be a dream come true to hold the finest Junior Nationals event ever right here in Wisconsin! The power of sport changes lives; be inspired by these young athletes and change a life in the process!
2020 Paralympic Hopeful (Track & Field)
Cheri Blauwet M.D.
Dr. Cheri Blauwet began her wheelchair racing career in high school in rural
Iowa when she was recruited by her school’s track and field coach. Cheri would become one of the original student-athletes attending the University of Arizona on a partial athletic scholarship directly related to her participation with the U of A wheelchair racing team. She went on to graduate magna cum laude with a degree in molecular biology. Cheri then attended the Stanford University School of Medicine and completed her residency,
which included serving as the chief resident in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Blauwet then served as a Fellow in Sports Medicine at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Currently, she is practicing sports medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA and also serves as a faculty member at the Harvard School of Medicine. Throughout her education and career, Dr. Blauwet has remained a strong advocate for equal opportunities in competitive sports for young athletes with disabilities.
Greetings! I am writing this letter to share my story, and of how the sport of wheelchair racing and competitive opportunities in my youth truly impacted and changed my life.
I was born and raised on a farm outside of a small town in Iowa, sustaining a spinal cord injury in a farming accident at the age of 16 months old. For this reason, my earliest memories, and my identity, are as a person with a disability and a wheelchair user. My parents fought tooth and nail for my independence, getting me a small scooter to roll around the farm, and then, at the age of 4, my first wheelchair. Growing up, there weren’t really any other kids with disabilities at my school, and I learned how to adapt life in order to “keep up” with all of the other kids. I played the clarinet in band, joined the student council, and was on the math team. Although I seemed fairly well accepted by my peers, I yearned to find other kids who were truly like me – in every way.
It wasn’t until 8th grade that I discovered sports. At that time, our high school track coach saw a wheelchair racing exhibition event at the Iowa High School State Track Meet in Des Moines. He came back to our school and encouraged me to give it a try. At first – I thought he was crazy! But with a lot of encouragement and a bit of bravery, I went out for the team. Initially – it was no fun at all. I felt like I stuck out, pushing laps in my everyday wheelchair while my classmates ran circles around me … literally! At the end of that track season, however, everything changed. I went to the Iowa State Meet and, upon rolling out on to the track, met four or five other high school aged girls, also wheelchair racers, who were there to compete. They had these fancy contraptions called racing wheelchairs. They were cool. And – they looked just like me. For the first time ever, I felt comfortable, like I was just one of the crowd.
From that moment on and for the next 15 years, wheelchair racing became my life. I joined the Iowa Junior Wheelchair Racing Team, and began to compete regionally, then nationally. I attended the Junior National Championships, learning how to travel independently, gain confidence away from my parents, and begin to be my own person. Slowly but surely, I gained confidence, strength, and agility. I began to make more friends at my high school, and I dreamed of competing in the Paralympics.
Ultimately, my wheelchair racing career brought me to three Paralympic Games (Sydney, Athens, Beijing), seven Paralympic medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 5 bronze), and multiple international marathon wins including the Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles Marathons.
The confidence and success that I gained in sport started to open other doors in life and taught me how to be academically successful. I attended the University of Arizona and the moved on to medical school at Stanford, where I was the first wheelchair user to be accepted to the school. I then achieved my ultimate dream of completing my residency at Harvard Medical School.
Currently, I practice sports medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and I am a faculty member at Harvard. I am a clinician-researcher, also involved in investigating the impact of adaptive sports opportunity as a tool for rehabilitation. Because adaptive sports and the Paralympic movement are so much a part of who I am, I continue to strive to give back to the movement. Translating my background in adaptive sport into my current career in medicine, I remain involved in the Paralympic Movement as Chairperson of the International Paralympic Committee Medical Committee.
Adaptive sports, and particularly the sport of wheelchair racing, absolutely changed my life and shaped me into the person I am today. Looking to the future – we need to ensure that all young people with disabilities have these opportunities for growth and discovery. Our hope is that your corporation will assist us in bringing this dream to life for other youth with physcial disabilities throughout our country.
