When you develop a disability later in life, it’s the little things you miss most. Like wearing high heels, walking on uneven surfaces without thinking about your foot placement or the simple act of pulling on a pair of socks without your toes getting caught in the fabric. Of course, I miss the big things too—like being able to feel the top of my foot or running—but that goes without saying. But it’s the little things. The things you never really give a second thought, that hit hardest when suddenly, you’re struck with a disability. For me, the important thing was learning how to adapt.
When I dislocated my knee playing soccer in 2009, I thought I was done playing competitive sports forever. This wasn’t just any dislocation. I laterally dislocated my knee and tore all four ligaments, stretched the peroneal nerve which gave me something known as foot drop. Even though it was my knee that was rebuilt, my foot basically hangs from my ankle without any control due to the nerve damage. If I don’t want to trip on my own toes, I’m required to wear an ankle-foot orthosis—a brace—every day. Because of this, I wear boots or long pants when I’m at the office. Most people don’t notice my disability.
People react differently when they find out about a disability. The unfortunate truth is that often, you become your disability story instead of your disability just being part of you. Luckily, I work at Intel and have always had an amazing team in my corner. When I joined my daughter in her love of fencing six years ago, Intel was incredibly supportive of me. No, not in my transformation from a fencing mom to a fencer. Rather, in my quest to compete at the Paralympics.
It was through my daughter’s competitive fencing that I met Leo Curtis, the US National points champion in men’s parafencing sabre. He introduced me to the sport and to the team. And just like that, competitive sports became part of my life again.
In parafencing, we sit in wheelchairs, locked in a frame, at a distance measured by arm span plus weapon length, and we try to see who can touch our opponent first, while following the rules of the different weapons: épée, sabre, and foil. It’s a sport that’s not very big in the United States, so it requires quite a bit of international travel.
Intel and I agreed on a work schedule and salary that would allow me to travel with the parafencing team, while working full-time when I was in the office. I have fenced around the world including Dubai, Canada, Brazil, Hungary, Italy, and all around the United States, earning gold, silver, and bronze in all three styles. I even became the 2015 and 2016 National Wheelchair Fencing Champion in Women’s Sabre. My Paralympics dream ended when I placed second in Sao Paolo Brazil at the Regional Qualifier in 2016. I couldn’t have done any of it without Intel.
My advice to others living with disabilities: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Most managers, most companies, most people want to make sure you are wildly successful at your job and able to contribute your best every day. Whether it’s a change in lighting or a different desk, a different headset, or some other accommodation – whatever it is, just ask. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t hesitate to talk to others. At Intel, we’re encouraged to continue to learn, grow, and be inclusive. We want the people who come work for us to bring the best of themselves. Whatever we can do to enable you is what is important for us to do.