Saturday, June 29, 2013

Because It's True

Wow, I've been living in DC for over a month now and time has flown by! The excitement of living in a gorgeous, historic and monumental city is amazing.
I walk pass the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Capitol- everyday and that never gets old.
Here's a panorama I took of the Capitol's ceiling

Last Wednesday I was walking by the Supreme Court on my way to work and saw the media at their usual spots waiting for more SCOTUS decisions. With my interest in human rights, it was a last minute decision to stay that day and stand with civil and gay rights activists waiting to hear the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA and Prop 8. I've never been part of a protest or peaceful assembly before, but standing in front of the Court and waiting with countless other activists and strangers that day was amazing. The street was absolutely packed. Tons of people. It was incredibly hot. But when my friends and I were reading the SCOTUS blog updates and realizing what had happened was priceless. I can't describe what it feels like to see people realize their rights were recognized by the federal government. And we were right in the middle of it- standing at the headquarters where true change occurred. Truly inspiring. I'm so thankful to witness a historic and life changing moment for so many people. I'll always remember that moment.

I have also come across challenges during my stay. Regardless of these challenges, there's always something to learn and take away from those situations. I'm compelled to express this experience as I want others to learn to never say this to a person with a disability.

A few weeks ago I was in the elevator with a man and woman who were carrying two bikes. They made general conversation with me, asking about my scooter and whether I can ride a bike. I proceeded to talk about my training and how I used cycling as a vital part to excel in swimming. The woman then asked what my disability was and I said Muscular Dystrophy. I thought the man and woman were extremely friendly and nice until the woman said- "God can cure you only if you let him." Surprised, I  told them how I am blessed to have an incredible life, but the couple kept telling me (in the elevator) that God can cure me only if I let him. I understand that the couple meant well and wanted to see me "out of pain," but from a disability perspective, saying that God can cure me only if I let him, only implies to those disabled that we're broken and not fully human. It is very degrading and only enables the disability medical model within society- that every person that is disabled needs to be cured. We are not broken people, but rather full, human beings. If that situation occurs again, I encourage everyone with a disability to simply say that we are perfect in God's eyes...because it's true.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hey DC, You Look Gorgeous Today!

I usually don't write blogs that often, but when I get 20 texts and 5 phone calls from my friends and family in a day, I realized I needed to give an update.

DC has been awesome, I'm already in love with the city. There are so many museums, monuments and places to go here and I hope I have time to do it all! I absolutely love being in a city where there's so much national history. It's an indescribable feeling to stand where advocates once fought for minority rights during the Civil Rights Movement and know that political change started here. I also can't believe I'm living just a few blocks away from the White House...crazy!

I love how my roommate is also a Trinity 2013 grad (shout out to Trinity and Brianna Gross)! There are at least 6 frats and sororities around us, so it's like we never left college. We're both interning through the American Association of People with Disabilities, but working for different agencies. We've had orientation with 28 other interns with disabilities before we embark on our internships this summer. I have absolutely loved getting to know these interns. We've formed a great community and I've learned so much about my friends here who have disabilities such as autism, deafness to navigating DC blind. These interns are awesome.

The only adjustments I've had to make here is learning the metro. Here's some advice that I've learned- don't drive your scooter in the metro car while it's moving because it feels like deep sea fishing. And another thing is to park your chair in the direction of the metro car, that will help also. I'm just a New England girl adjusting to this metro thing! I start interning on the Hill next week. Wish me luck that I get this metro down before I start!

I'm beyond excited to see what this summer will hold and it's just the beginning. Yes, I'll get back to those calls and texts ASAP!

And FYI Mom, I did the dishes tonight. Be proud.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Swear I Lived

I just handed in my last final paper for my undergrad career.

I keep thinking that one of my professors will email me saying that I never submitted an annotated bibliography, my final papers or that I have to redo my thesis. I'm still on "work" mode, but I think I'll realize that I'm done with college once a diploma is in my hands. :)

Let's look back on senior year (which was awesome) with "did I really."

1) Did I really dress up as a pink cupcake for Halloween?

2) Did I really buy a life size cut-out of President Clinton and carry it with me everywhere on campus?

