Crossing the Finish Line

As a Paralympian, I have had the opportunity to travel the world, ski the most beautiful mountains, and connect with some of the most compassionate and brilliant minds on the planet. The journey from Paralympic champion to ADA advocate, however, was not natural for me. It was easy to be a well-liked Paralympian in a ski town, but advocating for local ADA issues was an entirely different matter. I felt as if I was in the starting gate of my first downhill race. It was a matter of pushing past the starting gate and preparing for the ride of my life.

Sarah Will competing in the Paralympics

In 2002, when I crossed my last Paralympic finish line, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I felt like I was starting all over without the passion I had for the slopes. Just a couple of years prior, I had taken part in the 10th anniversary Spirit of the ADA Torch Relay across America and was flown to various places. In Boston, I handed the torch to a Paralympic sailor and watched him sail away into the sunset. I was flown to California and carried the torch on a WaveRunner flanked by lifeguard boats.

But it was my participation in Washington, D.C. that left an indelible impression on me. People with disabilities lined the streets of the capitol, waiting for their turn to hold the ADA torch. I recall sitting next to a well-dressed gentleman who used a power wheelchair controlled by his breath. He was a former rodeo champion who now worked on Capitol Hill fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. He was familiar with my history and commended me for my accomplishments. When he asked what I did for the cause, I had nothing to say and I felt like I was falling. He helped me realize that there was a responsibility that came along with my level of success. As a Paralympian, I was in a better position than most to contribute to ADA causes in my own community, not just sports-related events. I started attending town council meetings and educating myself and the public on ways to make our world-class resort town of Vail, Colorado accessible to everyone. Accommodating guests is the business of the hospitality industry and the town, and I started to look at it that way myself.

I had finally grown to be comfortable with the word "advocacy." When progress happens slowly it can be difficult to maintain a positive outlook. It took patience and time to change perceptions.

Sarah Will on the slopes

Through awareness and education, the community of Vail came together to enhance accessibility options in the valley. A new focus on accessibility brought people together and nurtured open minds and compassionate hearts. Once again, I became part of a team, a community. As an accessibility consultant, I am honored to work with decision makers who have contributed to making our mountain towns accessible to everyone. I am grateful for the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and all of the advocates who have made it their life's work to provide people like me with a better quality of life.

About The Author

Sarah Will

Sarah Will is a 13-time Paralympic medalist (12 Golds and one Silver) and a member of the Olympic Hall of Fame. She was a member of four Paralympic teams: Albertville, CA 1992; Lillihammer, Norway 1994; Nagano, Japan 1998; and Salt Lake City, Utah 2002. Currently Sarah works as an accessibility consultant, artist, and public speaker.

Sarah is a long-time Quickie user.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 3/13/2018 12:00:00 AM

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