The Finish Line is Just the Beginning

By: Mary Kate Callahan | Sr. Consultant, Global HRIS Transformation | Elite Paratriathlete

Published Jun 25, 2021

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There is never a good time to close a chapter of life that has brought so much joy. But there is a time to trust in new beginnings, goals, and dreams. And for me, that is now.

I’m at the finish line of what has been an incredible 11 year chapter of my life. A chapter that has defined me as an athlete but more importantly a chapter that has shaped me into the person that so many know today. A chapter that has been an accumulation of thousands of miles running and biking, hundreds of training hours, plenty of 5am swims fueled by too much caffeine, many tears, numerous flat tires, unforgettable podium finishes wearing the USA uniform, but most importantly a community of people that have stood behind me through it all.

This chapter was about more than what I was able to accomplish as an athlete. For me, it will be defined by who I was and what I learned during that time.

The identity of being an athlete is something I cherish. It’s the identity that I’m most proud of. The lessons you learn while being athlete extend well beyond training and competing. As this chapter comes to a close, I’ve taken the time to reflect back on each step that has brought me to today.

I was the 6 year old who threw her hands in the air and waved to the crowd of teammates and parents before every single race.

I’m proud of her because it taught me how to never take life too serious. If you’re going to work hard – make sure you’re having fun too.

I was the 10 year old who played wheelchair basketball on a team with all boys. I may not have been the highest scoring athlete on the court but I proudly rolled onto the court in my pink wheelchair, leveraged my speed and grit, and played one heck of a game of defense – even if it meant getting fouled out of plenty of games 🙂

I’m proud of her because it taught me how to be fierce. It didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, or what your abilities were. It was up to you to work hard and show up for yourself and others.

I was the 15 year old who was looked straight in the eyes and told she wasn’t an athlete due to her disability. I knew I never want to hear those words ever again but more importantly- I didn’t want another person hear those words again. I advocated for equal opportunity within the legal system. I saw my role as an athlete expand way beyond the pool.

I’m proud of her because it taught me how important it is to advocate for yourself and others. Your voice is one of the most powerful tools you will ever have.

I was the 17 year old who made her first World Championship team. I traveled to New Zealand for my very first international race that I didn’t even finish due to a mechanical issue on my bike half way through the race. I was crushed. But it was also in that moment that I knew I wanted to continue to pursue an elite racing career.

I’m proud of her because it taught me that the failures in life are usually what we learn from most. You will get knocked down plenty of times in life but those will be the moments that fuel you for the next time.

I was the 20 something year old girl who was determined to make it all work. I experienced my first international podiums, explored the world by racing and training across it, spent training camps studying for finals, graduated college, and realized how its ok to be out of balance when you’re chasing goals that are important to you.

I’m proud of her because it taught me that if something is important to you there is always enough time in the day. Not all paths will look the same but if it makes you happy – that is all that matters.

Today, I’m the 26 year old who is beyond grateful for what the last 11 years have taught me. I told myself when I started my elite racing career 11 years ago that when it all ended I wanted to look back being able to answer these 3 things:

Did I try my absolutely best no matter what cards were handed to me each day? Did I show up for people and help bring out the best in them when I had the chance? And did I do all of this while having fun?

Today, the end is here and all I can do is smile. Not all days were pretty but every single second was worth it.

I’m walking away from this elite racing career with the same amount of joy I had for it when I started. And because of that – I won’t be going too far. I’m eager to have more time tackle new mountains (literally), chase new goals, and most importantly help others tap into their own potential and find their own starting line.

It’s time for me to cross this finish line and help the next generation soar.

And I can’t wait.

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Emma Albert: Rolling past every obstacle in her way

By: Kristi Lee Neuberger | Manhattan

PUBLISHED 2:21 PM ET Jun. 01, 2021

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“No matter what a child’s disability is, if they would like to participate in sport, they should be given that opportunity.”

That’s the message Beacon High School Senior Emma Albert would like the world to know.

“Give us a chance and the proper accessibility and we can accomplish most anything,” she added.

What You Need To Know

  • Albert hopes people will look past the physical appearance of disabled individuals and focus on all they can do
  • Albert has taken up volunteering, mentoring, and even being an ambassador to represent and inspire others into knowing they can do anything they put their mind to
  • For Albert, racing is a freeing experience that allows her to feel empowered

At a young age, Emma Albert was diagnosed with Klippel Trenaunay Syndrome, or KTS; a vascular disease that often causes limbs to be affected by varicose veins or an overproduction of soft tissue and bone growth. She relies on a wheelchair for mobility. It’s a trait that every passing stranger can see, but one she hopes they will look past.

“I hope people see strength and resilience, as well as independence. I am used to overcoming obstacles and will work even harder to achieve my goals,” Albert said.

Albert’s athletic career started with sled hockey, playing for the New York Sled Rangers for six years. She loved being part of a team of individuals who weren’t letting their disabilities slow them down. But it wasn’t until she learned about wheelchair racing that Albert discovered her true calling.

“Once I connected with the team at New York Road Runners, and learned how to train for the sport of Wheelchair Racing, I was hooked,” Albert said.

