Blazing trails at the Olympics or in academia…

When I was little, I absolutely loved anything having to do with speed. Whether riding my bike as fast as possible, having friends run as they pushed me in my wheelchair or blazing down a ski trail, nothing excited me more than going at top speed(in the interest of full disclosure, I STILL love going at top speed)! This is probably why I also loved watching sports where speed was the ultimate goal. I use the term “watch” loosely because watching generally meant that while a sport was on t.v., little Allison would cheer loudly for the person she wanted to win, jump up and down on the couch and stomp her feet in sheer excitement to will her chosen athlete to victory. By the time I was done “watching” these sporting events, I was so out of breath you would have thought I was the one competing!

One of my favorite sports to “watch” was track. And I especially enjoyed watching the track events at the summer Olympics. One summer afternoon, I was watching the Olympics and rooting for the track star, Flo Jo(I loved her nails!). After watching some of my other favorite track stars win their events and receive their Olympic medals, I had an epiphany.

I went and found my dad as quickly as possible, which was fairly easy because he was in his favorite weekend position… relaxing in the lounge chair in our living room, reading the newspaper peacefully. I did what any self-respecting 5 year old would do when confronted with a parent who is relaxing- I interrupted him to share my earth-shattering epiphany.

“DAAAD!! I’ve got to tell you something!!”

“Ok, what is it?”

“I’m gonna be the first person with CP to win an Olympic gold medal in track!”

At this point, my father had many options for how to respond. He could have responded according to the current reality, which was I had only recently graduated from using a walker to crutches to help me walk and my running involved me falling more than actually moving in a forward direction. But, my dad being, well, my dad, responded by saying,

“You can do it!! You’ll have to work harder than the other runners because of the CP. But, your mom and I will be in the front row with the camera when you get your gold!”

With that support, there were only two things to do… figure out my training regimen and get to the 2000-something Olympics! I was convinced that my dad and mom had already bought their airline tickets and were waiting for me to become a word-class runner. That afternoon I began training, which amounted to me running in circles in our backyard. I’m fairly certain that our neighbors were wondering what on earth I was doing. But that was ok; I knew I was preparing to be an Olympian! Well, after a few days of falling repeatedly, hurting a few of my joints and having some serious spasms, I realized perhaps being an Olympic track star was not quite what I was meant to do. I was content with cheering for others as they ran track.

As an adult, when people ask me how I accomplished everything I have so far, I often recount this story and say my parents instilled in me the belief that I could accomplish absolutely anything I put my mind to. For so long, I thought this(my parents’ firm belief in my possibilities) was the most important part of my Olympic aspirations. Sometimes, I felt a bit uneasy about having set a goal and not reaching it. However, when I relayed this story to someone a few weeks ago, I realized that I had achieved my goal. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss the headline of me winning an Olympic gold medal.

Instead, I came to understand that little Allison’s true goal in saying that she wanted to become an Olympian was to be a trailblazer. 5 year old Allison believed that if she became a gold medalist, she would have done something that the world assumed someone with CP could not do. Her goal underlying her Olympic dreams was to show the world the abilities of those with disabilities.

This summer, I realized that I did become a trailblazer by being the first person with CP to earn a PhD in economics from MIT.  I had done something that many assumed would be too challenging for me. And yes, my family and friends were in the front row when I crossed that stage. However, they didn’t have cameras… they had smartphones! Here’s to blazing trails whether on a track or in the classroom!

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  • Bernard Thompkins

    You go girl! WOW! I remember that day. All I can say is those Olympic sprinters were darn lucky you decided to go get your phd. From MIT, instead of going to the Olympic games. Your insightful perspective about achievment was quite wonderful. It is often the mountain peak behind the one we first set out to climb that we were meant to climb. That second one is always a taller mountain :). You scaled the tallest one.

    I love you with all my heart

  • Victoria Gordon Findlay

    Dearest Allison,
    As you remain true to your heart, true to your mind, and true to your courage, achievement is limitless. Continue to believe in yourself as I believe in you and go blaze those trails!

    Love always,