And put him on the back of my scooter?
And get a photo with President Jones (President of Trinity College)?
(He folds)
Yup, that was pretty awesome.
There are countless experiences I look back on this year and I'm just in awe. Like, going to the Clinton Global Initiative in St. Louis this April for A Day in a Wheelchair. If you have ever lost hope in humanity or for future generations, I'd advise to go to one of these events. I have never felt so inspired and empowered by sitting in room not only with President Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Jack Dorsey and Stephen Colbert, but with 1,000 other college students who already are addressing current issues in our world. I will never underestimate the power and hope I have for my generation. What an incredible experience.
I never would have thought that my senior thesis would lead me to a new passion and direction for my future. Researching, writing and interviewing others regarding disability rights has lead me to a new path. In conjunction with A Day in a Wheelchair, the message of disability rights as human rights is spreading to college students. I recently spoke at Manchester Community College about our project and I made it clear that our ideas have the potential to change current issues if we believe in them. I never would have thought that one, simple idea I had as a junior in college would turn into a journey involving empowerment and changing social perspectives.
No words can truly describe my college experience, but the song, "I Lived" by OneRepublic comes close. It's bittersweet and exciting at the same time to embark on to the next phase in my life. I've loved my time in college- from professors, the academic and social life to the amazing people I've met along the way.Throughout the joys and disappoints, I've truly embraced every moment.
For more info on what I've been up to check out...


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Clinton Global Initiative University 2013!!

I finally have a chance to catch my breath and want to share, in detail, the night we were accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University 2013!!!

It started in January when Charley brought up the idea to apply to the CGIU Conference with our disability rights project, A Day in A Wheelchair (ADW). I had no clue what CGIU was about, but the more I researched, the more I realized the grand impact CGIU has had on innovators who are combating global challenges. So, since ADW is promoting disability rights and challenging disability social stigmas through a human rights lens, Charley, Sean and I, with support from professors, decided to just go for it, apply and see what happens.

We were told that accepted applicants will be notified on February 18th.

When February 18th came, we didn't receive an email...

A bit bummed, I thought something was off, I thought it was weird how we didn't hear anything so I called CGIU on Tuesday (Feb. 19) regarding notification. Feeling relieved, I was told that applicants would be notified on the 28th instead of this week. So, for the rest of the day, I completely forgot about our application.

Around 8:30 that night I was in my room, contemplating whether to edit or write more of my thesis. Around 9PM, I'm still debating what to do and decided to go on my phone instead of doing any thesis work (senioritis). I saw I received new emails and started to scroll through. I saw an email from CGIU, but thought it was an advertisement letter or something else.

As soon as I read it, I screamed. OH MY GOD WE GOT IN!!!!! I stormed into my roommate's room on full scooter rabbit mode yelling on the top of my lungs, had her double check I was reading our accepted email correctly and just continued hysterically yelling. I then obviously called my mom, still yelling. I called Charley and Sean about 6 times as I was overjoyed. Sean found out via text and super excited. I finally reached Charley and this was our conversation:

Charley: What?
Charley: We got in?
Me: YES!
Charley: We GOT in!?! We GOT IN!? WE GOT IN!!! OH MY GOD WE'RE GOING!!!
Me: YES!!!!!

So what do you do when you find out you're going to hang out with President Clinton, other prominent leaders and innovators from around the world?

Dance your bathroom.

Yup, as embarrassing as it sounds now, I was so excited that I went into my bathroom, turned on the radio, full volume and danced my heart out to this song, which perfectly fit the situation.

I stayed up for the rest of the night as I obviously couldn't sleep. Every text or Facebook response I wrote entailed caps and countless exclamation points like- AHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Still wide awake, at 4AM Sean and I were texting about how excited we were that our project was accepted into CGUI. While we were texting, Charley was snapping photos and made a Facebook album with title: "The Night I Got Into CGIU". We were just so, so excited.

So what's next? Planning logistics from flights to hotels. We are invited to attend the annual CGIU Conference from April 5-7 at Washington University. President Clinton will be moderating the entire event, world leaders will speak about global changes and we will be doing many workshops with other college innovators from around the world. Last year's conference speakers were Jon Stewart, Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), Usher, Madeleine Albright (first women to be U.S. Secretary of State) and Chelsea Clinton. Charley, Sean and I were one group out of 1,000 people worldwide who were accepted to this conference!

