Paralympians Share Their Journeys to Success
Advocacy Three of America’s more remarkable athletes open up about facing down the stigma attached to competing with disability, and how assistive tech has helped them succeed.
Team USA has some truly outstanding athletes capable of producing some outstanding figures. But for sprinter David Brown, triathlete Allysa Seely and basketball player Matt Scott, competing is more than a matter of setting records.
Crucial to these athletes’ successes on this front is dedication to your original dream: “My key to success is never to listen to the nay-sayers,” says David Brown, “You can do anything, as long as you don’t give up.” Brown is a two-time Paralympic sprinter in spite of Kawasaki disease, which left him completely blind.
The best way to persevere, these athletes agree, is to take it one step at a time. “Set short-term attainable goals,” says Matt Scott, who has spinal bifida and plays basketball from his wheelchair. “And when you reach them, make bigger ones. I believe in dreaming big and chasing after those dreams.”
And Allysa Seely, who swims, bikes and runs with a prosthetic leg, believes it’s the strength of dreams like hers that can help our culture look past disability. “We need to see individuals with hopes, dreams and career aspirations,” she says, “not wheelchairs, prosthetics and limitations.”
The development of technology has gone a long way in leveling the playing field for people with disabilities. “I believe the sky is the limit for assistive technology,” says Brown, “The human mind is amazing. What we can create is just a manifestation of what we imagine.” For the runner, his imagination has led him to a World Championship gold medal.
Scott agrees. “I believe our society has made some incredible strides in improving for people living with disabilities,” he adds. “I think assistive technology has been a major part of that.” It’s helped him net a Paralympic basketball bronze.
For Seely, meanwhile, technology has allowed the use of three different prosthetic legs for training, running and biking, each specially designed for the task at hand. Her training leg is also her everyday prosthetic, which provides greater stability. Her bike leg is strong and aerodynamic, while her running leg is thin, flexible and shock-absorbent.
“There is no one-size-fits-all for individuals with different disabilities.”
Seely hopes this variety of support becomes more accessible in the future. “I think we have also started to see a trend where more items are being 3-D printed,” says the triathlete. “With some refining this may lead to a new path for prosthetic and orthotics users that could greatly reduce costs in the future.”
Seeing past disability
“As with any group of people,” says Seely, “There is no one-size-fits-all for individuals with different disabilities.” Brown echoes this sentiment, saying, “Everyone is different. Every individual with a disability has preferred accommodations and needs.” It’s crucial that we start looking past the general idea of disability to the specific struggles and the individual personalities of the people that live with them.
“As a society, we need to work toward removing the stigma surrounding disability,” says Seely. Scott advocates that we “continue to improve upon accessibility for all.” Brown encourages those with disabilities to “speak up and take part in testing innovative research and ideas,” both in the areas of technology and social awareness.
While these athletes have dealt with similar stigmas, there struggles and journeys to success have been unique. Understanding this is the key to better inclusion and accessibility for our disabled population. “It is not our disability that makes us who we are,” says Seely. “It is our likes and dislikes, our personalities, our goals, dreams and aspirations, just like you.”