The young athlete quickly became involved in more than just racing with New York Road Runners, a non-profit focused on inspiring individuals through running. As an intern and volunteer, Albert assisted all age groups and handled coordinating transportation for professional athletes. Giving back to the community that had brought her joy was one of the many reasons why Albert says she continued to volunteer. She also participates in the Stay-Focused adaptive scuba diving lessons, once again showing that children of all abilities can do anything they set their minds to.

“It was a life-changing experience, in a beautiful, world-class diving location. Given how much I learned and enjoyed this incredible opportunity, I knew it was my job to help as many other disabled kids experience this amazing underwater environment. It was not only beautiful, but very empowering for a disabled teen to master scuba diving,” Albert remarked.

Albert might have found her place teaching kids scuba diving, however finding a spot on the Beacon High School track team wasn’t an easy transition. Albert and her family had to figure out busing and accessible accommodations in order to make competing a reality. After a few years of arranging, everything was in place, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to shut down all public high school sports in New York City. It was a setback for Albert, losing not only her sport but also her senior year experience.

“It took away most of the traditional social and fun elements you normally associate with your last year of high school. I do, however, have a close-knit group of friends who I tried to get together with a lot more as we slowly started to recover from Covid. This really helped all of us just to be able to spend time together in person,” Albert commented.

She can’t wait for the chance to get back on the track.

“To me, racing is speed, freedom, and feeling empowered,” Albert said.

Whether it’s in her community or at school, Albert leads by example – letting few things get in her way. She said one of the many secrets to her success is time management which allows her to stay on top of her school assignments while still having plenty of time to participate in what matters most; raising a voice for rights for the disabled. Albert was selected as a global ambassador for the Vascular Birthmark Foundation, an organization that focuses on helping people who were born with both painful and disfiguring birthmarks find support and medical resources.

“Give us a chance and the proper accessibility and we can accomplish most anything,” she said.

Albert will be attending Northeastern University where she plans to study Public Health.

The Power of Community: How Stay-Focused Started My Weight Loss Journey

My first trip with Stay-Focused was in 2017. After a few years of not accepting Roger’s offer (looking back, I only regret not going sooner), I decided to give diving a try. The trip to Cayman became much more than just my first diving experience. As a soon to be high school senior and sled hockey player with eyes set on college, Stay-Focused showed me a community that would support my greatest ambitions.

In the months before my trip, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with both my performance on the ice and the shape of my body. Freshman through junior year I gained about 30 pounds. Now, this would be fine (and quite impressive) for someone who was training vigorously, but I was a typical teenager playing video games until 3:00 am and eating chips by the bag. Frustrated, as the summer of 2017 rolled around, I had even less motivation to change as things worsened. The timing for my trip could not have been better, as my experience with Stay-Focused would provide me with the support I needed but was not able to muster on my own.

Every part of the trip was surreal. While I have been fortunate to travel outside of Long Island, NY, frequently, nothing compares to the invitingly clear water of Cayman. Diving did take some getting used to, but by the end of the week I felt confident in the water. Swimming has always been fatiguing for me with cerebral palsy, so much of my free time was spent napping to keep up with everything we did. I will also say proudly despite the frequent naps, I was never late to our pre-rollout lobby gatherings. Between diving and the amazing food, I did not think the trip could get any better.

One of the exercises we do as a group, a goal-setting activity, is where this story begins. As someone who is occasionally anxious, I was nervous about making losing weight my goal. I frequently debated whether to do that or cop out with just a GPA goal for senior year. As my turn came to share, I remembered what room I was in. This was not my high school where I might have been judged. I was in the Caymans with a group of people just like me, where we are put together to support one another through battles like the one I was having. And so, I did it. When Roger got to my name on the giant pad, I said I wanted to lose weight. We settled on five pounds by the end of the year and I kept a picture of that goal on my phone for when I got home.

Fast forward to October of that year, I had still not started to try and make the changes necessary for me to lose weight. While I cannot remember the exact day, I do recall the moments that forever changed my life. Every day, I wore my Stay-Focused bracelet as a reminder of the trip. While frustrated with not doing anything to help myself, I remembered the goal I had set to lose weight by the end of the year. How could I not take full advantage of the opportunity I had experienced? From that moment on, I knew I had everything in me to work through the struggles. Each day I weighed myself, and I kept the goal I had set in the back of my head. Stay-Focused provided me with the courage to start tackling my greatest struggle, and tackle it I did.

As the end of the year started to crawl near, I was seeing great progress. Thanks to plenty of salads and the classic rice, chicken, and broccoli (thanks mom), I had hit my five-pound goal by mid-November. Liking the direction I was headed in, I decided to continue getting in shape and see where I would be by the end of the year. December 31st came after continued weeks of dieting and I managed to lose another five pounds. I had finally gained control of my weight and felt better than ever. By the time my reunion trip came around the following summer, I was able to steadily maintain my weight. While I did not make it a big deal while I was in Cayman the second time, Stay-Focused was the reason I was able to improve my life in such an important way. Without the sense of community and support provided by my experience in Cayman, there is no telling what my life would look like today.

Three years later, odds are you will find me in a gym somewhere or evaluating everything I need to eat to properly fuel my training. The motivated person you see today was fostered by the opportunities this organization provide me. Whenever I am looking to get back on track, I simply remember these experiences, as I look to “stay focused” on what lies ahead.

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