Next week we find out our CGIU Mentor! I'm so excited! They're going to provide us guidance about our project and how to make it grow and remain sustainable!

It's still a whirlwind, but things are starting to settle in. Trinity College supports us 100% from Professors, Deans to President Jones and I'm so incredibly grateful.

For more information on CGIU here's their website!

From applying to being accepted into CGIU, I've been reminded of what I've learned from my swimming career--
good things don't come to those who wait, but to those who aren't afraid to fail and take risks regardless of the outcome.

So, here we go! Another new journey beginning with the Clinton Global Initiative University!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Senior Year Part I

From spending time with Tibetan, Buddhist nuns, a best friend doing a TED Talk to sharing wheelchairs on campus, senior year has been off to a great start!

Beginning in September, I befriended Tibetan nuns from the Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal. These six Buddhist nuns made Trinity their home and created a sand mandala, used for prayer and compassion. At the time, I was doing an independent study researching the relation between Buddhism and human rights and my professor advised that I visit these nuns on a daily basis. I not only loved and appreciated the tedious aspects in making a mandala, but began to know the nuns and their life stories. Head nun, Ani Tendol, taught me Tibetan prayers of compassion (Om Mani Pandme Hum), even gave me prayer beads (currently dangling in my dorm room), and learned Tibetan phrases. These nuns are amazing, so humble, selfless, and taught me the underlining factors that connect all human beings; suffering, happiness and compassion. More importantly, the Keydong Nuns have been the first females, approved by the Dalai Lama, to make a sand mandala which is traditionally created by monks. When their mandala was finished, the nuns traveled to various colleges and I expected to never see them again on campus. I unexpectedly ran into Ani Tendol outside of my dorm building in late December and she spontaneously wanted to see what an American dorm room looked like. Kind of shocked and unprepared, I volunteered to show her my room, I'm obviously not going to turn down a nun. The most memorable aspect on having Ani Tendol in my room was explaining who Audrey Hepburn was (I have a collage of her on one of my walls) and the picture frame of President Clinton. Ani Tendol and the Keydong Nunnery, whether they realized it or not, the Keydong Nuns greatly changed my perspective on the meaning of humanity, the qualities that unite everyone and how to create change.

Love these nuns!

The other project my friends, advisor and I closely worked together on was Trinity's first Disability Rights Week. This whole project began in August 2012 from coordinating different disability events to researching the best disability experts we could bring to campus. So in December it all came together, starting on December 3rd. That Monday, Professor Stein, the Executive Director of Harvard Law Project on Disability spoke to the Trinity Community about disability rights and the Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities. His speech was amazing, honestly one of the smartest people I've met.

That Wednesday, December 5th, was A Day in a Wheelchair. I had the idea for students to spend a day in a wheelchair actually in 2011. I tried coordinating the event on my own while training and taking classes, needless to say, 2011 was not the year. Not thinking anything else would come of it, I was taken back when my advisor, back in August, wanted to follow through with putting on the event for the fall semester. My job was to make sure the philosophy and mission of the day was clear to students. I wanted participants to realize that disability should not be a fear factor. The purpose of the event was to raise disability rights and equality. And when December 5th came, I literally woke up at 6 AM, super excited like I was 6 on Christmas Day, ready to meet up with my friend Sean to give out our wheelchairs! All together we had 24 students, two staff members, one dean, one chaplain and one professor participate in our event!

Attempting to film in reverse!
Throughout that day, I borrowed a small camera and followed participants around on campus and later interviewed their perspectives and experiences. Since I've been around cameras before, I thought it wouldn't be so hard to film people, but I was SOOO wrong! It's completely different being filmed than actually filming. It definitely takes talent to drive a scooter, forward or reverse, while filming! There were times when I didn't realize the camera was recording, and I somehow flipped the lens to learning how to use a tripod. I basically just dove into something I had no clue about except the on, off and record button. Over our winter break, my friend Will and I worked on putting a video together comprising all the wheelchair footage and AGAIN I don't know anything about Final Cut Pro! I literally ripped out a piece of paper and just wrote different segments I liked, the layout of the video and just let Will work on editing. I have no previous experience in filming or making any video, and I'm so so happy we pulled something good off for the Trinity Community! Nothing would have been accomplished without the help from Sean and Will for putting on this day.

