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Krista: Advocate for Athletes with Disabilities

"The word “disability” is not in the athletes' minds at all. We don’t see it as a disability. For myself, I see it as a unique ability."

We spoke with Krista via email in August 2012.

Krista, 18, is a freshman at the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota. During her free time, Krista volunteers at a faith-based older-adult living facility, coaches and plays sports, and spends time with her friends. We talked with Krista about her experience as a person with disabilities who is an athlete and coach, and how her role as a coach has allowed her to influence other young people with disabilities and advocate for the differently abled.

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I have mild cerebral palsy with left hemiplegia, speech and language disorders, and an auditory processing disorder. Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a neurological disorder that starts anywhere from birth to three years. CP permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination. Reflexes, walking, speech, processing, and hearing can be affected and it is different for each individual. For me, CP affects all five of these. Left hemiplegia means that both my arm and leg on my left side are affected by cerebral palsy. So, for example, my left hand can’t do the same things as my right hand or it is hard to do. Because of my auditory processing disorder, I hear too much. In some cases, it is difficult for me to process information. For example, if I am in a noisy restaurant, I can hear everyone. I may not be able to hear everyone’s conversation, but I might. This may make it difficult to hear and concentrate on the person that I am talking to.

There are some "challenges" that I face as an athlete with a disability, but I don’t see them as challenges. These “challenges,” which I have faced since the first day I started doing track, impact me a little bit on how I run, but have improved tremendously. Other challenges include moving my left arm equally to my right while running or sprinting, getting up on my toes when I am sprinting, having high knees while running, and using my left foot. I have been working hard on these form techniques and the effort has shown in practice and performance. I have to constantly work and train harder to overcome these challenges.

I have been a volunteer track coach and swim coach for the Courage Center Minnesota Blizzard Team for the last two or three years. All of those athletes are youth who have physical disabilities.

Having a disability doesn’t affect how I coach. I coach my athletes just like any other coach. I want my athletes to be better, stronger, and faster. I don’t see myself as a person with a disability, I see myself as just another coach that wants to strive to make their athletes better athletes as well as better people. I coach my athletes just like any other coach would. Through my many years as an athlete, I have learned from different coaches how to coach my athletes.

When I am coaching, I am a positive role model and an example for my athletes. I hope that they learn from what I give to them in practice. I give them advice that will make them a better athlete and person physically as well as mentally. I think I influence them because I used to be on the same team they’re on, and to see where I am now and what I have accomplished is inspiring for them.

I learned how to advocate through people at my high school and other mentors. Through my parents, my high school counselor, and the members of my IEP [Individualized Education Program] team in high school, I learned how to advocate and tell my teachers and others what I needed. This helped me when I needed to contact colleges that I was interested in, as well as important people at different colleges that I needed to meet with, such as the disability services coordinator. Through advocating for myself, I have become a better communicator and leader.

My main message to both athletes and youth is don’t give up no matter what happens. You don’t know what will happen unless you try and stick to it. Don’t stop dreaming, because if you do, you won’t be able to see what you could have done if you stuck to it and didn’t give up. You may fail sometimes, but everybody does, and that is a part of life as well as sports. If you do fail, get right back up and keep on going. It may be a long road and process, but it will be worth it at the end. There are going to be times where things might not go as planned, but don’t let that stop you. Keep on going. You are not alone. A big thing is to believe in yourself. If you don’t, then it will make it way harder to achieve your goals and dreams. When you believe, you will push yourself harder to be better than before and one step closer to accomplishment.

I believe that sports will provide a big message to society about people with disabilities. Today, most people do not realize that there are Paralympic Games or what it takes to compete in the Paralympics or at a high level as a paralympic athlete. Today, paralympic athletes are accomplishing astonishing successes. These successes may include personal records, American records, world records, or ESPY [Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly] awards. Elite paralympic athletes are training many hours a day for many years and sacrifice their lives for their dreams and glory in sport. Society is not aware of the type of dedication, the very high skill level, the type of motivation, and the sacrifice of an elite paralympic athlete. Elite paralympic athletes train like it is their full-time job, 24 hours each day. The only difference between elite paralympic athletes and Olympic athletes is that the paralympic athletes have a disability. The word “disability” is not in the athlete’s minds at all. We don’t see it as a disability. For myself, I see it as a unique ability. Athletes with disabilities, as well as other people with disabilities, are just the same as other people. We might not do things the same way as other people can, but we do certain things differently.