This article is sponsored by Citi
Every Saturday from September through May, from 9 a.m. to about 3 or 4 p.m. the volunteers at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) in Lake Forest, Ill., gather athletes for a day of vigorous exercise and fun. That includes swimming, weightlifting, bocce, archery, track and field and wheelchair basketball.
“We work with these athletes,’’ said GLASA Executive Director Cindy Housner. “It’s life changing. We offer sports all year long. It’s their right.”
Wheelchair and visually impaired athletes met again recently in Lake Forest. The weather did not cooperate — it was cold and windy and a light rain was falling.
No matter, word was out that a “rock star” was on the campus of this high school. The wheelchair athletes were in for a big treat. A Paralympic champion was on the track inspiring all the participants.
It was Amanda McGrory, a gold medal winner from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, who is heading to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Dave Olson, president of the GLASA, said he was delighted that Amanda stopped by to help the athletes who came out to compete this day.
“She’s a Paralympic athlete,’’ Dave said. “You can imagine what she represents to the kids here. It’s great to have mentors to look at. Many of these people are jocks whose legs just don’t work.”
Now leading her field in wheelchair racing, Amanda doesn’t mind sharing the story that began with a bad morning more than 20 years ago.
“It was just a regular day,’’ Amanda said. “And I just rolled off my bed. My muscles were tight. I think my parents thought I was faking.”
It was clear something was wrong. This five-year-old girl from Kennett Square, Pa., was off to the hospital. A few weeks later, nothing had been found.
Then a devastating diagnosis came in: It was transverse myelitis. And it had paralyzed Amanda’s legs.
“I think there was one chance in six million” that this would happen, Amanda said. “But I think it’s usually better when you are young because kids are resilient. I couldn’t ride a two-wheeler anymore, but my friends could still be outside. But I was the coolest kid in school because I had a wheelchair.”
Amanda wasn’t a young girl who would sit in a dark room and feel sorry for herself. She got busy.
She worked on rehabilitation in Delaware, but that became too costly and the McGrory family looked elsewhere for help. There was a camp in Philadelphia and by the time she had turned 10, Amanda’s world in a wheelchair was only limited by her imagination.
Junior Nationals were next for her.
“I was an athlete who showed potential,’’ Amanda said. “And I started racing.”
This excellent athlete gave wheelchair basketball a try, which took her to the University of Illinois. She competed in junior racing competitions at the university and then in 2006 her coaches talked her into competing in her first marathon. A year later she was breaking course records and winning marathons in Denver, Duluth and Chicago.
“I’m 26-years old and I’m lucky to make a career out of it,’’ she said. “I’ve traveled around the world.”
Executive Director Cindy knows that anytime Amanda stops by GLASA, it’s good for these athletes.
“It’s really inspiring,’’ she said. “Amanda helps out at the camps at the University of Illinois. She works with the athletes. They can see what Amanda does.”
The GLASA theme is, “Let no one sit on the sidelines.” In Amanda’s case, there is no chance of that.
Amanda is now supporting GLASA through a unique partnership with Citi. She is one of 13 athletes whom Citi is sponsoring in its Every Step of the WaySMprogram. This innovative digital program benefits U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls and athletes of all ages in communities across America by allowing fans to help allocate Citi’s ThankYou® Points to Sport Programs through activity on Facebook and Twitter, thereby giving Team Citi athletes the chance to say "thank you" to the Sport Programs that have inspired them
Citi, a proud sponsor of Team USA, has launched its Every Step of the Wayprogram with a $500,000 donation to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), represented by 50 million ThankYou® Points - the currency of Citi ThankYou Rewards. The unique Every Step of the Way program allows fans to help allocate these ThankYou Points to Sport Programs through activity on Facebook and Twitter.
The more fans participate through Facebook and Twitter, the more ThankYou Points they can direct to their Sport Program of choice, until its goal is reached. At the end of the program, the USOC will use Citi's donation to give the cash equivalent of the ThankYou Points directly to the Sport Program matched with the Team Citi athlete.