Check out our video!

We can have protests, enact legislation, and create jobs for people with disabilities, but the human world is a social world. One becomes inducted into society through social acceptance. I believe one constructive way to create social acceptance for people with disabilities is for able-bodied students to spend a day in a wheelchair. As I went around campus filming and interviewing participants’ changing perspectives on disability, I realized the value of opening a broader campus conversation. My goal was not to raise inaccessibility issues, rather for participants to see that they are the same person regardless of sitting in a chair or walking. Disabilities aside, we all share the same human dignity, which should be respected and admired. To move forward, society needs to reshape the culture so that people with disabilities are accepted as fully equal. One powerful way to create this change is to spend a day in a wheelchair.
That entire day was amazing. I loved how many people participated, the support from Trinity to recording the new perspectives and opinions regarding disability. This whole event happened because people believed in one idea and I am so thankful we did this. Our event is catching on and people have noticed our mission. Going forward, I have a feeling this will not be the last time you'll hear about A Day in a Wheelchair. :)

For more information, here's an overview of Disability Rights Week
Trinity's blog with our wheelchair video
Trinity's photos from that day

And I am beaming with pride over my best friend, Scout, on doing a TED Talk last month! She's like a sister to me and I couldn't be happier with the themes and life lessons she discussed here. Check it out!

So that's just a quick recap of senior year part 1. I love where things are going right now and am so excited about 2013!

Last semester senior year begins in ONE WEEK! Let the final countdown to May 19th begin!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I realized my last post was from London Trials, and I don't want to leave my swimming blog on that note. There's obviously life after Trials, after any upset there's a new day and a new beginning comes along.

Instead of writing a post on what I've been up to, what I have or have not accomplished, I have something more valuable to share that I've learned over the last 5 months...


After Trials I decided to do the San Diego Triathlon with the Challenged Athletes Foundation; something I've done since 2008 and have enjoyed every time I've gone, but this time it was different. Once Trials ended and there were no more competitions, training, media, and cameras I was left with the dilemma of even wanting to be in and/or near a pool. Although I already committed flying out to San Diego, I was having serious doubts and even told my close family and friends on wanting to pull out. I blamed it on school, too many papers and exams I'd miss, and just wanting to be a typical, regular college student, but that was not the true reason; I wasn't 100% sure if I wanted to get back into swimming. One of my best friends explained it to me over the phone- regardless if I finish the distance swim, I'm already going the distance and facing my doubts and struggles straight on, something not many people even consider doing.

Regardless that I did or did not finish the swim, I decided to still go, to move on, to not be overcome by any mental struggle. And to sum it up, I had the most amazing time in San Diego. I appreciated the moments because I remembered the times when I was doubting to go. I not only enjoyed being with other challenged athletes, but realized how amazing it is to be with other great athletes throughout the country at one sporting event. Simply stated, it was the first sporting event since 2007 where I truly enjoyed the art of swimming; to swim just to swim, and enjoyed the people and process. And to add, it was the best and most beautiful open ocean swim I've ever done. The temperature was perfect, beautiful weather, smiling and waving to the sea lions swimming underneath me; it was perfect. That wouldn't have been possible if I didn't face my demons. And I'm so happy I shared those moments with my CAF family. That was the beginning of my new chapter.

(Photo Credit Chris Stone getting out of the swim at the San Diego Triathlon 10/21/12)

So what does it mean to persevere? For the last 5 months post London Trials, I've learned it means to keep going and pursing although you encounter struggles and challenges over an extended period of time. It also means to work through these challenges regardless if the outcome may not be what you previously had intended or expected; to know regardless of these challenges, this too shall pass. Perseverance encompasses the ability to continue living out your path. There have been countless times since June where I've thought, what to do next, where to go, what to do with myself, but I've realized no matter what, you somehow press on. Perseverance makes you realize how strong you are for choosing to face and withstand those demons and challenges. I believe perseverance is a natural instinct within the human spirit. Everyone has it, I'm not special by any means, I've just have had situations that have directed me to persevere. And I believe that's one of the best qualities we have; that we somehow keep going in life.

