The 32-year old Kaitlyn is one of my Toastmaster friends, whom I admire greatly. She was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident at the age of seven and has been dependent on a wheelchair ever since. Kaitlyn’s mother, who drove the car, was also seriously injured and was unable to care for her injured daughter and her sons for a long time.
A few years after the accident, Kaitlyn’s physiotherapist suggested that the family send her to an adaptive sports camp. Initially Kaitlyn was not interested: she did not like the idea of being together with handicapped people. Deep down she held the hope that her injuries were temporary. Moreover, she had never been away from home overnight.
The first days and especially nights at the camp were difficult. She suffered from terrible homesickness. However, she enjoyed experimenting with sports activities and acquired friends who were in the same life situation. Being away from home and managing her feelings gave her a new sense of freedom and independence.
After attending the camp she found opportunities to continue playing tennis. A special wheelchair was required for that and she was lucky to get one as a donation. Later when she started competing and travelling to competitions, she started raising funds by giving speeches in various charitable organizations and writing grant applications. For any teenager it is intimidating to give speeches to grownups, and it required all of Kaitlyn’s courage to speak up for herself and ask for funds to be able to pursue her sport.
Gradually over many years Kaitlyn grew to accept that the injury in her spinal cord was irreversible and she would never walk again. She also started thinking that there is a purpose with everything that happens in one’s life. Without the handicap her life might have been boring and ordinary.
“I realized the handicap was the challenge life gave me and I decided to make the best out of it” Kaitlyn said.
Kaitlyn’s intensive tennis training led to her winning gold medals both in singles and doubles in Rio de Janeiro in Para pan American Games in 2007 as well as to participating in three Paralympics, the latest in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
With a tennis scholarship, Kaitlyn had a chance to move from Wisconsin to Arizona to study Psychology and Special Education at the Arizona State University in Tucson. She also has become a certified tennis coach.
During the last years Kaitlyn has cut back on her own training and started training others. She is training the girls’ tennis team of the Flagstaff High School as well as teaching tennis at various elementary schools as an after school activity before the kids are picked up by their parents.
Kaitlyn’s wish for her future is to encourage and help children with disabilities to get involved in sports or whatever they want to get involved in. It will help them to create a purposeful life as well as gain more confidence and greater independence.