Cheri Blauwet, MD
Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt & Jessica Galli Cloy
In 1993, Anjali and Jessica met for the first time. The two met while attending their first Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. Both girls left the Junior Nationals with medals in hand but more importantly, they left with a friendship that continues today. Anjali was raised in Massachusetts. Jessica was raised in New Jersey. Yet their friendship grew each year
due to their participation in Adaptive Sports USA events. In the springtime, the girls met at competitions throughout the Northeast and in the summer, they traveled around the United States to Junior Nationals. Fifteen years after meeting, Anjali and Jessica found themselves competing together on the world’s stage at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. After winning medals in individual events, they ran their final race, the 4x100m relay, along with two of their USA teammates. After ten days of competition, the USA finished strong winning a bronze medal. All four women in the relay had grown up together and had raced against each other at Adaptive Sports USA
national events. For Anjali, Jessica and their two teammates, the opportunity to stand on the podium together to accept the bronze medal was more than an awards ceremony; it was a chance for childhood friends to show the world what they had become. Today Anjali and Jessica give back to Adaptive Sports USA because they realize their success both on the track and in life is due in part to their childhood experiences of meeting fellow athletes with a disability and participating in Adaptive Sports USA Competitions.
of why first response was always “no” followed by an explanation of why I couldn’t possibly do what they wanted me to do. So when Andy approached me about joining the CSH Lightning Wheels team I firmly told him “no” and stated I wasn’t interested in joining the program. Andy, however, was persistent and after being discharged from the hospital he visited me at home and convinced me to attend a team practice. I am eternally grateful for his persistence as I went that first practice and immediately fell back in love with sports.
Being a part of the adaptive sports world opened up so many opportunities for both me and my family. I immediately made friends that were “like me.” I had wonderful friends in grade school but I was the only one with a disability. Attending practice once a week with the Lightning Wheels afforded the opportunity to hang out with kids that didn’t have any questions about my disability and moved on immediately to more important kid concerns like favorite foods and homework. Additionally, my parents connected with other parents of children with a disability. For the first time, my parents saw that all of the hopes and dreams they had had for me prior to my accident could still be achieved post-accident. Adaptive sports were a way for my family to find our normal again.
Since joining the Team in 1993, I have gone on to achieve many things both on and off the field of play. In 1998, I made my first USA team and traveled in Birmingham, England for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Championships. Two years later I made my first Paralympic team and competed in the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games where I won a silver medal in the T53 800m at the age of 16. I went on to compete in three additional Paralympics (2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London) and won 6 additional Paralympic medals including a Gold medal in the T53 400m in Beijing. Nothing prepared me for the moment I would stand on top of the podium, hear the USA national anthem play and know that I was the reason our flag was being raised.
Off the field of play, I was encouraged by my parents to make good grades, go to college, get a job and most importantly move out of the house! I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I received a B.S. in Kinesiology and a M.S. in Community Health. I have gotten involved in numerous volunteer roles both locally and nationally and strive to give back to the many programs that have molded me into the individual that I am today. And finally, I have married the love of my life and am a proud mother of a 1 year old baby girl.
The opportunities I’ve been provided through adaptive sport have allowed me to travel the world. These opportunities not only helped me to develop further as an athlete but also helped me to develop as an individual. I learned how to be independent at a young age, which is a challenge for any child regardless of disability. I learned how to be confident and to stand up for what I believe in. I learned that by setting goals and working hard I could achieve almost anything I set my mind to achieving. I am forever grateful for adaptive sport and the role it has played in my life.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story and my involvement with
Adaptive Sports USA with you. In 1991, at the age of 7, I was injured in a car accident
that left me paralyzed from the waist down. After spending four months in a rehabilitation hospital, Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH), learning how to live life from a wheelchair,
I returned to the second grade in Hillsborough, NJ. Before being injured, I was an active young girl participating in gymnastics and other sports programs. I often tell people it was
a blessing to be injured at such a young age because I was able to bounce back from my injury rather quickly. However, the one aspect of my prior life that I missed the most was gymnastics. Luckily for me, one of my recreation therapists, Andy Chasanoff, at CSH was also the head coach of the CSH Lightning Wheels of New Jersey. I rightfully earned the nickname “Wendy Whiner”during my four month stint at CSH. When nurses or therapists asked me to do something my first response was always “no” followed by an explanation
I am excited to share with you a piece of my story about how access to adaptive sports and competing at Junior National Championships as a kid shaped my life and put me on the pathway to success.
the competition bug by age six, and a few years later in 1993, I competed in my first Junior National Championships competition in Ohio. I was named to my first U.S. National team in 2007, and went on to represent Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games.
