Accessibility · Adaptive Adventure

Honoring the Olympics, Paralympics, and a Willingness to Try

Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on February 25, 2022# Lifestyle First published in the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation

A few years after his spinal cord injury, my husband Geoff and I really became friends while coaching high school girls’ soccer together almost 20 years ago. This photograph hangs in my classroom, and it makes me smile every time. Our team was made up of very fit, talented athletes who did not actually use wheelchairs. However, for our end-of-year soccer party, one of our captains suggested it might be fun to compete on a more equal playing field with Geoff. I can guarantee that not one young woman in that photo has forgotten that soccer celebration where we all played wheelchair basketball in our high school gym.

At the time, our then athletic director, my dear friend Cathy Clermont, was dating our mutual friend, Jill Gravink, who ran Northeast Passage out of the University of New Hampshire. Northeast Passage continues to be a premier adaptive sports program, but they also were responsible for owning adaptive equipment that groups of people could rent and borrow for their own adaptive needs. In addition, the educational value NEP offered brought them into many NH, ME, and MA schools to advocate for disability rights as well as dispel myths surrounding disabled athletes, equaling playing grounds and breaking boundaries.

Cathy and Jill arranged to have something like 20 wheeling basketball chairs transferred up from UNH to Lin-Wood in one of their equipment vans. Parents signed waivers. Excitement was palpable! We played for over an hour, sweating, learning, trying to adapt our bodies (as well as shooting and passing skills) to this new mode of sport. We also failed and laughed considerably while trying. One advantage Geoff had over all of us was the upper body strength he developed being a wheelchair user for the last decade prior to this event.

Not one young woman was afraid to try. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and I have zero memory as to who won the game. Ultimately, that never mattered– what mattered was adapting to a different playing field using different equipment and putting ourselves out there as vulnerable athletes, abashedly unafraid to fail. They were competitive soccer players, as was Geoff, which transferred easily to wheelchair basketball. And when I look at the women in this photograph, grainy from age and lack of a good quality camera, I remember them individually and what they brought to our coaching history.

One actually became a permanent wheelchair user and considered Geoff a colleague and friend in the world of adaptive sports, running the Adaptive Sports Partners located at Cannon Mountain. Mikayla Briere sometimes shows up in our driveway with her own van filled with adaptive sports equipment, just begging for adventure. Another went on to become a massage therapist, a real estate agent, a physical therapist, a full-time ski racing coach in VT, a bartender or two, a business owner, along with hikers and runners and yoga instructors. There are mothers in this photograph, some married, some divorced, some single, some still trying to find their way in this world and still others saddled with more responsibilities or stress than they would like to admit. While we don’t keep in touch with all of them, I have no doubt that they think about their coaching duo from time to time, wondering whether I ever agreed to go out on that date with him.

And so, the Paralympics kick off on March 4. This is the first time in my life where Paralympic athletes were featured regularly alongside Olympic athletes in television commercials for items unrelated to the games themselves. Do yourselves a favor and watch when you can. Watch and wonder what it took for that athlete to get to that place. Imagine the challenges they overcame to arrive in Beijing. Imagine the friends and family who stood by them during the journey, offering whatever support they might need and in whatever capacity that may have looked like.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 12 and 10, respectively. Please check out her novel True North, website, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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