As we travel along the road of life, we are often called back to our roots in unexpected ways. This return can elicit mixed and complex emotions of nostalgia, excitement, reflection of times past, pride, and even contentment. They are associated with events that we know were formative to who we are today, and that create the summative experience of our lives.
For me, returning to the Paralympic Games in London is one such homecoming.
I competed in three Paralympic Games: Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008. This means I was around the scene for quite some time and saw the Paralympic Movement evolve before my eyes.
Each of these Games was a different experience for me, dictated by my own personal life journey, as well as my varied performances as the years passed.
In Sydney, I was a 20-year-old college student, full of wonder and excitement about the possibilities of performing on the world’s stage. That passion and excitement, as opposed to experience, brought me to winning four medals – three silver and one bronze.
Athens 2004 was my peak, where I won my gold in the Women’s T53 800 meters as well as bronze in the 5000 meters and Marathon.
Beijing brought with it a more mature perspective as I reveled in the opportunity to compete one last time for the U.S.A. prior to moving on to my next life steps and challenges. There, I took home a heartbreaking tally of four 4th place finishes, just off the podium each time.
When I think back on these Games, they all represent chapters in my life that I carry with me on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, my return now to London represents the start of the next chapter.
Competing in the Olympics and Paralympics uniquely gives athletes the opportunity to consider life in “quads,” the term used to describe each four-year period of time between Games. My personal “quad” since Beijing has seen experiences as varied as graduating medical school and moving cross-country from San Francisco to Boston. I completed a medical internship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, followed by a residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (I am now in my final year.) I worked in Uganda for two months, helping to set up an adaptive soccer league for youth with disabilities, and took a position with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Medical Committee, of which I am extremely proud. I fell in love with my boyfriend, now fiancé, and we will be married next May.
Wouldn’t it be great if the credentials to compete at the Paralympics came with a crystal ball so that we could know what each quad had in store!?!
As I sit on my trans-Atlantic flight from Boston to London, I reflect on returning to the Games – my next homecoming. This time, my credentials say “B” (representing “IPC Committee Member”) as opposed to Aa (representing “Athlete”). I will be attending the Games as a representative of the IPC, working to protect the health and well being of Paralympic athletes through multiple measures – which I will explain in upcoming blogs. I now wear a different hat, representing the international community of the Paralympic Movement as opposed to the U.S. Team. I am incredibly excited to return to these roots, revel in the experience of the Games, and see how my next quad is kicked off. I very much hope that we can enjoy this adventure together and join the international community in celebrating the excitement and symbolism of the Games!