I had the pleasure of speaking at Cassadaga Valley middle/high school and Sinclairville Elementary School in Western New York on September 21st. The gym was filled with students from every grade and they all gave me their undivided attention, even the littlest group of kindergarteners. Each and every student seemed to genuinely enjoy listening to my story and learning about wheelchair basketball. There was one particular student that I spoke to after my speech who was going through a rough time in their life and they had expressed to me that my story had inspired them and gave them hope. I truly hope that my message has helped this student get through their rough time. I hope to work with these schools again in the future.
I had the honor of being invited to speak at John Basset Moore Intermediate School in Dover, Delaware on March 2, 2017. They asked me to be a part of their perseverance assembly, which was a great experience. The gym was filled with 5th and 6th graders who were all about to start state testing the next week. They were learning about perseverance, the ability to push through and conquer what ever gets in your path. Hearing about the story of my life and my ability to overcome all the obstacles that have been thrown at me, was a powerful message to some of the students and even the faculty. It is an amazing feeling when you can inspire and motivate others. I look forward to continuing my journey of motivational speaking and inspiring people along the way.
I had the pleasure of speaking to a school in Williamsburg, Virginia on February 24, 2017. It was actually Austen’s school, the young boy I visited in the hospital. This class was filled with a great group of kids, and among the students was a special guest, Austen’s sister. She was allowed to join Ms. Erin’s class for the day, which was a special treat for me. Entering the gym, the students made a tunnel for me to go through which was awesome! They were all filled with energy and eager to hear my life story and Paralympic experience. After hearing a little about my life, they were able to get a glimpse of wheelchair basketball. A few students were chosen to try shooting from a chair, which they all seemed to love. The students were so gracious and all signed a basketball for me, and gave my daughter a stuffed animal as well as a little chair to sit in during the presentation. As we speak to schools like Magruder Elementary, the significant impact that we leave on some of the students is something special and it inspires me to continue giving back to the community. We will continue to bring awareness to adaptive sports, and inspire people. I look forward to going back and speaking to Magruder Elementary again in the future as well as many other schools.
I had the pleasure of meeting an awesome kid in Norfolk, Virginia on February 24, 2017 by the name of Austen. The recently injured young man was beyond excited to meet a Paralympic Athlete that he watched several videos and research as much as possible online. However, a few days before our arrival Austen was hospitalized for several tests and was devastated that he would not be able to attend the school function. At this moment, we were determined to make this visit happen, no matter the location. Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Erin, Austen’s teacher, family, and the hospital, we were able to catch up with Austen at Children’s Hospital in Norfolk. Having the opportunity to spend an hour with this high spirited young man changed my outlook on our ability to inspire as athletes. This young man wants to find local adaptive sports as soon as possible and become a competitor at the highest level there is [Paralympics]. These types of moments make competing for Team USA so great, as we are not only playing for ourselves or family members but we are playing for those that are inspired by the things that we have done. This family has been through so much but their spirits remain strong and filled with hope. I cannot wait to see the accomplishments that this kid has waiting for him in the future. Determination, passion, and attitude are just a couple of the characteristics that this young man has and it is those kinds of mental characteristics that makes champions. I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet Austen and his family and I look forward to future encounters with them.
I had the pleasure of working with the students at James Madison University on February 23, 2017. I have been honored to have been invited to JMU for three years now by Cathy McKay and I truly enjoy being a part of the Paralympic experience and skills lab day. I worked with three different Kinesiology classes; each class was split up into three groups where they rotated between working with myself, some of the players from the Charlottesville Cardinals (Brandon Rush, Jacob Tyree, and Tom Vandever), and talking to the directors of the film The Rebound (Mike Esposito and Shaina Koren). I showed the students how to dribble, shoot, pass, and we scrimmaged. The students were all very engaged and ready to learn about wheelchair basketball and the mission of expanding wheelchair basketball within the United States. These types of events bring awareness to not only the sport of wheelchair basketball but also adaptive sports as a whole. Embracing the Paralympic movement and supporting the thousands of athletes that competed on the highest stage possible. This university is taking a step in the right direction in an attempt to increase the level of recognition associated with adaptive sports across the country. Giving these students first-hand experience allows for people to get a better appreciation for the sports. JMU has purchased basketball chairs that can be checked out at their UREC center so any student can participate in the sport. I applaud JMU and Cathy for their efforts in expanding awareness to the Paralympic movement and their continued determination in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and am honored to be included in the process.