I would usually conclude a post with what's next for me, but that's not the case anymore. I've decided to live out one of my favorite quotes, "don't tell people your dreams, show them". So for now, my lips are sealed. Thanks for tagging along on my journey :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

London Trials :)

What an amazing experience to finally make it and compete at London Trials! Honestly, this time last year I still wasn't sure if I'd be able to compete at this meet due to the nerve injury I had for over a year. I can tell you that Trials was the most intense swim meet I have ever done and I'm so happy I made it that far.

No, I didn't make the London Team this time around, but I'm so happy for my friends who did. I had to be top 10 in the world and I made top 15 for one of my events. I was close, just not close enough for London, but I did an amazing job. Considering I've really been training since last June after being cleared to swim coming from a time when I couldn't write or hold a fork to dropping over a minute in time at this swim meet from November (2011) and dropping my world rankings from being last to 15th and 17th is addition to now being 1st in the country...even I'm shocked. I gave it every single ounce I had and I loved every minute of it. Just to think that in 2007 I had no clue what Paralympic swimming was and 5 years later I've made it so far makes me think how much farther I can go in this sport.

I could not have gotten this far on my own. Certainly the support from my family has kept me going and grounded, especially everything I've learned from my mom along this journey. Since 2007, my mom has been there for every step and hurdle, swim meet, and a ton of boring practices in the stands. All the teams, coaches, and teammates I've been with shaped the athlete I am today, especially my high school team for showing me the love of the sport. All the friends I've made on this journey from teammates, classmates, professors at Wheaton, MCC, Trinity, and Northeastern, my former teachers, friends at swim meets, parents, triathletes, Paralympians, thank you for being there for me. I've learned from every encounter how supportive and good people are; I cannot tell you how humbling and encouraging it is when a stranger at the grocery store says, "I believe in you, keep going". A huge shout out goes to my CCAT Team, Keith, Sara, and Kim for being there for me whether it was at 6AM practice or those early swim meets that seemed to take up every weekend! And a big shout out to Corey for teaching me the little things in swimming that make a huge difference when racing. To my trainers and physical therapists along the way, especially the ones this past year for getting me over my injury; I know I would not have made Trials without you. I wouldn't have gotten this far without the help from Cornerstone and everyone who works there! That pool is always open, even during snow stroms, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, when all pools are usually closed! I love getting to Cornerstone at 7AM and training with other triathletes and Ironman athletes; they motivated me every morning when the water was way too cold! A big thank you goes to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I have gained so much confidence from the staff and fellow athletes on what it means to just go for it with a positive attitude. I met my closest friends who are now family to me through CAF and I am so grateful. CAF has opened huge doors to amazing opportunities and friendships along the way. I can't wait for the San Diego Tri this October! The Hospital for Special Care and The Tolland Fund have also been so supportive throughout my journey. I love how they encourage our local challenge athletes to get involved in sports. It's pretty amazing seeing childrens' faces light up realizing what they can do with their lives in sports. I'm so incredibly grateful to have such a strong support system throughout the years from swimming at Glenbrooke, talking with Mrs.Kirsche about training in my high school hallways, hanging out with Jeannine at the '04 Olympic Center, to telling my story to President Clinton...I'm so grateful.

Living your dream is the most fulfilling, exhilarating, heartbreaking, and humbling experience. Regardless of your circumstance, I say go for it. You truly do not know how far you can push yourself, and I promise you, you will be shocked on what you can accomplish. I'm truly happy to be on this journey because I'm living with absolutely no regrets and 100% passion. That's what it's all about.

This entire experience has certainly showed me what I could make of myself when truly believing in a dream, fully committed 100% everyday since December of 2007. That's something I could have never learned in a classroom or from a book. Going into Trials I thought, "I could achieve greatly or not get what I want", but I did both. I achieved so much, but just didn't get what I wanted this time around and I'm perfectly okay with that. But this is unfinished business. I finish whatever I start and I'll be the one to determine when my time is up. I'm not done with swimming just yet...

In the meantime, it's time to go away on a remote island off the east coast.

Stay tuned, this isn't the end, just the beginning of a new chapter :)