Despite being born with cerebral palsy and requiring assistance for most daily tasks throughout my life, sports have been a huge part of me and how I define myself. I am an adaptive ski racer. I also have a degree in Sport Management. While this looks a bit different for me, the core principle is common amongst athletes: always keep your momentum and work toward your next goal. As both an athlete and aspiring professional in the sports industry, that same idea of momentum that carries me through a downhill skiing course has also been vital in my career development.
The foundations of who I am as an athlete and a professional started very far from home. I am from New Jersey, but I found what I would consider a “perfect storm” of opportunity for me at the University of Illinois. The college is known for being one of the most accessible universities in the world for students with disabilities and on top of this, they have a well-recognized Sport Management program. And the final deciding factor that moved me halfway across the country: I was offered a job to manage the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams!
I had done some managing throughout my younger years, but I had no idea that wheelchair basketball was a competitive sport at the collegiate level when I accepted the position. Being on the bench threw me immediately into the action and gave me my first real taste of what it was like to be part of a competitive program on the backend. I absolutely loved that feeling, especially as my role progressed and became more analytical over time. The coaching staff had extremely high expectations for both athletes and managers, setting a rigorous bar for me to measure myself against. This taught me how to view myself as a professional. Just as importantly, being around elite athletes with disabilities showed me that I could fulfill my competitive nature in many ways.
When my senior year of college came around, I had found a groove and gained confidence in myself. But it was at this point that the first major challenge to my momentum came into play.
Internship disappointment and opportunity
I knew my degree would have to conclude with a full-time internship to graduate, but I was not quite ready for the logistical challenges of negotiating a workplace that could accommodate my disability. A few years prior I became involved with a national adaptive sports organization that helped launch my ski racing career. I am still so grateful for the opportunities they provided, and I wanted to be a part of giving that back to others. I applied for an internship with the organization, and they were pleased to have me come in for an interview based on my past work ethic.
Within a few hours of my interview concluding, I got a phone call with the news that I could not be considered for the internship I had applied for, due to the necessity of completing manual tasks around the office. This was shocking, since everything the company does centers on helping people with disabilities. However, there was a positive that immediately followed it. I was asked to send in writing samples and the organization ended up creating a new internship for me in the development department that could be completed remotely. This was my first experience with remote work, and it gave me a lot of transferable skills that showed me that this was an environment I could be successful in.
Internships, like momentum, naturally only last for so long. I was extremely eager to begin my post-college career and it was this transition that presented me with the biggest professional struggle I have faced so far. After what seemed like an impossibly long job search that lasted multiple years, I was finally offered a position in retail for a large tech company. Throughout the interview and onboarding process, I was excited and hesitant at the same time as there were again numerous manual tasks involved in demonstrating products and completing transactions with customers. I knew I had the knowledge to help them, and it was beyond frustrating to not be able to do so independently.
I had another worker assisting me with physical aspects of interactions, and there was also the nightmare scheduling of my own personal assistant to help navigate my needs. Adding to this was clear evidence that interacting with the general public did not agree with my immune system, so I was constantly getting sick. Despite the best efforts of the company and myself, it was clear that this was not a sustainable fit.
My job search began again. Thanks to my past experiences, I now had a couple of major things in mind. I wanted to complete my work independently, and I wanted to pursue something that would ignite my passions again. This was a tough combination! The sports industry involves so much physical activity and work. Then in 2022, I heard Josh Straub, founder of AbilityPoints (then DAGERSystem), give a virtual talk about gaming accessibility.
I have always loved video games, especially sports games since I am able to take full control of the action. Immediately following his discussion, I emailed Josh wanting to learn more. I was intrigued, because of his focus on employing disabled people. I also noticed a continuing merging of the sports and gaming industries. Both the things I was looking for in my next position intersected here. The accessibility-focused reviews allow me to provide a resource for my fellow disabled gamers that I wish was available when I was younger.
The freelance nature of working with AbilityPoints has also opened my eyes to possibilities of pursuing more partnerships with companies in the adaptive space. Outside of gaming, I am pursuing my professional and athletic goals simultaneously as a co-founder and athlete on a power wheelchair soccer team. Power soccer is a great sport that allows disabled athletes to compete independently. Working on the backend has been the culmination of my career experiences to this point. I cannot wait to see where my momentum will take me from here on the hill, power soccer court, or my writing career. In honor of October being Disability Employment Awareness month, please consider donating to AbilityPoints and helping myself and our staff maintain momentum in our careers.