How Advocating For My Paralyzed Daughter To Join Track Forced Me To Change My Beliefs

How I claimed the fullness of who I was and what I stood for as a mother.

Young girl on school track in wheel chair, radio show cottonbro studio, zhengzaishuru, avdyachenko | Canva

Driving over the Caloosahatchee Midpoint bridge, my mind raced with the clock. If I caught all the green lights on the stretch of road leading to our school, there’d be enough time to get my morning work on the board before the bell.

My son, not a morning person either, was asleep in the back seat, oblivious to the beauty surrounding us. My daughter had the luxury of the middle school late start schedule.


Then a voice on the radio zapped me into the present. It was a local morning show with a special story about a middle school girl who used a wheelchair and wanted to join the school track team. I knew of one student at the aforementioned school who used a wheelchair. My daughter! They were talking about my daughter.

The radio host went on to ask callers their opinion on the petition. Should my daughter be allowed to participate? Shock filled me.

Shock morphed to rage as I listened to a caller give their opinion on how students with disabilities should not be allowed on the same team because there weren’t any coaches who knew anything about adaptive sports. Also, who was going to be responsible for paying for the equipment such as the racing wheelchairs and gloves needed for track and field?


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The more the stranger spoke of how impossible it would be to allow my daughter on the team, the higher the temperature of my blood until it reached its boiling point. The bridge I was driving over became my metaphor for change.

When I left the toll booth and began my ascent, I was still the same young woman who had traded in her voice in middle school for make-up, curling irons, and fad diets. When I touched the shoreline, I understood the need to reclaim my voice and speak up not only for my daughter but for other students with disabilities who wanted to participate in school athletics.

There would be no more keeping quiet.


The newly reawakened warrior within me not only had to face strangers, school administrators, and eventually the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) but also the decades-long beliefs that had dictated my existence.

Armoring up, and getting ready to do battle for what you believe in also means feeling scared, alone, and ostracized. The petition gained enough attention. My daughter was allowed to participate on her middle school track team.

How Advocating For My Daughter Forced Me To Change My BeliefsCrossing the finish line in a racing wheelchair | Photo by author 


My daughter's PE teacher, Coach Black, believed in what she could do. She lit a spark that turned into a flame. She made a difference.

The story doesn’t end there. When my daughter went out for track in high school, I naively assumed that because of what happened in middle school, there wouldn’t be any problems. Of course, she’d be treated like the other students. Wrong.

The pain of seeing my child left out, especially after all that she’d been through since a car accident left her paralyzed at ten years old was gut-wrenching. 

It wasn’t enough that in one day she went from jumping rope to lying in a hospital bed unable to move her legs. It wasn’t enough that most people saw the wheelchair before the girl. It wasn’t enough that store aisles and stairs that she could once navigate easily had become infuriating obstacles.


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Now she was told she couldn’t participate in high school sports.

“Your daughter isn’t allowed to wear the uniform.”

“We can’t have your daughter race on the same track because the students may get hurt.”

“We’re worried the wheelchair will destroy our track.”

I understand change can be difficult. However, I was simply asking for inclusion for my daughter and every student who had a disability.

Some people didn’t care. They couldn’t be bothered to make an effort. This, too, broke my heart. I remember a meeting with the school principal where I sat and listened to her lecture me on my behavior. My voice was too loud. I contacted the news, and the FHSAA, and posted on social media.


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The once quiet schoolgirl who never raised her hand spoke out was now an emboldened mom speaking up for what she believed in — and people were listening.

I left the meeting with a mess of emotions, predominately anger. How could a principal, a leader, not advocate for one of her students?


My daughter, now thirty years old, reminded me of a day she holds in her memory. It was the day the athletic director of her school pulled her out of class to tell her the FHSAA said she could be on the team and, of course, wear the school uniform. They were creating an adaptive sports program for all of Florida.

She cried.

I cried.

My daughter participated in track throughout high school. She’s still friends with her former teammates. Those three years in track led her to the University of Illinois where she raced and became a member of Team USA. Now she’s a coach, mentor, and fierce disability advocate. It was twenty years ago my daughter became paralyzed in a car accident — and it was this accident that forced me as a parent to claim the fullness of who I was and what I believed in as a mother.


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Krista Rausin is a writer and educator. She is the owner of Banyan Books and has published numerous books for elementary and middle-grade readers.