One of my childhood athletic dreams came true. This is a big deal. So monumental, in fact, that I struggle to articulate how incredible this experience was. The best way I have come to explain this is for you to pause and think long and hard about one of your own dreams. Then picture entering an arena with 91,000 screaming fans and supporters of that dream. That was my experience. This would not, and could not have been possible if it hadn’t been for the many role models I had along the way, the organizations such as Adaptive Sports USA and donors such as yourself.
Along this journey, I have accrued medals (2 bronze in Beijing 2008, 1 gold and 2 silver at World Championships
in 2011, two gold and one bronze at Parapan American Games in 2007) and numerous other accolades
(Amazing Mentor Award in 2012 from the United States Olympic Committee, Champion of Change in 2013 from the White House). Yes, I am proud of these accomplishments, but I am more proud of the educational trajectory that sports put me on, the lifelong friendships I have gained along the way and the leadership skills instilled that have transferred to many other areas of my life. Through the avenue of athletics I was able to become independent, learned how to deal with setbacks such as injuries, learn how to set goals and what it means to be a part of a team. All of these skills are transferable beyond the track but to how I live my life. I am a three time graduate from the University of Illinois, earning my Ph.D. in 2012. I now am a faculty member at Vanderbilt University in the Peabody College of Education, one of the top ranked colleges of education in the nation.
In this role, not only do I teach future clinical mental health counselors and school counselors, I also research issues surrounding disability identity development, educational equity and the role sport may play for individuals with disabilities across the lifespan. Globally, I am actively involved to help create inclusive sport opportunities for individuals with disabilities in Bermuda, India and Ghana. These are just some of the ways in which sport continues to play a role in my life and the work that I do. I continue to stay connected to the adaptive sport movement in the United States too, such as taking an active role on the national taskforce, Athletics for All. This task force was convened to inform and provide the tools by which coaches, athletic directors and school administrators can include students with disabilities in school-based sports.
I would not be who I am today if it had not been for sports in my life. I am so grateful that attending the Junior National Championships in 1993 opened my world to the world of possibility, and gave me so many forever friends. I hope that other youth with disabilities have the chance to also go on this life-changing journey through exposure to sport and competition experience at the Junior National Championships. I would not be the independent, determined and successful individual that I am today had it not been for sports. I hope you will consider making a donation again this upcoming year to help another individual get one step closer to his/her dream.
Anjali J. Forber-Pratt Ph.D.
I grew up just outside of Boston, actually in a town that is on the eight-mile marker of the Boston Marathon course. I acquired my disability, transverse myelitis, when I was 4.5 months old, which left me paralyzed from the waist down. My disability and navigating the world from a wheelchair is all I’ve ever known. As a young child, though, until being a spectator at the Boston Marathon, I had no idea that people with disabilities could participate in sports such as this or grow up and get jobs or an education. Witnessing this gave me the opportunity to create dreams of my own. I knew from that moment that racing was something I had to check out for myself. I wanted to become a wheelchair racer.
My parents found a Saturday sports program, through one of Adaptive Sports USA’s chapters, for kids with disabilities that was about an hour away from my house. I decided I wanted to be an athlete. I fell in love with the sports featuring speed - namely downhill skiing and wheelchair racing. I did try every sport under the sun: tennis, wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, field events, archery, swimming, table tennis, rock climbing - you name it, I have probably tried it! I got
If other alumni athletes would like to share the impact that Junior Nationals has had on your life, email Games Director Gregg Baumgarten with your bio, a head shot and sports action picture and letter highlighting your story!