I had the pleasure of speaking at two jr/sr high schools in Western New York on Wednesday February 8. My first stop was at Southwestern Jr/Sr High School in Jamestown, NY. The gym was packed with 720 students and gathered around the doors was the entire faculty. The second school was Maple Grove Jr/Sr High School in Bemus Point, NY; their gym was filled with 430 students and their entire faculty. I spoke about my life, growing up with a disability, bullying, overcoming life obstacles, the Paralympic movement and my Paralympic experiences. Both crowds were absolutely amazing, they were interactive and eager to listen and learn about everything I had to say. I had one student from each school hop in a wheelchair basketball chair and try dribbling and shooting. I then had a faculty member hop in the chair and try it out as well, and then had them play me one on one. I ended with a Question and Answer segment, where both schools had a lot of great questions, many students contacted me through my website to ask questions that we may not have had time to get to or they might not have wanted to ask in front of the entire school. After the presentation, the students and faculty were able to look at both my Paralympic Medals along with my Qualifier Medals. Both groups seemed to love the presentation and were very interactive. I truly had a great time meeting and speaking to these students and the faculty. I hope I will have the ability to speak to both of these schools again in the future.
I had the pleasure of meeting Pennsylvania State Senator Michele Brooks in October when I was recognized at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania during a football game for winning Gold at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Senator Brooks then invited me to come spend the day at the Pennsylvania State Capital Building. It was such an honor just to meet Senator Brooks and for her to invite me down to the State Capital Building was awe-inspiring.
I was given a tour of the State Capital, which was an amazing sight. The architecture and paintings were amazing and a true piece of history. I learned that all the Gold in the building is real and not just coated. There are multiple furniture pieces that are the original pieces from when the Capital Building was first built. During the visit, I was honored during the Senate and House of Representatives meetings, which was an amazing and humbling experience. I had the pleasure of meeting many State Senators, House of Representatives, the Lieutenant Governor, Michael Stack and State Governor, Tom Wolf. I ended my visit with having lunch with Senator Brooks in her office. Senator Brooks went above and beyond during our visit. She was absolutely wonderful with my daughter who was 15 months at the time and full of energy. Senator Brooks went out of her way to make sure that my daughter had everything she could possibly want or need. Senator Brooks made sure that Saraeya was running around and exploring different areas of the Capital, specifically the Governors chambers and Senator Brook's office. The Senator is so down to earth and caring, while you are in her presence you forget that she is a State Senator. She is a person that cares about the community and makes them feel welcome and I am honored to have met her and her staff. I cannot thank Senator Brooks enough for inviting not only myself, but my family and Edinboro Wheelchair Basketball Head Coach Jim Glatch to spend the day at the Pennsylvania State Capital. It was an experience I will remember for a lifetime.
As an exciting 2016 year comes to a close, I look back at all the amazing moments I was lucky enough to have this past year. The 2016 year will be a year that we will cherish for a long time as our first-born child turned one and seeing her accomplish different milestones is a sight to see. Over the past year she has changed and grown so rapidly, it is amazing to watch how she learns new things daily. She is our pride and joy and her strong and independent personality makes us proud parents excited to see what she will accomplish next.
I was honored to be selected to my second USA Paralympic Wheelchair basketball team that competed in Rio, Brazil. The experiences of not only playing with some of the world’s best athletes but being able to call ourselves Gold Medalists is a story that I will tell for years to come. Snapping a 28 year Gold Medal drought was the topping on the cake. As a team, we had a lot of fun during training camps and competition, we were not just teammates, we became a family. What many people do not realize is how much time is spent away from our families, for training camps, competitions, and just everyday training. There are times when you miss holidays, weddings, birthdays, etc. for training camps or competitions. The players on your team become your family. This was definitely the case when I missed a training camp because my 8-month-old daughter at the time was in the hospital. Every single teammate and coaching staff member messaged me for updates on how my daughter was doing and sent lots of positive thoughts and prayers, which truly meant a lot to Laura and I.
Words cannot express how much I value and appreciate my family, friends, teammates and fans for all their support throughout this journey. They are the ones who motivate me to do my best and give my best every single day. The ones who pick me up when I need support or knock me down if I need it, the ones who encourage me to follow my dreams! Thank you all so much!